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IT Job Hunting in a Tough Tokyo Job Market

by Andrew Shuttleworth

How different things are from just a couple of years ago when there seemed to be plenty of IT jobs to go around for non-Japanese in Japan. There still are jobs available but the difference now is that the requirements are much tougher. Bilingualism or a high ability in both English and Japanese are now more of a requirement than a preference, as are a higher level of directly relevant on-the-job experience rather than general skills, knowledge and ability that may have been sufficient in the past. There's no doubt about it, you have to be on top form and maybe willing to compromise if you want to land a good job in Tokyo in the current economic climate.

All the usual job-hunting techniques and tips apply here as anywhere else, but here's a few thoughts after a (thankfully successful) job-hunt myself just recently.

The Resume
As always a good resume is a requirement. Although in better times a well designed one page resume may have been perfectly adequate to get an interview and the job, I found that it was now much better to have a more detailed resume listing specific skills and experience in more detail. With less jobs to go around and more available candidates employers and recruiters will simply ignore resumes that don't include the specific skills they require.

Networking
How many people have I heard say that networking is the key to getting a good job and how true it is. Having a good existing network helps a lot, firstly in terms of the information and advice you can get but secondly to solve the problem of what I call the 'faceless resume' problem. Firstly the information and advice. Make sure as many people as possible know you are looking for a job and tell them briefly a bit about what you are looking for and what you skills and experience are - doesn't have to be more than a couple of lines. You are bound to get some friendly leads and advice. Meet with people who have recently been looking for a job and find out who they spoke to, what techniques and resources they used and found the most useful. A meeting over lunch is usually convenient for most people and you'll be surprised what gems of information and contacts you get. The 'faceless resume problem' refers to the fact that sending a resume to anyone out of the blue means you are just another piece of paper in a pile and unlikely to be forgotten unless you have precisely the skills an employer or recruiter is looking for. Again the problem is really compounded in a bad economy. On the other hand, sending a resume to someone after a third party introduction suddenly gives you some instant credibility and identity. (Ever read about the positive effect of associations in improving memory? Here it is in action.) An introduction genuinely makes a world of difference and can't be underestimated. Your resume will now have a face and identity attached to it.

Recruiters
Some recruiters have a bad reputation for placing people into any old position as soon as possible to get their commission without much genuine consideration for the candidate or the company. This certainly doesn't apply to all recruitment agencies and there are some great ones out there who can help you in many ways and they may be the key to finding the best opportunities and landing a good job. Recruiters and networking are linked in two ways. Firstly if you already know a recruiter through your networking or are introduced to one you are one step ahead. If you are contacting them without this you are a faceless resume to them also. Secondly recruiters are in some ways an extension of your network. They will not be employing you but they will be introducing you to future employers, solving the faceless resume problem. Consider the meeting with recruiter the first interview. Be professional and clear with your skills and goals. If you are not professional they are not going to ruin their own business by presenting a sub-par candidate to their precious clients.

There are hundreds of recruitment companies in Tokyo and it's worth meeting with as many relevant ones as you can. In addition to getting registered in their database as a job seeker you will find out insider information on the job market and what opportunities are realistically open to you. You will get chance to fine tune your self marketing and interview techniques before meeting employers and if you are in any way unclear on your aims and how you can be of value to an employer with your skills and experience, going through the process with the recruiters will help you clarify these.

Two recruitment companies I personally found very helpful and professional are Stoneman Corporation (http://www.stonemancorp.com; contact Mark Stoneman - mark@stonemancorp.com) and Panache (http://www.panache.co.jp). The TPC's web site is a good place to start to find others (http://www.tokyopc.org/jobs/).

A final couple of notes with recruiters. Firstly, honesty and openness will get you a long way. Unlike with the actual employer you don't need to be afraid to stay what you can't do. Not being clear will only increase your chance of being matched to a job that you are not really qualified for and which you won't get when this is discovered. If you have not been clear you will have a tarnished slate with the recruiter and reduced chances of being contacted when a suitable opportunity does come up. Secondly, be sure to update all the people you had contact with when you do get a job. You never know when you will need to be in contact with them again and you don't want them to waste their time continuing looking for you if you have already found something.

Job web sites
Most recruitment agencies have their own web sites listing available positions, allowing you to register and apply for positions online and sign up for e-mail newsletters. There are other web sites that just post positions on behalf of companies and recruiters but they work in the same way. While these are useful for getting some idea of the job market you may have to plough through hundreds of positions to find one which may be suitable for you and if you do apply online without a personal contact you are once again a faceless resume. Another disadvantage is that all the sites have their own resume formats so you will have to invest a lot of time modifying your resume for each format and this is not necessarily the best use of your time. I think you are much better off meeting up with a recruiter who will collect all your details for you, put them in the database and check whether your profile matches any new positions as they become available. They know the job market best and can bridge the gaps in logic that a database match can't. In short, this is a much better way to ensure you hear about relevant positions, even those you may not have considered for yourself, and to avoid wasting time ploughing through irrelevant content and forms.

Recruitment Fairs
There seem to be a continuous stream of job fairs advertised on the trains but these are aimed at Japanese people and for a large part technical candidates only. A month or so ago there were at least three job fairs targeting Japanese and English bilinguals, although many positions were targeted at new graduates or Japanese people with fluent English skills rather than the other way around. Problem one is if you are not bilingual which many of us aren't and problem two is that with so many candidates fighting for so many positions in the same place you really need an exact skill match to be noticed. These events are useful for getting a first interview with companies if you are a new graduate or if you are mid-career and have exactly the right skill set, but as a mid-career, business focused (i.e. non-technical) candidate I found them of limited use.

In closing a quick plug for the TPC which for me has been one of the cornerstones of my networking. During my job search I met with a large number of people I had met face to face at the TPC monthly meetings and virtually through the newsgroups and this undoubtedly helped me land a good job in a relatively short time. If you are currently looking for a job be sure to include the TPC meetings and other similar groups in your plan, and don't lose contact when you do find something. The network of friends and contacts you build will surely be your most valuable asset.

Andrew Shuttleworth is Past President and current Program Director of the Tokyo PC Users Group. He recently got a job as IT Business Analyst at Getronics Japan (www.getronics.com) thanks to the help and advice of many people in the club. He can be contacted via his web site at www.andrewshuttleworth.com.



© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

August , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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