How to Recruit in Japan: A Global Recruiter’s Perspective

Screen_Shot_2016-07-14_at_1.37.57_PM.pngThere’s no one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting. No two candidates share the same frame of mind, which means no two candidate experiences should look the same. As a recruiter who has hired candidates in both Japan and the United States, Tetsu Nakamura has mastered the art of creating unique interview processes that match his environment.

How to Recruit in Japan

Recruitment strategies and processes used by a global recruiter

Tetsu is the sole recruiter at Kaizen Platform, a startup in the customer experience optimization industry with offices in San Francisco and Tokyo. When Tetsu stopped by our office during his trip to the United States, we were eager to learn about the talent market in Japan, and how it differs from our own. Below, we’ve shared the glimpse he gave us into his experiences.

Can you tell me about Kaizen’s current team?

Right now, we have 100 employees in total – 90 employees in Tokyo, and 10 in San Francisco. Our sales and accounting function is in San Francisco and our production function is in Japan. We’re a full service digital customer experience optimization platform, and our goal is to scalably optimize the customer journey with data-driven creativity. We have this network of professional optimizers and customer success managers who help our customers. 


What are the major differences between recruiting candidates in Japan and the US?

In the United States, candidates focus a lot on career growth. That means that when I post a job, candidates actually apply. And when I talk to them about a job, they immediately ask what they can get out of it. American candidates want to know what’s in it for them.

In Japan, candidates often think about their family first. They are most concerned with job security. This makes them more passive and not want to be labeled as ‘seeking new opportunities’, so they don’t. In general, I have to source more in Japan because it’s harder to talk to candidates and get them to respond. And if they are looking for a job, they find them through agencies.

So you would say candidates in Japan are less accessible?

Yes, we don’t want to show that we’re open to new opportunities in Japan. In Japanese history, when you join a company, you stay your whole life. Everyone wants to stay in the same place for years and years. We still have that culture. You don’t often say “I’m looking for a job” to friends. You just have to be more secretive about it.

How do those differences impact your recruiting strategy in Japan?

As an internal recruiter for Kaizen, I have to send a lot more emails. I send one email, then I follow up. Then I follow up again. Then I follow up again until they respond.

Also, I use a service called WantedLy to find candidates. It’s similar to AngelList because you match with the candidate. The difference is that on AngelList, the candidate sometimes needs to write something to approach the company. In Wantedly, the candidate doesn’t have to write anything. They can just click a button that says “I am interested in this company”. That way, they can express interest without fully committing to the opportunity. WantedLy works because it’s a casual platform instead of a formal one. In Japan, people are very afraid of ever saying “I am interested in this job”.

How and where do you source candidates in Japan?

We reach out to a lot of Japanese candidates through Bizreach. It’s known as the Japanese LinkedIn. But in general, even if you have a direct relationship with candidates, they don’t tend to respond on these platforms. Our LinkedIn reply rate here is 3 to 5%, but in the US it’s often more than 10%.

We’ve been using Lever for one year, and it really helps with sourcing candidates. With our old tool, we couldn’t customize for our local job needs and the tool’s functions always felt limited. The system just wasn’t built for sourcing. So I would keep candidate information on a spreadsheet, and then when they were close to a final stage, that’s when I would finally put them in the applicant tracking system.

Do you do anything in particular when you create candidate experience for Japanese candidates?

We plan a happy hour for candidates when we can; we’ll order pizzas and beer and bring the whole team together to get to know them. We want to make sure they have the chance to meet every single engineer. This is so helpful when we want to hire a candidate but we haven’t given them an offer yet.

Also, Japanese people tend to be more brand-oriented, so smaller companies have to do a lot to stand out. You have to emphasize that it’s not about where you work, but what you can do there. Rather than just giving them money, show them what they can gain in this job that they can’t gain in other jobs. Candidates want to see value, they want to know that they can go above and beyond. When I paint them a picture of possibilities, I’m always more successful.

How do startups in Japan have to recruit differently than other companies?

Recruiting engineers here is especially different. If you work for a startup in Japan, you have to look for engineers who are proactive and take initiative. Startups here really don’t have a lot of resources, and so even engineers have to be very hands-on. We are looking for engineers who will engage more in business development, take a lot of ownership, who will be focused on the impact they can create.

We also need our engineers to get involved in hiring. And Lever’s Slack integration makes that easy. Engineers don’t want to switch tools to communicate, so I assign engineers to interviews and ask for their feedback in Slack, using Lever. We want to have a transparent hiring process, so everyone should be able to look at feedback. We need every engineer to help hire.

Recruiting in Japan: Conclusion

Thank you Tetsu and the rest of the team at Kaizen Platform for this insight into Japan’s talent market! 

We’re lucky to have customers who can teach us about the different motivations of candidates around the world. If you’d like to share your team’s story, email us at