Talent Acquisition and Strategy Japan

Hosted by: Abbott


The question of how to find and attract top talent in Japan is a critical one for many HR leaders in the Japanese market. As such, it was time to talk about talent acquisition and strategy with over 20 HR leaders at our latest networking session co-hosted by Abbott and ChapmanCG.

About Abbott

Abbott was founded by Chicago physician Wallace Calvin Abbott in 1888 to formulate known drugs. Today, they sell a broad range of medical devices, diagnostics, branded generic medicines and nutritional products. They are leaders within the life science industry, boasting a unique ability to be agile within whatever local market they sit. Thus, it is very important to understand what they specialize in within each market as it does differ from country to country.

‘Life. To the Fullest’

Life. To the Fullest’ is Abbott’s vision and mission and they believe in helping people achieve this through their products, values and innovations. They also sponsor the world’s six major marathons, promote healthy living and are trying to improve lives by providing cost-effective healthcare products and services.

Through an engaged conversation led by our facilitator with help from an automated survey, the participants shed light about the short talent pool in Japan. They also shared ideas around what some of the leading companies in Japan are proactively doing. Many different themes and topics came to light during the discussion, all providing valuable insight into Japan’s talent market.

External Hiring and Talent Development

There were different answers around the question of external hiring and talent development from companies focusing on mobility. In bringing senior overseas talent into the local market, there’s a perception that it could hinder the growth and opportunities of the local talent, and may even affect their self-confidence when applying for higher-level positions. The group noted that Japan is still seeing talent grow at a slower rate compared to their overseas counterparts, which can be discouraging for talent who are ready-and-waiting to move to more senior positions.

Talent management and development is a key area that needs to be addressed in Japan to ensure that the workforce is equipped, enabled and ready to challenge the local and global marketplace.  Some of the tools brought to light included creating key training courses that have been designed for everyone to become an expert in whatever subject they are working to improve. They must take and pass the course in order to develop their skillset and be promoted to the next level. It does take time, but the investment is something that will pay off.

Employee Referrals

Overall, the group felt that Japan has very low participation with referral programs. However, when referrals do come through, they seem to come via teams that have higher engagement. Some of our group noted that their own referral rate only sits at 30% compared to their overseas counterparts at 80%. Companies are doing different things and some are looking to incentivize employees for bringing in talent. However, regardless of the rate or fee paid, one key takeaway was to ensure we understand where the referral has originated and that it is evaluated appropriately. The goal of the programs should be to identify high performers and to not change the interview style for them, whilst still tracking progress in the role of their employment.

Diversity and Gender Equality

This was a hot topic in the group as it is an important focus for many Japanese businesses right now. It was noted that a lot of companies are setting targets for gender equality in hiring, seeking to hit specific ratio balances by a specific date. The group agreed that this is positive but insisted that hiring should not just fulfill a goal, but instead keep focus on increasing the diversity of the organization and hiring valuable talent. In other words, do not devalue the person by hiring to achieve a statistic. The group felt strongly that any new talent should be valued, respected and deserve to be in the role. In addition to this, the group pointed out that there needs to be more equal investment and development prospects for all genders to ensure engagement and growth opportunities are fair for all.

Talent Shortage and Skill Sets

Another talking point was talent shortages and skill sets. It was noted that when leaders are hiring they are pushing for top talent (i.e Supermen and Superwomen) and will not consider anyone that has the potential to grow. Through the discussion, it seems that there is a misunderstanding of the Japanese talent market and the shortage of these Supermen and Superwomen. The group pointed out that when we attract and hire ‘rock stars’, there is a need to keep them engaged once in the organization. Therefore, if an HR leader is putting new talent in the top band of their role with no immediate runway to grow further and be challenged, there is a high possibility they will be under-stimulated, leading to disengagement, and in turn to resignation before their full potential is realised.

In the end, it was agreed that bringing in a balance of top-level individuals with a combination of ‘rock star’ talent and people that hit 5-7 key points out of 10 (allowing them to grow in their roles), will serve the teams and organization better. Ultimately, talent acquisition leads and recruitment firms must work together to help educate senior management on what exists and is possible versus what is an unlikely profile to find in the market.

As the discussion continued, it was very clear that most leaders are facing a similar challenge when finding talent, due to a lack of skills required for the roles. The other concern brought to light was the prevailing sentiment that talent in the Japan market is not equipped with the same level of learning agility when compared to coveted overseas counterparts.

Employer Branding and Candidate Experience

The question of employer branding and candidate experience created a lot of healthy discussion from the group. We heard a variety of different opinions and learnt about the things that are and are not happening within different organizations. Overall, organizations see the benefit in getting employer branding right, whether it is done locally or through the help of an overseas counterpart.

Multiple ideas were shared, from innovative homepages and social media posts, to a dedicated person driving branding into the market, leveraging agencies to represent the employer in the same way they would represent themselves to the talent pool.

In the end, the consensus was that it is important to create awareness of who you are and what you are doing, but you need to be sure that what you are branding is a true representation of the day-to-day lives of a company’s current employees. It was also noted that having an attractive workplace is a key area to focus on. This included the option for remote working and flexi-time. The need to re-educate people on remote working was also identified, including the need for a tangible demonstration of the positive effects of such work arrangements. There is a need for leaders and managers to better understand the practical application and management of an agile workforce, as well as an understanding of how to measure and define performance to create a more agile environment for employees.

With regards to the candidate experience, our group discussed some of the less desirable outcomes being; TA moving too slowly with the process (and not keeping talents engaged), having too few or too many stakeholders involved in a process, or even moving too fast; thus leaving talent with a feeling that they have not been challenged in the interview process.

In Summary

It was determined that there is no right or wrong answer. However, rather than making sure candidates have an excellent experience via transparency of the process, HR leaders need to understand why the process is set the way it is, so they can advocate for the changes that are most necessary. Keeping the interviews engaging/challenging and only including the relevant stakeholders for the specific role in questions, was agreed as a good start to a more positive candidate experience.

Although we have not covered all the contents, ideas and opinions that came through in the session. The group seems to come to a consensus that Japan faces specific challenges in the area of talent compared to its overseas counterparts. It was uplifting to hear from HR leaders who are aware and tackling these challenges within their organisations head on. They are clearly contemplating and looking at new initiatives to improve their internal talent, workplace and candidate experience.

Looking to the future, Japan’s HR leaders will be turning their focus towards driving direct sourcing, implementing AI and using more social networking services to reach more of the talent pools in Japan.

Here’s what HR leaders said about the networking session

“I found lots of value in the discussion (even more than the networking, which is often the opposite). I learned very valuable insights on how to increase the effectiveness of talent acquisition in Japan.”
Osvaldo Perfido, Head of HR Tapestry Japan

“It was a great time to get connected with HR leaders in other industries/companies – it was very interesting to realize that to a certain extent we are facing similar challenges in terms of Talent Acquisition in Japan. I am already looking forward to joining another roundtable hosted by ChapmanCG.”
Moon Kon Mike Choi, Head of HR, North East Asia at A.P. Moller – Maersk

“This was a great discussion.  Always so valuable to hear how other peers are facing the same challenges and how they are looking at it.  I took away a page of notes, and of course peers who I have already started to connect with!  Look forward to the next catch up!  Cheers Team.”
Patrick Jordan- Human Resources Director, Coca-Cola Japan

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