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Business trends

Corporate Japan must shed old recruiting habits to attract foreign talent

Traditional job-hunting system excludes many promising non-Japanese students

Foreign students learn how to prepare the "entry sheet" job application forms that many Japanese companies require.

TOKYO -- Most foreign students in Japan are eager to acquire high-level knowledge and skills, although some have been criticized for staying in Japan as little more than migrant workers. Many wish to find jobs in Japan after graduation, and for this country they should be considered valuable assets that can drive economic growth. With the job market for students graduating next spring a sellers' market, the likes of which Japan has never experienced before, how are those foreign students faring?

Li Chen, a 26-year-old Chinese graduate of the graduate school of Tokyo Keizai University said she still had not received a "naitei," an offer of employment commonly agreed in Japan between prospective graduates and companies with an option to cancel if, for example, the student fails to graduate as scheduled. If she cannot find one by November, she will have to leave Japan because her visa will expire.

During last year's job-hunting cycle, the student was offered a position by a restaurant chain, her first choice. But the informal offer, not a naitei, was later withdrawn. The company told her that working at one of its restaurants would not get her a work visa. "I had not thought about such a possibility and felt like I had been thrown into darkness," she said.

On July 12, some 20 foreign students gathered at Globalpower, a staffing company specializing in foreigners, for a seminar on job-hunting in Japan. Among those desperately taking notes was Ma Chen, a 27-year-old Chinese graduate student studying at Kyushu University. "I applied to about 15 companies, and I wonder why they all rejected me," he said. "What is this 'shukatsu' thing all about?" he grumbled, referring to Japan's unique job-hunting process for new graduates.

Shukatsu is basically for students who are seeking jobs after their expected graduation, and the selection is usually done for all applicants all at once in a systematic way according to a fixed schedule based on recruitment guidelines set by an influential industry body.  Some, however, such as foreign companies, follow their own rules.

Even before the official shukatsu race begins, students keep busy applying for and serving their internships at companies. Foreign students often think job-hunting is something they will do after graduation, as is the norm outside Japan, and so they often do not quite understand Japan's complicated shukatsu process. "At the moment, 30% [of foreign students seeking jobs] have a naitei," said Globalpower President Koichi Takeuchi.

Due to an effective upper age limit, those foreign students who had graduated from university in their home countries before coming to Japan are often not even considered as candidates. A student from Sri Lanka studying at Waseda University's School of International Liberal Studies said she has stopped going to job agencies because "I only get disappointed when they tell me there aren't many companies hiring 28-year-olds." In the U.S., companies usually do not have age limits for first-time job-seekers, she said.

Recruitment obstacle

According to the Japan Student Services Organization, 64% of foreign students in Japan wish to find jobs in Japan but only 30% have actually found jobs, indicating that the Japanese recruitment process may be an obstacle for many.

In a survey by Ernst & Young ShinNihon, an auditing firm, over 30% of foreign students said they have trouble understanding the shukatsu process and find it difficult to take recruitment tests in Japanese.

One 24-year-old Danish student at Meiji University said she had been rejected because of an online test she took in Japanese. She thought it was strange that the test, which included some writing, had to be taken in Japanese. She was disappointed to find that even some major Japanese companies in which English is the official language had application forms for internships in Japanese only.

A 29-year-old student from Thailand who studied at the University of Tokyo's graduate school wondered if companies filled with mostly Japanese employees speaking Japanese can call themselves truly global. That student found a job at a foreign company.

In Japan, the number of foreign students receiving higher education has grown 24% over the last five years to more than 170,000. As it becomes increasingly important to globalize and increase diversity among employees, Japanese companies can no longer expect foreign employees to simply follow their existing rules.

A 2016 study by the Japan Association of Corporate Executives showed that only 13% of Japanese companies recruit students throughout the year. If Japanese companies seek diversity in their job applicants, their hiring process must also be diversified. They must listen to foreign students and try to adopt a non-Japanese way of hiring.


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