Lehman workers face a tough job market

by and

Employees of bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. across the globe are suddenly out on the street and looking for new jobs — and the 1,300 at the Japanese unit of the U.S. securities house in Tokyo are no exception.

Following the bankruptcy of its parent company on Monday, Lehman Brothers Japan Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday with the Tokyo District Court.

The Financial Services Agency ordered it Monday to suspend operations through Sept. 26 after receiving a warning that it might default on its obligations in the longer term.

But Lehman employees are showing up at their Roppongi Hills office in Mori Tower to wind down its remaining business.

According to a non-Japanese employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, the sentiment of his colleagues is “surprisingly good.”

“People are trying to do what they can for the company,” he said.

Perhaps they’re just putting a brave face on the situation. Sources close to the unit said employees will at least get their September pay. But in reality, at stake are their homes, their families’ well-being and, in the case of some foreign employees, their working visas.

As news of the U.S. parent company’s bankruptcy made headlines after the three-day weekend, Lehman resumes flooded the mailboxes of recruitment agencies in Tokyo.

Bernie Schiemer, managing director of recruitment firm Hays Specialist Recruitment Japan, said the company has been receiving them by the hundreds.

“It’s been monumental and unprecedented,” Schiemer said.

On Wednesday, a headhunter at another recruitment firm in Tokyo who was in the lobby of Mori Tower said he sat down with a few Lehman employees for interviews. His colleague was there the day before, and the headhunter had seen competitors there for the same reason.

“We are just trying to help (Lehman employees) continue meaningful careers,” the headhunter said. “They have done their jobs and have been successful until Monday.”

In the financial sector, however, it’s not just Lehman workers who are looking for jobs. Former employees of Bear Sterns, which was sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. in March, are also seeking new positions now that their settlement packages were concluded earlier this month.

Amid the turmoil, some investment banks have been “fairly active” in plucking talent from Lehman, the headhunter said, adding that they tend to look for people with five or six years of experience.

“It could be tough” for those with just one or two years’ experience, but “if they are highly skilled and bilingual, they may have a pretty good chance,” the headhunter said.

Schiemer of Hays observed that Japanese employees at Lehman may have a better chance of finding jobs because Japanese financial institutions are looking to hire bilingual personnel knowledgeable about foreign markets.

For foreign employees however, competition will be tough, he said. He has been advising people to prioritize their careers over salary and to be flexible, especially if they prefer to stay in Japan and have visa and housing issues and families to take care of.

On Wednesday, another non-Japanese Lehman employee who declined to be named said the company has announced it will try to take care of the employees’ housing situations if Lehman is their guarantor or the firm signed tenant contracts for them and landlords are asking them to move out.

The visas, however, are a different problem.

“I am willing to go wherever the next job takes me,” said the man, who has no family in Japan.