For the past few months, the main word on everyone’s masked lips has been “coronavirus.” We’ve seen stories about its effect on health, the stress of self-isolation, the rise in teleworking and, more recently, its impact on the economy.

Reports say the pandemic could cost Japan more than 3 million jobs, and uncertainty in the economy has produced a stalling effect in the hiring mood of many companies in Japan. For someone who is in the middle of searching for work, the current situation may seem extremely daunting, even more so if you are not Japanese and not used to the particular characteristics of looking for employment here.

Fortunately, according to job-hunting experts, there are still many things that you can do to increase your chances of success in the current market. Benjamin Cordier is the managing director of RGF Professional Recruitment Japan, an arm of Asia’s largest recruitment company Recruit. He says that, even if you’re in a situation that makes job hunting difficult at the moment, you should still be engaged in kaizen, which in Japanese business philosophy is the idea of continuous improvement.

“If you’re working with a recruiter or applying for jobs, you should be able to show that during this period you have done something to improve yourself,” Cordier says. “Be it Japanese study or technical certification, or maybe you’ve engaged or developed an online community or network, you need to have something to show. If you can get that extra level of kaizen during this time, you have the opportunity to come out of this particular pandemic better, fitter, wiser and smarter. I think it can be a massive opportunity for improvement.”

Jun Takamatsu, also a director at RGF, concurs that this is a good time to think more broadly about your long-term goals.

“This is a good opportunity to go over your career,” says Takamatsu, “but it’s also a good opportunity to think about what you want to do for your career in the future.”

After you’ve done that, he says, the next step would be to “analyze the gap between what you want to do and where you are right now — and try to fill in that gap.”

While the nationwide state of emergency has been lifted, many people could still find themselves needing to conduct job-hunting activities online. Echoing the sentiments of Cordier regarding the need for job seekers to show some personal development, Takamatsu suggests this is also a good opportunity to learn new ways of impressing interviewers during an online interview. He says that, due to the online aspect of such a meeting, adding supplemental media like a PowerPoint presentation during your interview or sending an example business plan to the interviewer beforehand will help give you a leg up over your competition.

Whatever the project, Takamatsu says, “the goal should be to get a better result for your current job. What interviewers and companies are looking at are the results of your time at your current or previous company and if you can do the same at the new company you are applying for.”

Essentially, it is less about certifications, and more about having a proven track record in your field.

Jamie Holland is with American Engineering Corp., an American-owned and Tokyo-based construction firm that is actively hiring. He agrees that if you have any free time as a result of the pandemic then it would be a good chance to practice your interviewing technique.

“We try not to be wowed by resumes, some of our best hires didn’t have impressive resumes,” Holland says. “That’s not to say a good resume isn’t important, because it’s what gets you an interview. But whether or not you can land a job depends on your performance in the interview, not what’s on your resume. I think we, or any other company, would respond well to a candidate that shows initiative and innovative thinking — not so much in what they do but more in how they do it.”

Should I go to a recruiter?

Recruiting companies are a common way for Japanese job-seekers to find work, whereas overseas many people might be used to shouldering the burden alone. So what’s the best way for a non-Japanese person to approach a recruitment firm?

“I think if I was looking for a job myself and if I was engaging with a recruiter, my first impressions of them would really count,” says Cordier, stressing that a recruiter is someone who you will be giving a lot of your personal information to, so it’s important that you feel they have your best interests in mind. He adds that job-seekers should look for a recruiter who shows a deep knowledge of whatever industry they’re applying for, and they should remain proactive and stay in contact with them throughout the recruitment process.

What are the benefits of working with a recruiter? Takamatsu says the people on his team can provide advice and training for passing interviews, for example. And, depending on the field, Cordier believes some people can benefit more from the process than others.

“The mid-career professional space in IT, digital, supply chain, fashion consumer, these are spaces I would definitely recommend working with a recruiter, especially if you’re new to Japan,” he says, adding that there is high demand for skilled foreign talent in those fields.

Class of 2020

One group of job-seekers that may be having a particularly challenging time finding work at the moment are recent college graduates. Kentaro Sawa, the director of the Career Development Office at Temple University, Japan Campus, has spent years advising foreign and domestic students who are entering the job market directly out of school.

Sawa thinks students should be more proactive than usual when it comes to contacting companies they wish to apply to, which might mean something as simple as writing a polite email to go with a resume. On a grander scale, however, this could mean contacting places that aren’t hiring so that you get yourself on their radars in case a position suddenly opens up. Specifically, he suggests widening the scope of companies you are thinking of applying to and not be too narrowly focused when it comes to potential opportunities. He also suggests that students set small goals so that they don’t get overwhelmed.

Hope for grads: Temple University Japan's Kentaro Sawa says he believes the hiring cycle will continue as normal in the near future.
Hope for grads: Temple University Japan’s Kentaro Sawa says he believes the hiring cycle will continue as normal in the near future.

“Try to set a short-term goal that you can easily achieve, rather than panicking,” he says. “For example, choose five companies that you must apply to in the next two weeks. Set that goal and achieve it.”

Sawa has high hopes for the future noting that, as far as he can tell, companies are still planning to hire normally during the student hiring cycle next April. American Engineering’s Holland agrees, “The outlook is bright and I think we will come out much more agile and strong after the pandemic upheaval.”

Takamatsu is just as positive, pointing out that economies typically bounce back after a downturn.

“We had a huge world economy crash back in 1928, and we came back. The Japanese economy crashed in the 1980s, and we came back. The Lehman shock came and went. There was a huge earthquake in Japan in 2011 and, still, we came back,” he says. “The point I am making is, there is no need to panic. We will recover and come back again.”

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