Three Approaches to Dealing With the HR Talent Challenge in Japan

Hosted by: Sandoz

ChapmanCG had the pleasure of co-hosting an APAC HR Leaders roundtable event with Sandoz in Singapore to discuss the uniqueness of talent in the Japan market. The session was co-hosted by Michael Wulff Pedersen, APAC Head of HR at Sandoz. Approximately 20 APAC HR Leaders who had current or past experience in Japan attended. A few of the companies represented included Cisco, GlaxoSmithKline, Millennium Management, Mondelez International, Roche, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Unilever and 3M.

Most everyone shared the same sentiment: it’s difficult to find top HR talent in Japan. These were the most commonly-voiced frustrations from the group:

  • Long lead times to fill critical roles, with some roles being open for over one year.
  • Lack of abundant internationally-minded candidates.
  • Lack of strong female leaders.

Given that those in attendance had voiced the same challenges and frustrations, we spent some time discussing how best to overcome them and came up with three basic approaches.

1) Smart Sourcing

Statistics show that of the 65 million people who make up the working population in Japan, only 2.6% of them are on LinkedIn. That is roughly only 1,700,000 professionals (across all industries and professions) utilising this service. And with the average Japan user only having approximately 40 connections, it was agreed that this was not the best source to look for qualified candidates.

If you’re wondering why these numbers are low, it boils down to culture. Anyone who has done business in Japan knows that it is an extremely sensitive when it comes to privacy and the regulation of personal information. In fact, there is even a Japanese version of Facebook in which users use pseudonyms in place of real names. In addition, it is customary in Japan to have a strong social obligation to any institution you belong. That means, being spotted on LinkedIn (a platform used for networking and potential career seeking) by your boss, who may not be on LinkedIn, could be perceived as disrespectful.

2) Luxury versus Requirement

Japan is a 98.5% homogeneous society, with a declining birth rate and aging population crisis that has persisted for more than 30 years. By the year 2020, over one third of the population will be over 65-years-old. To make matters worse, fewer babies are born every year. Simply put, this means less qualified professionals are entering Japan’s work force as time goes on.

A recent Bloomberg report stated that for every one new graduate, there were two available jobs open in the market. Most of that top talent is scooped up by major Japanese conglomerates. Furthermore, less than 2% of university students in Japan study overseas, and Japan ranks 27th out of 30 countries in Asia on the TOEFL English index.

Those HR leaders in attendance discussed making common sense role “requirements”. For example, how many organisations truly need “native level English”? What’s really needed is someone with a competent level of English and that they possess an international mindset.

A few people discussed the issue with succession planning. Some admitted to having a Head of HR who is fluent in English, overseas-educated, and culturally aware of both Japan and Western customs, but the problem arises if (when?) that person leaves. It’s important in markets like Japan that have such unique talent and a hard-to-find yet critical skillset that organisations begin to think about the next generation of leaders much earlier than other countries.

3) Select your talent sourcing partners wisely

Many HR leaders said it was key to partner with agencies that have deep experience in Japan and who have experience finding the type of talent you’re looking for. They need to be committed to the Japan market from an international perspective (if what you need is HR talent with an international mindset). If your talent partner isn’t willing to learn about your company vision, then you can expect them to dump resumes on your desk with little thought about organisational fit.

Many said that for the right kinds of HR talent needed at the senior level, they have had to “step outside of their tested methods for recruitment” and had to be more creative and open to cross-industry candidates.


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Key Contributors:

Tim Spriggs

Regional Managing Director - EMEA

Global Management
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Global Management

Tim Spriggs

Regional Managing Director - EMEA

Tim Spriggs is Regional Managing Director, EMEA with ChapmanCG based in the UK where, as part of the executive committee, he leads the EMEA business.

Tim and his team deliver senior retained executive searches for a range of clients from global multinationals to SMEs and has a background in global HR executive search. He is particularly passionate about finding unique and exceptional talent for his clients across the region.

Prior to returning to the UK in 2017, Tim spent five years in Singapore where he was instrumental in building the China business and covered international work out of Asia. Prior to ChapmanCG, Tim worked for JD Haspel, a boutique London-based executive search firm, where he specialised in EMEA HR search assignments across multiple sectors including technology, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, financial services and natural resources.

Before moving into executive search, Tim’s passion for sport led him to his first career in sports marketing and sponsorship with Octagon. He has a BA (Hons) in American Studies from the University of Nottingham, and a CIM Diploma from the London School of Marketing.

In his spare time, Tim enjoys running and cycling in the Chilterns and is known to have the occasional swim in the Thames near his home in Henley.

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