Staff writer

Yukari Abe, 25, was surprised to learn that university students begin looking for employment as early as December of their junior year.

“I myself began job-hunting after Golden Week in May and got my unofficial job offer at the beginning of July,” Abe said. “But now, some students call me for ‘OG homon’ as early as December.”

She was referring to the practice in which job-seekers visit “old girl” or “old boy” alumni at the company of their choice to ask questions about their work.

In January 1997, the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (Nikkeiren) announced that it had agreed to abolish the recruiting agreement, which barred students and companies from contacting each other before July 1. Despite the agreement, it was generally accepted that companies were recruiting students much earlier than July 1, which prompted the abolition.

After the change, companies and students were free to contact each other at any time.

But during the first year of open recruiting, both sides were still groping in the dark, searching for a viable recruiting process. Little change in the job-hunting schedule was accomplished, but this year companies are better prepared.

As a result, there is an increasing awareness among students that they need to become more focused on the type of career they want to pursue.

“I used to visit so-called famous universities to recruit junior students every year,” said a former personnel section official at a major firm, who requested anonymity.

“Half of the new graduates were recruited through connections with university alumni or seminar teachers, and the other half through tests and interviews,” he said.

In other words, prior to the abolition, connections or enrollment at a famous university were key to securing entry into well-known companies. Companies often rejected female students and others from less-prestigious universities even before they were tested, saying they were unable to recruit before July 1.

“Now that the (recruiting) agreement has been abolished, every student has an equal opportunity because the company can no longer reject them by using the agreement as an excuse,” said Norihide Tanaka, director of Nikkeiren’s Education Policy Department.

Now companies are setting varying recruiting schedules. One company began employment seminars in May, while another company set its seminars from March.

When the agreement existed, students could apply only to a few companies because seminar schedules were concentrated during a given block of time.

Students can now increase their number of applications since more seminars are being held over a longer period of time.

“We have increased the number of seminars from 15 to 25 since the recruiting agreement was abolished,” said Koki Konishi, a Toyota Motor Corp. official. The company has also started its seminars earlier this year.

Most firms are setting earlier recruiting schedules, forcing students to begin their search earlier and invest more time in the pursuit.

Konishi thinks companies and students can now take more time to get to know each other, thus avoiding potential mismatches.

But while it is true that students can apply to more companies, some may find that the increased flexibility may decrease their chances of employment. This is because some students may apply to many companies without seriously thinking about their career objectives.

“It is becoming important to seriously consider what one really wants out of a career before applying to any company,” said university senior Kiyoko Inoue.

“Students with a clear view toward their career will get unofficial job offers early, while those who visit companies without any purpose will not get any offers even if they job-hunt for six months or more,” she said.

Many companies are now clearly stating the kind of people they want. They have begun to vary their screening procedures by holding discussions and presentations as an initial step, in addition to written tests and interviews.

Now students are either getting unofficial job offers earlier than before or not at all, even after many months of job-hunting.

Takahiko Tanaka, another university senior, thinks the abolition of the recruiting accord will lead to the adoption of the merit system. “After the abolition of the recruiting agreement, only the students with real ability can win the job-hunting race,” he said.

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