Finding the Perfect Candidate
What is the "perfect" candidate for a foreign company? Clearly different companies have different values. For some it is experience, compliancy and ability to follow orders. For others it is the exact opposite, and is flexibility, independent thinking, and a self-starter attitude. Which ever it may be, in this time of financial stringency, there is no doubt that one important value is the person's bottom line contribution to the company, followed closely by their ability to get along with the team (but not necessarily by being a team player).
Over the years, I have embarked on many candidate searches to fill strategic gaps in client's companies, as well as my own. My clients often come up with highly detailed descriptions of what experience they want their perfect employee to have, even down to having worked in a particular position for a particular competitor for "more than 3 years". While this is important input to the recruiter, the reality is that in a market with a paucity of qualified candidates, finding someone who exactly fits the client profile is sometimes impossible.
The reality is that the right candidate for your company really depends on where your company is in its development in Japan. If you're a smaller business with an unstructured operation and are not yet profitable, strong personality and flexibility are key survival/success factors for a new business. Of course, you want experience too, however, some of the most successful small company teams I've seen were built purely on attitude and training, rather than past successes of their members. In a larger company, the safest route is for someone with prior experience in a similar company, so that at least they know how to cope with a structured environment.
I have seen client Recruiting Managers struggle for months trying to find the "perfect" candidate, matching specifications and expectations laid down by someone back in the States or Europe - all the while rejecting perfectly good candidates that any Japanese company would be happy to get. Instead, foreign hirers need to learn that because Japanese companies don't really nurture specialization - it creates an over reliance on a single employee and thus weakens the company - generalism and politics are the real mold for corporate careers, and the experience of many candidates reflects this fact.
However, I've found that so long as you start from Day One, new employees, both young and old are ready and willing to be trained. And since many people do have generalist backgrounds, they are used to having to pick up new ideas and processes quickly - as they had to do with their previous Japanese employer. Whether it's sales, marketing, government compliance, manufacturing, or service and support, the perfect employee is often someone who will grow into the job, developing understanding for the business and their colleagues, along the way.
Certainly my own experience over the years, and I have hired a number of CEOs, COOs, CFOs, Sales Managers, etc., is that going for experience over attitude has got me into trouble more than once. I found myself paying a high salary for a "perfect" resume, when I should have been focusing on the ability of the candidate to learn and adapt. Of course it's great if you can get both, but the fact is that perfect candidates are usually already working for someone else and are sufficiently well looked after that they don't want to move.
I would make the point, also, that in the search for the "perfect" candidate, often companies overlook good people within their own organization. If you were to compare the cost of recruiting with the cost of training, often training brings much better results, including better performance and better morale for other employees as they see the opportunities open up. One caveat though, always make sure that the prospective promote really does have the right personality and attitude. The last thing you want to do is create a company culture in which managers feel obligated to promote from within even though the person may not be suitable for the new position.