As part of our plans to increase the accessibility and transparency of the work of the BCCJ executive committee (excom), you will see more articles over the coming months from different members of our 2014–15 excom. In this issue I am taking the opportunity to share some insights from my own 15 years of experience working and living in Japan.
I am an organisational development specialist. My first experience of Japan was at the age of 17, when I worked as a volunteer in two Leonard Cheshire Disability’s homes for the handicapped, located in the Kansai region.
A scholarship from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology provided an opportunity for me to return to complete a Masters degree.
I have spent most of my professional career working with British organisations, often during their start-up stage in Japan. This has given me the opportunity to observe some of the common pitfalls experienced by new market entrants.
It is well known that Japan is one of the most difficult countries in which to recruit the necessary quality of talent. In fact, ManpowerGroup’s 2014 Talent Shortage Survey of over 37,000 employers in 42 countries cited Japan as the most challenging market for filling job vacancies.
Securing quality bilingual staff is usually one of the first priorities in setting up an office in Japan, but the limited availability of experienced bilingual talent means that finding the right candidate can be fraught with difficulties.
The eigoya problem
Part of this challenge relates to eigoya, a term used in the local HR community to describe candidates possessing excellent English skills but lacking basic business knowledge.
An eigoya-type candidate could be an individual who has spent most of his or her career focusing on developing close-to-perfect English language skills to the detriment of gaining business knowledge and expertise.
He/she may come across as eloquent and persuasive in an interview context but, once hired, struggles to build rapport with others and fails to develop the working relationships necessary to carry out the role.
The accidental hiring of an eigoya candidate is not uncommon. This type of poor hiring decision usually is made when the interviewer does not speak Japanese and is lulled into a false sense of security by the candidate’s high level of English, forgetting to thoroughly check their experience and track record.
Richard Boggis-Rolfe, chairman of recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, emphasised the danger of hiring based on one’s gut feeling, at one of our BCCJ events earlier this year. He mentioned the importance of preparing a clear and prioritised list of requirements for the role and using this list in a disciplined way.
This helps ensure that candidates are compared and selected based on objective criteria, and that the final hiring decision is not overly influenced by other subjective or emotional factors.
For particularly crucial positions, one way to better grasp candidates’ people skills is to arrange for them to take part in a simulated work project.
This could entail a short role play, in which the candidate has to address an issue relating to a subordinate’s poor performance, and would offer a more precise indication of the candidate’s communication skills and ability to develop rapport.
Look for potential
Another way that some firms have overcome the hiring challenge is expanding the list of acceptable candidates to include individuals who have 80–90% of the English language skills required for the role.
I have seen some firms successfully build a strong team by identifying individuals who may not have the necessary standard of English at the time of the interview, but who have the right attitude and level of motivation to improve their fluency in a comparatively short time upon entering the organisation.
There is no one right solution to finding and developing the best talent for your business in Japan, but I hope these hints and tips will help your business avoid one of the common difficulties.