In an industry with as many players as recruitment, it would be natural to assume there is a lot of competitiveness, and even antagonism, among recruiters from rival companies. However, that was not the case when EURObiZ Japan sat down with Lanis Yarzab, managing director at Spring Professional; Cameron Brett, director at Randstad Professionals; and Srikesh Chidambaram, representative director at Exentive. With intelligent insights and a clear perspective on the industry in Japan, they discussed recruitment and what’s important to satisfy clients, staff and job candidates.
EURObiZ: What areas do your companies specialise in?
Lanis Yarzab: The Spring brand, which we started rolling out across Asia in 2013, is primarily known for being a technical recruitment firm, mainly IT, manufacturing, supply chain, and property and construction. We look for technical professionals within different industries.
Cameron Brett: Randstad Japan’s DNA is really in manufacturing, and Randstad Professionals has played to that strength. We have three teams that focus on technical and commercial roles. Automotive, electronics, and machinery is our manufacturing team. We have a life sciences team that focuses on pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and a B2C consumer team.
Srikesh Chidambaram: At Exentive, we primarily focus recruitment on three different areas — professional services, finance and IT companies, especially start-ups. Quite a lot of Japanese companies are going overseas, and they want people in planning departments or in IT here locally that speak English. We also provide tailored recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) and HR recruitment optimisation services.
So, in some areas you’re in direct competition with one another.
Lanis: It’s true that there are a lot of recruiters out there, but it’s such a big market. And we’ve got different networks.
Sri: There’s basically space for everyone. There’s just no issue in finding clients. If anything, it’s surprising that there are clients that some of the big firms haven’t latched onto yet.
Well then, how do you distinguish yourselves in an industry with so many players?
Cameron: For us it comes down to the candidate experience and the client experience. We try to create an enjoyable and rewarding experience on both sides, so that the client will continue to use us and the candidate will introduce us to other people in their network. We spend time on finding ways to improve our customer service, and provide an excellent level of service. One of the ways we do that is specialisation. Even though we may seem like a general HR solutions provider, what we are is actually a company full of specialists.
Lanis: When I started the Spring brand for the Adecco Group, I looked at the type of people I wanted to hire: mature consultants with some industry experience that could handle both Japanese and multinational clients. People who could offer good advice to candidates, help them make career decisions, and show them that they have different options. If there was a difficult position that needed to be filled, they would be able to understand the technical requirements and find candidates. So the quality of our staff is one way Spring differentiates itself.
Sri: We’re not a big brand; we’re a small brand. We don’t work with many clients, but we’re aggressive headhunters. So we can’t compete with some of the big firms in terms of how they can mine databases, how many people they put on a job. We’re primarily working with companies where we have access right at the top level, where we’ve had long-term relations or where a long-term relation introduces us to a new client.
From what I gather, the recruiting industry is quite intense. What do you do to retain your staff?
Lanis: That’s a huge issue because the industry has very high turnover. We take staff retention very seriously. In our company every year, we do the Great Place to Work survey, and all of the management is held accountable for how we do and how we are perceived by our staff. Our global vision is “Better work, better life”; and every time we do planning, the question that you get asked is, “How does this affect our staff?” I think, as well, to retain staff you need to trust your employees. If you hire good people, they get the job done. It’s very outdated to say: “You must work nine to five”. We’re a flexible company, and what’s important for each of your staff depends on what they need on a given day.
Cameron: As a leader, I think my most important job is hiring and retaining ‘A’ players. It’s also one of the most difficult things to do in our industry. To retain ‘A’ players, I think you really need to know your people. You need to understand what motivates them and what engages them. In my experience, recruiters are economic animals, and an attractive and transparent compensation plan is important. As well, the guys on our team told us that training was important to them, so we’ve started to provide opportunities for overseas training programmes. We’re also looking at how we can improve work–life balance. I think it starts with listening to people that you’re managing and trying to find ways to keep them on board.
Sri: It’s not very applicable for myself because we’re a small boutique. But in my experience, there are a lot of senior recruiters out there who become very upset when their employees quit and go to a competitor; and it’s sad, because we are headhunters. When one of your staff leaves and you get upset, it just sends the wrong signal to your entire staff, saying that there’s something inherently wrong with this mission. The places that say, “Thank you for all your effort, good job,” they tend to hold on to a lot more people.
What is an important issue for you right now as you recruit in Japan?
Lanis: I always talk about diversity issues in the permanent recruitment market. Part of my stance and what we do at Spring is to only talk to our clients about candidates’ skills. No personal information is given to clients about candidates. We try to get the best skilled candidate into the best job — no matter what gender, race or age they are. It’s one of our core values.
Sri: Sexism and ageism are rampant in Japan. There are lots of legal workarounds for it. You can be completely ageist in your hiring policies, for what’s called succession planning here. And they base that on age. There are fantastic candidates out there who, once they hit a certain magical age, have a much harder time finding a job. Also, I’ve been told by employers a number of times that they would prefer a man in the job because they’ll have to manage a team of people in their forties. I’ve been helping some companies resolve discriminatory practices: seeing if they have discrimination policies in effect; looking through their actual interview processes, how they are interviewing people, adding analy-tics to it; and educating.
Lanis: For all of our clients, we know that’s not the message coming down from the top. But you have certain practices which have been in a company for a long time, and they’re hard to change. Upper management wants a diverse workforce; however, there is an unconscious bias at different layers of organisations.
What are some of the qualities and skills that employers are looking for in the Japanese job market today?
Cameron: It’s responding or adapting to change. Or, if it’s a management role, then it’d be driving change. Also, for a skill set in just about any industry, digital is key: people who are digital savvy, and who understand how to create and drive a digital strategy.
Sri: For us, the key word that keeps popping up is ‘transformation’. We need flexible people. That’s the core. The other thing that I would say is a strategic planning mindset. Even for lower-level positions, employers want someone who can be flexible and strategic. Of course, digital is always in demand. I think every single company has a headcount somewhere for something related to digital.
Lanis: I agree. I think technical skills always come first. Can the person do the job and, on top of that, can they communicate and interact with different parts of the business?
What is it like to do business in Japan’s current economic climate — with the global recession and Abenomics?
Sri: Economics hasn’t really affected our area. The only thing that has been affected is the kind of recruitment that is being done. Where in the past there were a lot of direct vendor relations, now we see more recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) happening, and a lot of the bigger companies are moving more and more into pitching clients’ RPOs.
Lanis: Everyone talks about the economy and Abenomics. In Japan, the temporary recruitment market in fiscal 2014 grew 105%. The permanent market grew 118%. Companies are so short on good staff. It doesn’t affect us on a day-to-day basis.
Cameron: Absolutely. The unemployment rate in Japan hovers around 3.3%, which is one of the lowest of any country in the world, and so it’s a really candidate-driven market. There’re lots of jobs, and not enough candidates, which is a good environment to be recruiting in. I’d say this is the best market we’ve seen since 2007. And it keeps getting better.© Japan Today