What Recruiters are Good For
Once every now and again I look around the Japan-focused chat boards to get a feel for what people are looking for work and how they find it. Over the last few months, I've noticed more and more postings from people who are dissatisfied with recruiting companies - and labeling one company or another as "useless".
But before giving up on recruiters, let's take a step back and look at what you should be using a recruiter for, and just what you can expect them to do for you.
So, the first point I'll make is: "When was the last time you paid a recruiter for his/her services?" The answer is most likely "never". Why not? Quite simply, because most recruiters make their money by producing desirable candidates to client companies - not by acting as a counselor to candidates. So unless you have the skill-set that matches a particular company's needs, a recruiter has little reason to help you, other than as a matter of courtesy and professionalism - and even if he/she does meet you, it doesn't necessarily mean that they can find you a job. Remember, recruiters simply represent market needs - they can't create jobs where none exist.
So, clearly the problem here is that you have to match the market needs in order to get a recruiter to start working to help you. To find out if you do meet the market criteria, please try two simple things: first, check out 3-4 of the job boards on the Internet (particularly www.DaiJob.com) and see what opportunities are out there for someone with your type of background. If there appears to be nothing, but you are either very bilingual (English-Japanese) or have a very strong technical/financial/management background - then you may still have a chance. Some of the better jobs are never advertised because the hirers don't want their competitors to know what they are doing - in which case, go to the second step, which is...
...you can try contacting a recruiting company directly and ask to meet with a consultant. While the recruiting company may not have any positions immediately open for you, professionalism demands that they at least speak to you on the phone, and answer your questions about how you can improve your chances on the job market. If you have even modest capabilities though, and you present your case well, most consultants will go the extra step and agree to meet with you and give you some personal advice about what to do. Obviously this is a function of the consultant's time and whether or not you get a personal introduction (get one if you really want to get a consultant's attention) can be key on getting in the door. The best people to get such introductions from are those that were recently placed by the same consultant (nothing like a successful placement to motivate them).
What if you don't have any relevant skills but simply want to get started in Japan? Firstly, if you submit your resume to a job board - don't be surprised if you don't get many (if any) responses. Don't get p**ssed off. Instead, either get the experience/skills that you need, or get a lower end job, so that you can get into the game. Try to remember that even the large recruiting companies don't have a "lock" on the entire market. There is always some employer that likes a particular recruitment company and only lists jobs with that recruiter. You can get some universal job data coverage with the job boards, but particularly for higher end jobs, your best bet is to go see at least 2-3 recruiting companies in person, so that you get better exposure to a wider range of job opportunities.
To wrap-up, recruiters are good for what? At the high-end, they know of unadvertised top jobs, they have relationships that can get you into companies you couldn't, and they can be a big help in negotiating salary and conditions. At the low-end/beginner level, they can help with advice and ideas - but probably not much more than that. Recruiters are not social workers and they have to make a living too (which can only happen if they successfully place a candidate), so try to respect that fact by preparing yourself well, and keeping time demands to a minimum until it's clear that you are "in play".
As always, my contact details are simply: email@example.com. Looking forward to getting some enquiries...