What are the Toughest Aspects of Recruiting in Japan,
and How Can HR Address These Challenges?

Andrew Manterfield and Yoshiharu Matsui

Andrew Says...

The following are some of the most pressing recruiting challenges today, based on my experience doing hands-on recruiting across a number of locations globally, as well as considering the Japan context. The items are not in any order, and you may see links between each area.

Challenge #1. Getting clarity on recruitment objectives
It is good to take the time and be clear about what you are recruiting for and what skills, attitude, knowledge and experience you are looking for in your ideal candidate.

A documented role profile, created in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, is a key foundation of good recruitment. It acts as a guide for all the people involved in the process. When you create it, make the language simple so everyone understands it and can use it. Ensure that it reflects the culture and the way of working in your organisation as well as the skills, experience and knowledge you need. The content is more important than the format, so do not be constrained and limited by a pro-forma or set of standard questions. Write down, in clear terms, what you are looking for.

Do not simply reuse that last role profile document that you have worked on. Always review and update it according to the current realities of your workplace. The world changes fast and what we need from our people changes in the same way. You are not looking for the same person each time you recruit, even if you are recruiting for the same role. Think about these: What is the role you want them to play in the team they will join? What difference do you want them to bring? How could they add extra value to the team? The answers will always be different for each specific recruiting situation.

When thinking about your requirements, it pays to take a long-term strategic approach. Are you recruiting just to fill this role or are you looking to build your talent pipeline? Most people say they are doing the latter (being strategic) however their actions suggest that they approach recruitment as a short-term task. Think long term and creatively about what you need now and for the future.

Challenge #2. Finding the right recruitment partner
Once you are clear about your recruitment objectives, you can then identify the best recruitment partner (internal to your organisation or external) who can help you.

Remember that your recruitment partner represents you and your organisation. When candidates meet your recruiter they are meeting your representative. Their encounters with the recruiter should reflect the experience of working in your business. Look for partners who share and represent your values, and who understand what it takes to succeed in your business. Think about how you can help your partners achieve the best results. This may entail having them visit your office to meet your leaders, role model employees and even your customers. Help them to experience who you are rather than simply sending a written brief or showing your website. 

Challenge #3: Identifying real experience and capability
As you interview and meet candidates, a key thing to listen for is real experience and capability. You are looking for the capability to take action rather than someone who has a few ideas on how they would do things.

If you are considering potential this may not be so important as you can teach new skills. At the same time, there will also be skills that you need new recruits to already have. What are these must-haves and how can you determine which candidates already have them? Asking for examples helps. Their experiences both inside and outside the workplace can deliver some valuable insights. Be creative as you listen: for example, can you find any connection on leadership potential from their time at school or another area of their life?

Learn to read between the lines. There is a big difference between “I would do…” (which does not require experience) and “when I did this before…” (which directly translates to actual experience). It’s easy to get distracted by good preparation, professional presentations and so on, so listening keenly to unveil the real person and uncover their talents is crucial.

Challenge #4: Looking beyond language
This is very relevant in a country like Japan. Often people are looking for someone who can engage multiple stakeholders, who often speak different languages and are based in different parts of the world. Someone who is fluent in more than one language can often be appealing, but language should not be used as the only way to measure capability for a job. It can be helpful, but it is important to ensure that the candidate has the entire set of skills that you need.

Strong language capability does not always mean that a person is culturally fluent. To gauge cultural quotient, my suggestion would be to include a diverse group of your colleagues in the interview process. For example, having the candidate be interviewed by a local Japanese colleague and a non-Japanese colleague (especially if one discussion is in Japanese and the other is in a second language) can really help your team gain more understanding about their potential teammate.

In this aspect, what you are looking for is the impact a candidate makes through their ability to communicate, influence and engage others. The actual words used are a small part of this. As research shows, your voice (tone, pacing, pitch, etc.) and body language have the biggest impact on others when we communicate. It also pays to keep in mind that the impression people make can often vary depending on the language they are using – a challenge I have experienced in many of the countries that I have worked in.

Challenge #5: Working with biases

Be aware of your biases, individually and as a business. We tend to like people who are like us. We have preferred styles of working. We believe that certain ways of working are better than others. There is no issue with this, but these types of biases often lead to favoring only the candidates who are similar to us. They also lead to the same hiring challenges and push us to keep making the same hiring mistakes. Addressing challenge #1 helps us be more objective. Learning from previous recruitment experiences – both the good and not-so-good – helps, too.

Another useful step is to review your recruitment results by talking to candidates you hired and candidates you rejected. Ask the people you have recruited in the last 6 months: what worked and what could improve their recruitment experience? 

The final question in this area is, how do you reduce the opportunity for bias? Some companies take action by removing ages, names and gender from profiles and applications. Questioning the rationale behind age-old recruitment practices can help you update your process into a more objective one. 

Final thoughts: Recruitment can be one of the most enjoyable roles we hold. It is an opportunity to learn about people, find talent and create possibilities for you and your candidates. It can be an avenue to make new friends, build new relationships and develop a helpful reputation as individuals and organisations. On the other hand, it can also be seen as just another task on the “to do” list. This is probably the biggest challenge. How do you approach recruitment, how do you think about it and how do you talk about it? Having the right mindset for success is very important.


Andrew Manterfield
Executive Coach and Senior Consultant, SudaManterfield

Andrew has an innate belief in people and their desire and ability to achieve more. His purpose is to find the greatness in every person he meets and to ensure that greatness lives and breathes every day and is fulfilled. He has worked in the global FMCG industry for over 27 years for Diageo Plc, the world’s biggest adult drinks company. Andrew has over a decade of director-level experience in both human resources and sales. He has lived and worked in Japan, Australia, and the U.K., and he has worked with organizations across Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Yoshi says...

Translated from the Japanese original

CEOs around the world, across all regions, rank “attracting and retaining top talent” as their #1 internal challenge, reveals a recent study on C-suite executives conducted by The Conference Board and updated withThe Japan Productivity Center. Recruitment is not just an issue in the Japanese workplace, but also a global challenge. What makes Japan’s situation unique and more challenging is its declining population, along with its long work hours, poor white-collar productivity and having one of the worst employee engagement rates in the world. Figures show only 1 out of 10 small-and-medium-sized companies could fulfill their recruitment needs, and even large companies are not able to hire the most desirable candidates for them.

The key challenges in recruiting the right people given the limited number of candidates in Japan are threefold: 1) attracting a sufficient number of candidates, 2) hiring the right people and 3) retaining those new members.

Attracting Candidates
To attract candidates, it is necessary to create an evidence-based recruiting message that communicates the benefits and value of working with us and deliver that message through the relevant channels to reach the candidates.

Many millennials and members of Generation Z want to work for those who can offer opportunities to improve their capability and career in a collaborative atmosphere. Thus, we need to communicate the kind of employee experience we offer in our recruitment message. Some companies are able to connect more effectively with ideal candidates by including a video in the recruitment page of their website. A video that features how new or young employees are enjoying their work is useful and appealing to new recruits. Other companies also use SNS, such as Line and Facebook, as part of their recruiting activities to reach target audiences who heavily use a smartphone, and in doing so attracted candidates more broadly.

Hiring Right
It’s an unhappy situation if we realize the mismatch after hiring. Hiring mistakes often happen because of unclear hiring standards, poor hiring processes and untrained recruitment interviewers. Remember that successful recruitment lies in hiring those who share the same value as the hiring organization and who have the ability to deliver the results required for the given position. For example, good candidates for the service industry are those who prefer to serve and contribute to others, while those who can initiate and implement new ideas would be good candidates for marketing or R&D positions. Therefore, we must clearly define our hiring standards in terms of value and ability, as well as how to measure and ascertain those criteria via interviews.

As studies have shown, more than half of hiring mistakes stems from misjudgments made by the interviewer due to their biases or personal preferences. Given this, once we clarify the recruiting standards, it is important to establish recruiting process and interview questions, and help interviewers learn and practice how to conduct recruiting interviews via role plays. When interviews alone are not sufficient, we need to use psychometric assessment tools to understand the new recruits’ value system and skill set. An internship program and workshops can also be very useful tools to understand their behaviors and job-fit.

Retaining New Hires
The main causes of attrition among new hires are, primarily, their boss and/or senior members, and secondarily poor onboarding programs. One of the key principles of placement is to place new hires under a great boss as placing excellent new hires under an incompetent lead has often led to making them leave the company or turning them into poor contributors. When you look at workplaces with a high turnover, both at traditional companies and fast-growing companies, you will most likely see bad managers there.

Organizations grappling with such a scenario will need to replace their bad managers, or develop them into good managers. More importantly, they must review and strengthen their HR policy and programs to build the right capability and culture in the organization. Also as important is the establishment of onboarding programs that effectively helps new hires learn not only company systems and policy, but also corporate culture, professionalism, key mindset and behaviors so that they can effectively take on challenging work and grow.

I hope you will take some of the new actions indicated in this column to achieve recruitment success.





1.  集客アップ:限られた人材の中で集客するには、自社で働く魅力を的確に伝えるメッセージ、それを裏付けるエビデンス、そして、それらを伝えるためのメディアが必要です。ミレニアム世代やジェネレーションZ世代の多くの求職者は、自らを活かし、成長できる場、関係性のよい職場を求めていますので、単に期待する経験や能力を示すのではなく、そのような職場体験ができるということをメッセージに入れることが重要です。自社のホームページの採用欄に入社2、3年目の社員の働く姿やコメントをビデオで紹介している会社がありますが、これらは求職者にとって有効で信憑性の高い情報です。また、スマホがライフラインになっている求職者に対して、LINEFacebookなどのSNSを採用活動の一環に取り入れることも、大切です。

2.  適材の採用:採用してからミスマッチだと気付くのは、お互いに不幸ですが、これを招く大きな要因は、不明確な採用基準、不十分な採用プロセス、採用インタビューする人の能力不足です。採用を成功させるには、企業の価値観に共感し、且つ、職務に求められる成果を出せる人材を採らなくてはなりません。例えば、サービス業界でしたら、相手に対する奉仕や貢献に価値を置く人が向いているでしょうし、また、開発やマーケティングでは、新たなことを起こす人が向いているでしょう。ですから、求職者の価値観と能力をどういう行動基準で測るのか、インタビューではどのような質問で確認するのかを明確にしておく必要があります。採用ミスの半分以上が、採用インタビューをした人の直観(好みと偏見)で起きています。採用基準を明確にしたら、採用インタビューをする人に正しいインタビューのポイントと流れを指導し、且つ、ロールプレーで確実に実行できるようにしておくことが重要です。インタビューだけで測れないところは、価値観や能力アセスメントで確認したり、また、インターンシップやワークショップなどで行動や適性を確認したりすることもたいへん効果的です。

3.  新入社員の定着:社員の離職の原因の多くは職場の上司と先輩、それにオンボーディング活動の不足です。上司や先輩としての姿勢と能力を持っていない人のところに新入社員を配置してはいけません。人の入れ替わりの多い職場には、できないマネージャーと先輩社員がいます。この現象は古い体質の会社にも、急激に成長してドンドン組織を大きくした会社にも見られます。そういう職場では、新入社員を入れるのではなく、まずマネージャーと先輩社員を入れ替えるか、再教育をすべきです。そうしないとせっかく採用した社員が数か月でやめてしまうか、段々よくない社員に変わってしまうことになります。そもそも関係構築や後輩指導のできないマネージャーや先輩ができる組織の文化やしくみがあるはずですので、まずは、人事制度と人材育成プログラムの見直しと再構築が必要でしょう。尚、オンボーディングでは、採用した社員に会社の組織とルールだけでなく、まずは、企業文化、プロフェッショナルとしての姿勢、行動、能力を刷り込み、ステップアップの基盤を作ってあげてください。


Yoshiharu Matsui, Ed.D., MBA
President, HPO Creation, Inc.

Yoshi specializes in leadership and organization development leveraging his more than 12 years of marketing experience and 12 years of HR/OD experience. He provides executive coaching, leadership development, organizational change and marketing and sales development to help clients strengthen their business performance, organizational health and employee engagement. He earned his BA in intercultural communication from Kita-Kyushu University, an MBA from Northwest Missouri.

松井義治(ヨシ)Ed.D., MBA  
HPOクリエーション 代表取締役社長



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