Working with Tech Recruiters in Japan

For a more in depth look at this topic, check out our article on recruitment agencies in Japan.

Recruiters, Consultants, Career Advisors, Headhunters.

I’ve heard so many names from different people that I’ve talked to, but all in all, the bulk of the work is the same – they receive information on what kind of employee a client wants to hire, and start looking for that candidate. Sounds simple enough, right?

But after working with and talking to several recruiters, I’ve realized that there’s more that goes into the process than cold-calling, blasting out emails and messaging on LinkedIn.

On the other hand, as a software developer looking for new opportunities, applicants might end up getting messaged or called by recruiters. And I get it–it’s annoying especially when you’ve just posted a job update and aren’t open to work on LinkedIn but they’re still messaging you if you want a “new career opportunity”. So most of the time, some applicants have a negative image of recruiters, especially if they’ve had previous experience working with recruiters before they came to Japan.

“You don’t message recruiters — you wait for them to message you” is what a friend had told me one time, when I asked him for advise while I was still in the middle of looking for a job. Setting your location to the place where you’re looking for a job in and keeping your LinkedIn profile updated helps recruiters see your profile when they’re looking for keywords associated with the job descriptions they’re working on. To increase your visibility to recruiters, there’s even this feature on LinkedIn, where you can set your profile to “Open to Work” for Recruiters only, or you can also set it to Public with a frame added on your profile photo.

But looking for a good recruiter to work with requires you to put yourself out there more times than you’re used to. Looking at the credibility of their profiles may not necessarily be enough, and working with them might be the only way you could know for sure if their approach works well for you.

But I’ve seen things pan out the other way–I’ve heard of juniors messaging recruiters looking for job opportunities but none of the recruiters replying to them because it’s hard to give them matches. Maybe because their experience in the field isn’t enough and the clients aren’t looking to hire new graduates, or their profiles just don’t match what the client is looking for. Sometimes they are promised a call or a message once a new opportunity comes up, but most of the time that doesn’t happen and the applicant effectively gets “ghosted”.

The bad impression of recruiters in other countries (magnified by popular Reddit posts) leaves a lot of non-Japanese folks looking for a new job in Japan and getting approached by recruiters to be very wary of them.

Personally, there are a few recruiters that have been really helpful in my job search– those who really knew what they were doing and tried their best to help me become more “marketable”. Those people are quite hard to find, but I was lucky that I’ve been able to encounter those kinds of people.

So in this article, I want to clarify some misconceptions about recruitment work–what actually goes on during the process, what kinds of recruiters to avoid and which ones to work with, and why it’s not a loss to consider working with one.

How does recruitment work in Japan?

Job-hunting websites like LinkedIn, Indeed, Daijob and Career Cross are just some of the websites where you can easily get messages from recruiters. Sometimes, recruitment companies–typically called 人材紹介会社 (jinzai shoukai kaisha, or employment agency)– would have their own websites for job openings and you can apply for jobs through them.

But typically, recruiters would post job openings on their LinkedIn feed or on the job board of the website and filter through the applicants sending in their resumes. But most of the time, they would look at profiles; which candidates actually have matches with the job descriptions, and which ones don’t. There are different approaches to this process depending on the recruiter and the client, but there’s typically two types: a general approach, where the recruiter tries to contact several people within the same industry who look like they have some qualifications, get them to apply for the job, and find out more about what the client wants; and another is a targeted approach, where they’re focused on looking for candidates who have a specific skillset or relevant experience within the industry.

No matter which approach it is, most of the time, recruiters will send a message asking for a 30-45 minute discussion (online or in-person) to hear “what the applicant wants” for their career, and maybe even discuss open job opportunities that might match what they’re looking for. When doing general searches though, recruiters would usually do cold-calling and discuss with you right then and there if you allow it.

A newer approach from recruitment companies that I’ve seen is organizing meetup events for job-hunters and having their discussions online (or now in-person, since the pandemic restrictions have been lifted). However, not a lot of companies have adopted this so far and it’s not that common.

A frequent question that I come across with is “how do recruiters get compensated”? Do you have to pay them for each application, or do you pay them once they successfully place you for a job? Or maybe the employer already has that deducted from your first salary, since they’re working directly with the recruiter?

In Japan, it’s neither of those options. It’s the client companies who are working directly with these recruiters and are paying them compensation for each successful placement, so there’s no deductions or charges made on the side of the applicant. A good thing about this is that competent recruiters will try their best to find the job best suited to you and help you step-by-step to get there. On the downside, the incompetent recruiters will just try to push any possible job opening at you and make you apply for all of those so that they could get placements.

The recruitment industry is also regulated in Japan – recruitment agencies are required to get licenses in order to make their business legal and need to adhere to government regulations. The recruiters are typically also provided with training on how to work as a recruiter for different industries. But there’s no strict guidelines on how they go about with getting placements for applicants, which is why working with different recruiters from the same company could also lead to different experiences.

Recruiters also need to be certified as a “Career Consultant” in order to be able to give advise to people who are looking for a job, as Annie Chang, founder of AC Global Solutions and considered as the pioneer of IT recruitment in Japan, explains. “Those [recruitment agencies] in Japan are very much established and they all have this system.”

For non-Japanese applicants, you would probably notice that a lot of people reaching out to you (especially if you’re not fluent in Japanese) are also non-Japanese. Aside from a lot of Japanese people not being fluent in English, it’s also related to the low barrier for entry into the industry, and that it often does not require fluency in Japanese.

How to work with recruiters in Japan

Japan is a talent-short market, so it requires a lot of flexibility on the side of the recruiters. Understanding how the hiring manager thinks, understanding the job description well, being able to bridge the gap between what the clients want and what the applicants are looking for are just some of the things that they need to put into consideration when trying to make a successful job placement.

From the recruiters I’ve interviewed for this article, both agreed that having a personal touch is one of the benefits of working with a recruiter.

Annie likes approaching her candidates the old-fashioned way, as opposed to checking social media platforms like most recruiters do nowadays. “It’s like a marriage, you know. Like you’re match-making this person to this company. You have to consider the people’s happiness, their mental health, their financial conditions, everything.” Annie shares from her 34 years of experience working in the recruitment industry. “A good recruiter will let you know about the job market, mentor you a little bit, guide you and help you get good information.”

Omar Regalado, a Tech Recruiter with previous experience working as a Finance Recruiter shares his insights on the industry. “When working with a recruiter, it’s not just that specific recruiter who knows about your profile, it’s everyone in the company. Because of that, you will have more presence in the market and more people can help you with advancing in the process.”

Andrea Sun, a current Lead Software Engineer who has started working in Japan since last year, mentions, “Of course there are lots of recruiters out there, but I could probably categorize them into two categories: the ones that are focused on what their clients want and would push candidates that don’t necessarily fit the job description just so they could fill in that position; and then there are the ones that actually care about what the candidate wants.”

She also cites that the best recruiters with whom she had worked with helped her practice interviews, gave her tips on how to answer questions, and would only give her one job recommendation at a time so as to not overwhelm her. And it worked, because it helped her focus on what was in front of her at the moment.

Jonas Villanueva talks about how there are more benefits than hindrances to working with recruiters. “When you’re applying through job boards, most applications might get ignored and don’t even get past the document screening phase. But there are sometimes companies that work exclusively with recruiters, or even entire teams in recruitment companies who would work for these bigger client companies.” He also mentions that aside from being able to network with the job market, some recruiters also tend to have access to information that is not yet available to the public so in a sense, you could get a leg-up in your application process.

Software developers that I’ve interviewed recall recruiters who gave unwarranted career advice or pushed them to apply for positions that they didn’t have interest in or were not relevant to the career paths that they wanted to take as the types who they don’t really want to work with again. Which is why it’s important to consider and check the validity of the recruiter’s profile and the credibility of the company that they’re working with to weed out the possibility of encountering such kinds of recruiters. Some recruiters have had previous experience in the field itself that they’re currently working with and just genuinely want to help other people get a new job in that field.

Louise Bawas recalls feeling frustrated over getting ghosted by several recruiters after saying that they will “keep in touch”, but has learned throughout the process not to take things personally.

Understandably, a lot of software developers might also feel like working with a recruiter is a waste of time, especially if they’ve been through a streak of encountering incompetent recruiters. Applicants should be able to work with recruiters who are willing to help them build a better future for the career path that they’ve chosen, not with someone who simply orders them around on what to do and only sees them as a statistic in a list of successful job placements.

Final Words

There is a huge shortage of bilingual employees in Japan, and it seems like the need to have Japanese-speaking employees specifically is causing more harm than good to several industries in Japan.

Applying for a job sometimes feels like it is a full-time job in it of itself and things might get overwhelming, especially if you’re working on other things like working for a regular full-time job or finishing your requirements for graduation.

Annie has advised that some employers need to lower their barriers for entry in order to fill those vacant positions easier. These barriers aren’t only making it harder for applicants to look for jobs in the middle of a looming financial crisis, but it’s also difficult for recruiters to find matches for these clients. There would be people who are interested in applying for different industries in Japan, but whose applications are getting ignored due to their Japanese level. “Right now I think some companies have lowered the qualifications to N1 or N2 level [from the previous standard of needing native level Japanese fluency], but there’s still so much that the candidates have to qualify for.”

Some developers who had JLPT N2 said that it was definitely easier for recruiters to find jobs for them since it opened more opportunities for them to apply, but not having this specific qualification was not completely a hindrance in looking for a job.

Despite the tightening budget caused by the drop in the value of yen and the global financial crisis, Omar shares that these lay-offs in other industries might be a good blessing to other industries. “Positions in data, back office IT work like IT support, infrastructure, and cybersecurity are roles that are in demand not only in the tech companies but are becoming increasingly important in other industries as well in order to keep up with the evolving technology.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that staying in touch with a number of recruiters before or after you’re ready to start looking for a new job may actually help you on the long run with your job hunting, but it’s not a bad thing to work with several recruiters at the same time to keep your options a bit more open.

Sometimes landing a job requires much more than just technical skills–it requires luck and connections. And you might not end up with the perfect job, but you can end up with a job that matches you perfectly.


Thanks to the people for giving me the time and privilege to interview them for this article: Annie Chang, Louise Bawas, Omar Regalado, Cherrie Mae Andrea Sun, and Jonas Manuel Villanueva.

More about the author

Photo of Mary Grygjeanne Grace Icay

Mary Grygjeanne Grace Icay

Contributor to TokyoDev

Grace is a Filipino QA Engineer who moved to Japan in 2019. She likes writing about tech, language learning, and living life as a Filipino expat in Japan. She does photography in her spare time.

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