Changing Careers Mid-stream
I frequently get email from people who are successfully working here in Japan but don't like the sector they're in, and want to change careers. Such as one from a reader this morning who is in engineering and has a decent job, but who really wants to get into a financial position even if it means starting over. His email included questions such as, "Do I need more qualifications?" and "How do I go about getting a job in a discipline that I currently have no experience with?"
My advice is that if you are competent, and especially if you are bilingual (as my reader today is), then anything is possible, providing you put yourself in the right situation. Now of course if you want to change from being a janitor to an engineer, or a cook to a doctor, certain certifications are almost compulsory, so clearly you would start with these. However, a surprising number of high-powered jobs at foreign companies in Japan require nothing more than your having been successfully hired and trained. This includes stock traders, analysts, consultants, managers, designers, sales people and many others.
Of course to get hired - that is the trick. Because your resume is likely to be just one of hundreds for that dream job - and no qualifications or experience is a big red flag to the HR staff, saying "Throw me out."
So it's important to realize that in changing jobs, unless you need by law a certain qualification to practice, then you should focus on not how to get qualifications to make your job entry easier, but rather how to influence the HR people and managers making the hiring decision to take you. This is a big change in philosophy and lets you spend your time more productively once you realize it.
As I've said before, the easiest way around HR people and getting yourself into the heart of a hiring manager is to already be in the company and find a way to bridge from where you are to where you want to be. Then let human dynamics and warm relationships carry you there.
For the reader who wrote in, I gave him the advice that since he already has a great career track record, that he should try getting into the environment of his dream job first, as a supporter rather than a main player, i.e. as an engineer, not a trader, at any bank which employs people in the job he eventually wants. Then, once in through the back door, he should network with traders in the organization and find out where the opportunities lie, how people actually get hired, and whether anyone in the organization has successfully made the transition in the past (I guarantee that there has been).
In creating his network, all the while developing an in-company reputation as a solid and reliable person who can think for himself, he will start to hear of events in the company that will give him his chance - people leaving or getting promoted, expansions in business, cross-discipline jobs opening up as new services are rolled out that have a technical component, and much more besides. As he learns dates and players, he can then approach the appropriate managers and make a request to be considered for the new positions.
So, key to getting career changes in a gaishi in Japan is to work from the inside. Trying to get into a new field fresh is hard work anywhere and in the picky Tokyo market, it's just that much harder. The human element is so-o-o important here and if the business manager in charge of your dream job has seen you around and knows your positive attributes, this can really overcome the big negative point of your having no experience.