Jobs in Japan - Placement Jobs

By James Gibbs.

Many of the previous books on job hunting in Japan listed major Japanese firms in each major industry (with contact addresses and phone numbers). This was ironic because very few Japanese firms will hire a foreign employee directly. Although many Japanese firms use foreign employees, most of them obtain their foreign staff through placement companies, and there are quite a few of these companies. Foreign firms also make good use of placement companies. So, as one of the major avenues of nonteaching jobs, you should get your resume out to some of these places.

There are several different categories and names for what I like to call placement companies. On the up-scale side you have "executive search" firms; moving down you have "placement" and "employment" agencies (no real difference); and at the secretarial/clerk level you have "temporary" companies. In fact, in many cases, the differences in these categories are minor and there is much crossover.

While some "executive search" firms steadfastly adhere to policies of only placing upper managers and executives, economic necessity causes some to offer services for placing ordinary staff as well. At the same time, a "temporary" company could place someone in the Y10 to Y15 million salary range, although it might not be their main line of business.

In fact, the only real difference might be a legal distinction. In order to pay a salary to someone dispatched to work at another company, the placement company must be licensed to do this and must follow employment rules, e.g., must provide 10 days annual holiday after six months according to the national labor law, etc. However, a "search" company that just takes a one-time fee for introducing an employee to a company would not necessarily have to be licensed as a placement company, although many are because some clients require them to actually employ the staff being sent out.

I will generally refer to all of these companies as "placement" companies because that is essentially what they all do even though some provide different kinds of employees. As for salaries, a younger, not-so-experienced foreign college graduate on the lower end could expect to receive Y2,000 to Y3,000 per hour to start. More experienced and or capable people could expect to receive another Y500 to Y2,000 per hour.

Contracts generally vary in lengths from three months to six months to one year. Often companies like to start with a three-month contract as a kind of trial and then will offer longer periods if everything goes well. Short-term contracts can actually be a benefit to the job hunter because you can gain the work experience, and you have the option as well to walk away if you do not like the job or find a better offer. I know one lady who just recently did this, leaving at the end of a three-month contract. The company was not happy at all about it, but they were the ones who had insisted on the contract being only three months.

Generally, placement companies prefer that you already have a working visa or related visa that allows some work, but in some cases they can sponsor you as well. However, unless you have some specific technical skills, I would advise you to get your first working visa through an English school. Then you might be able to pick up some part-time work with a placement company or get responsored at the expiration of your one-year working visa.

Some of the placement companies do quite a lot of volume during the year, and it is just a matter of timing, i.e., their receiving your resume at the same time they receive a request for an employee with your abilities. I would also like to emphasize that it is really a hit-and-miss kind of thing. I received a very good well-paying job through one placement company and then later talked to more qualified people who could not even get an interview with the same company. I really believe that the main reason I got this job was the fact that my resume happened to be sitting on their desk at the time they received the request from their client. So, it is important to get your resume out to many places.

Also, I would recommend that you send your resume every six months or so. Again, with the high volume of various requests received from clients, the placement firms are generally glad to get the resumes, although they may not respond depending on their needs at the time.

In a few cases, I have specifically identified firms that specialize in placing foreign staff. Most of the firms, however, do the majority of their business by placing Japanese, although I believe every firm in this book also places foreign staff as well. Some placement firms just do not do much volume with foreigners and are not so happy to have many people calling all the time. For this reason I recommend just sending your resume by fax or by mail.

While talking with a senior recruiter, who I met at a social function, for a leading placement company in Tokyo, the lady said, "Oh, you shouldn't include our firm in your book. We do not hire foreigners." I responded by saying, "What do you mean; I see your ad in The Japan Times nearly every month, sometimes asking for foreign employees." She then said, "Well, we do place a few foreigners, but they have to speak Japanese very well or have some special skills. But we get calls every day, and we do not have jobs for most of the people who call." Ironically, when the firm I had been working at was looking for a native English-speaking graphic designer, I sent an inquiry letter to the same placement company because I had often seen their ads. They responded by sending forms for us to fill out. They did indeed place foreign staff, albeit maybe only a small volume.

As you get away from teaching English, more and more jobs will require some Japanese language ability and or special skills. Even if you are a new college graduate with little job experience or no technical skills, some of the companies in the following list can still provide placement services for you. There is a lot of work out there, and it just takes some persistence. Again timing is everything. Gambatte!

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