Working as a Recruiter in Japan

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April 12, 2017

If you told Timothy “Timmy” Huggins six years ago that he’d triple his annual salary less than five years after arriving in Japan, be fast-tracked for promotion, thrive in a consulting career in a non-Western culture and achieve all of the above before he turned 30 — chances are he would have laughed in non-belief.

However, he’s now the head of human resources and a senior consultant at East West Consulting (EWC) — Japan’s longest running executive search company (it just celebrated its 30-year anniversary in Japan this past March). His job involves placing key professionals in local and multinational businesses from the company’s offices here in Tokyo.

We sat down with Huggins to talk about what it’s like to be a recruiter in Japan and found out that it’s a job that allows people freedom to carve their own niche — and rise to their own potential. Huggins is doing it — and he’s still only in his twenties.

It might be a career change for you to think about.

No one day the same

For those who thrive on challenge and like variety, no day as a recruiter is typically the same. “If our [recruiting] staff all took turns in describing what we were doing, you might not even realize we were doing the same thing,” says Huggins. “EWC allows us to go our own way. But in the morning, we’re all pretty much checking our email and following up on sending resumes to our clients. A lot of work is done in front of a computer and on the phone, but of course, we also speak with clients and candidates face to face. Later, back-and-forth with clients and approaching candidates with new career opportunities are the major tasks that take up most days. Internal training and assessment are obviously important, too.”

Sales ability and Japanese skills

While Japanese language skills are beneficial, Huggins stresses they’re not as important in recruiting as you may think. “Consider basketball players. It’s helpful to be tall, but just because you’re tall doesn’t mean you’re a good basketball player. Many short players make a living from professional basketball. Some of our top-performing consultants are non-Japanese speakers. That said, Japanese skills are helpful so at our company, we do provide Japanese language training for staff who want it.

“Extroverts are more likely to enjoy recruiting as a career, but the industry has space for all personality types. It’s up to companies to find the best place for those people. Our consultants pretty much establish their ‘own’ company under the umbrella of EWC. Some people work long hours to make extra money. Others prioritize work-life balance, but you really have to put in the groundwork at the start just like in anything else in life to get to this stage.”

Transitioning from teaching

Huggins himself first worked as a teacher in Japan. For ALTs and educators looking for a career change, you may have more transferable skills than you think. “Recruiting is all about communicating,” Huggins says.

“Communication is a huge component […] with clients and candidates [as well as] understanding what the other person is feeling. Patience is another common trait. In recruiting, nothing happens overnight. You have to build relationships, but the difference is that you’re working in a more volatile environment. So, for those who like the routine of teaching, recruiting may not be for you. But the thing about teaching is that you can always go back to it. I’d love to see more people wanting a career change to challenge themselves. I’d recommend to those thinking of becoming a recruiter to really do some research. Talk to enough people to know whether this is right for you.”

Diversity: not an exception, but a rule

Recruiting has a reputation as a male-dominated, A-personality-type domain, but again, Huggins is clear to dismiss outdated stereotypes. “Some of our top performers at EWC have been women,” he says, noting that the company hires based on potential and cultural fit.

“That said, we tend to get more males applying for positions with us as opposed to females. My hunch is that this is because more international men may be coming to Japan, as many of our employees are non-Japanese.”

Yet because of the long hours typically involved in the industry — meeting with candidates after their workday is over, for example — Huggins is on a quest to come up with innovative solutions. It’s necessary for both men and women in order for consultants to be able to both have a prosperous career, as well as enjoy raising their families.

On the job traits

No matter where you end up working, skills most likely to lead to recruiting success include:

  • Integrity: You’re dealing with people’s lives. Treating people with empathy, respect and confidentiality is a must due to the personal nature of the work
  • Resilience: When the conditions of a job opening or a candidate’s availability suddenly change, you may have to start all over again. “Recruiting is like a game of poker. Sometimes you get dealt hands that you can’t win and you have to fold them quickly and move on.”
  • Work ethic: Your hours can be long and you’ll likely be working under high pressure. Persuading potential candidates to change jobs isn’t easy. But strong performance — no matter what your age — is handsomely rewarded.
  • Coachability: “At EWC, we’ve been coaching successfully for over 30 years. If you can’t take advice from our management team when given, well, this may not be the right career for you.”
  • Team oriented: “Recruiting is unique in that you have to work alongside your team members, but it’s also a somewhat competitive environment”
  • Communicative: Recruiting is about understanding what others are feeling and responding to that. In Japan, read between the lines.

Ambition is rewarded

While a university degree and prior work experience are standard requirements for working as a recruiter in Japan, Huggins is adamant that the industry rewards ambition more — regardless of whether you are young or old. The path from associate consultant to senior consultant at the company is typically five-plus years, but his path was less than that. “I don’t think I would have been able to achieve what I have if it wasn’t for recruiting,” Huggins says. Thrilled to have found a company where he can safely set his own goals and work without his ambition being limited, Huggins is an enthusiastic advocate for the recruiting industry and human resources as a whole.

I don’t think I would have been able to achieve what I have if it wasn’t for recruiting.

The path from associate consultant to senior consultant at the company is typically five-plus years — even though his own path was less than that.

“I don’t think I would have been able to achieve what I have if it wasn’t for recruiting,” Huggins says.

Thrilled to have found a company where he can safely set his own goals and work without his ambition being limited, Huggins is an enthusiastic advocate for the recruiting industry and human resources as a whole.

To find out more about working at EWC, apply here.

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