Japan's hiring practices
Japanese firms are waking up to the merits of hiring globe-trotting recruits
RYOSUKE KOBAYASHI is the only Japanese undergraduate in his year at Harvard University.
Ryosuke Kobayashi 是哈佛那一届唯一的的日本本科生。
When he applied, he knew no one who could advise him on how to get in.
So this week, in a rickety wooden inn in Tokyo, sitting cross-legged on tatami mats with Apple Macs on their laps, he and fellow Harvard students conducted seminars for Japanese high-school students on subjects ranging from anime to Thomas Hobbes.
He was not encouraging students to go to America, he insists, just offering them an alternative to uchimuki, or the culture of looking inward, which pervades Japan.
For example, in 1997 there were roughly equal numbers of Japanese, Korean and Chinese students at Harvard, including postgraduates.
Now there are five times as many Chinese as Japanese, and three times as many Koreans.
The story is similar at other foreign universities.
Meanwhile, Japanese firms have lost ground to their Chinese and South Korean rivals.
Some say this is no coincidence.
Yasuyuki Nambu, the boss of Pasona, a Tokyo-based recruitment consultancy, says Japanese universities churn out students for old-fashioned businesses, rather than fast-growing global ones such as IT and retail.
Japan Inc needs more creative thinkers and linguists. So several firms are courting young Japanese who have been abroad.
Jobs fairs for those who have studied abroad are suddenly popular.
Mynavi, the sponsor of one, says the number of participating firms soared by almost 50% since last year, to 188.
Keidanren, Japan's big-business lobby, has promised to hold a special jobs exchange for students returning from abroad next summer, tacitly admitting that Japan's traditional hiring schedule hobbles them:
people are recruited in Japan to start work in April, which is during the academic year in America and Europe.
The University of Tokyo, Japan's best, is mulling starting in September instead, to fit in with the rest of the world.
In other countries there has long been a market for footloose talent.
But in Japan students usually have just one shot at securing a steady first-time job: in their third year at university.
If they are abroad, they miss it, and may have to study an extra year in Japan to earn their chance.
That has discouraged people from studying abroad.
And corporate culture in Japan has tended to favour those who follow the rules: training is done “on-the-job”, which implies little respect for what was learned at college.
Pasona reckons the change has accelerated since March, when Japan was hit by an earthquake that disrupted the nation's supply chains and power plants.
The population is ageing and shrinking; to avoid shrinking with it, Japanese firms must expand overseas. Recent months have seen a surge of foreign mergers and acquisitions.
But while hiring trends may have started to reflect this shift, corporate culture has not.
Hierarchy and pay remain rigid in many Japanese firms–you do what you are told and get what you are given.
Well-travelled recruits may not like this. And if they don't, they can go elsewhere.