Headhunter knows what sells

Proactive approach crucial to survival in job market

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Anyone looking to prosper in today’s turbulent job market should adopt a proactive approach and forge good personal relationships, according to Toshiaki Komatsu, a headhunter at New York-based TMP Worldwide, one of the world’s largest executive recruitment agencies.

Komatsu’s recent book, “Ureru Jinzai, Urenai Jinzai” (“The difference between salable people and unsalable people”), focuses on the thorny issue of job-market survival.

Now a leader within the consumer practices team of TMP Worldwide’s Tokyo branch, Komatsu started out at a major Japanese trading firm before moving to Malaysia to run a human resources and consulting agency.

The 35-year-old headhunter believes it is crucial for employees to analyze the outlook of their industry sector and respond quickly to change.

“If your aim is to stay in a company, you must also consider moving from the ‘cost center’ to the ‘profit center’ of the firm to survive, such as moving from the creative department to the sales department,” he said during an interview with The Japan Times.

Forging good personal relationships is another important aspect of carving out future job opportunities both inside and outside a given company.

“Even if you are a full-time employee, your attitude should be that of a free-lancer, stressing that you are a ‘facility’ whose skills others can use,” he said.

This strategy can boost an employee’s influence and reputation, possibly leading to a new career, he added.

It is also vital to keep close contact with a headhunter, he said.

“Headhunters may seem to be living in a different world from you. But like in any other human relationship, you should not contact someone only when you need him,” Komatsu said, adding that he is always open to any information or contact from anyone.

“You should find a good headhunter. While a good headhunter makes every effort to help you, like preparing you for interviews, poor headhunters may regard your resume as a mere commodity that gets him a 30 percent incentive when a deal is made.”

From a headhunter’s point of view, marketable individuals typically display some common characteristics.

“These people know in which field they are skilled and talk passionately about it. But as they also have other interests, they don’t stay in the office to do useless overtime,” Komatsu said.

“They have leadership skills, but often also have facilitation skills through which they draw the real motives and skills out of other employees, improving efficiency and outcome in an organization.”

On the other hand, middle-aged businessmen who have lingered too long in the lukewarm comfort zone of large Japanese corporations are the most difficult to sell, he said.

Due to their size and rigidity, these old-fashioned companies do not allow their employees to specialize in any field and do not give them an opportunity to make major corporate changes.

Komatsu thus advocates the experience of working at a foreign firm for any Japanese corporate employee who would otherwise be in danger of becoming inflexible and unmarketable.

Despite the current recession, Komatsu said, foreign firms offer a wide range of attractive opportunities for Japanese workers, although such workers are sometimes unable to map out the correct strategy to get these posts.

“If your aim is to work at a company that pays 10 million yen, don’t immediately start taking English lessons like many people do,” he said. “First, find out which department of what company pays that salary and what qualities are required.”

Komatsu advocates requesting a written job description — something that Japanese companies rarely offer.

While the headhunting sector has traditionally flourished in its dealings with high-ranking executives, demand has now shifted toward young managers with the potential to turn businesses around in areas such as sales and marketing, especially with regard to consumer products including automobiles and luxury goods, he said.

“Foreign companies in Japan are constantly looking for young management staff between the ages of 35 and 40,” he said. “Those who have been educated abroad with experience of working at a large Japanese firm and who have changed to a foreign firm as a kind of team leader in their late 20s to early 30s are especially sought after.”

Foreign firms have realized that the strict basic training given by Japanese companies provides workers with a sense of stability and discipline that Japanese people who have only worked at foreign firms generally lack, according to Komatsu.

In this respect, Komatsu cited one extreme example where the Japanese unit of a foreign automobile company recently introduced a policy of only employing Japanese staff who have worked for Japanese car manufacturers.

“Salary levels for young management at foreign firms are still in the range of 10 million yen to 12 million yen per year — much higher than at Japanese companies,” he said.

“If you are a Japanese businessperson who can culturally fit into a foreign company, don’t miss the chance.”