I often get requests from clients wanting to hire a manager, engineer, or other bilingual or specialized position “yesterday” – meaning that they are in a great hurry and are willing to fill a vacant position with a near fit. While one could say that the art of managing involves making sure that HR resources are available for expansion as required, unfortunately the reality is that both internal budget constrictions and the general paucity of bilingual candidates in the Japanese job market mean that hiring needs and candidate availability are seldom aligned.
In general, the flow of candidates is directly proportional to two things: how technical or experienced the person needs to be, and how desirable the job is. A possible third factor if you’re looking for juniors is the graduation dates of people from universities overseas. If a job is mainstream (sales, junior management, widely-used technology, secretarial or administration, language-related, etc.) and if the position is with an attractive company (multinational, famous brand, interesting work, well-paid, etc.), then on average you can expect candidates to flow as soon as you place an ad online, or start using a recruiter.
The timetable for converting candidates for such jobs into employees is roughly:
1. One to two weeks for an ad to be created and placed online, or a job description to be written and distributed to recruiters
2. One to two weeks for the ad to start pulling candidates; three to four weeks for recruiters to start presenting appropriately filtered (versus quickly submitted) resumes
3. One to two weeks to do your first and second interviews and to make sure that you gave yourself enough time to get all potentially good and available candidates in the door
4. One to two weeks to make the offer and get your internal company paperwork in order
5. Four to eight weeks for the candidate to resign from their current employer and move to your company. Yes, the law says that they only have to give two weeks notice, but almost all Japanese candidates like to give their current employers as much time as possible to find a replacement and if possible to train the replacement person – an activity known as “hikitsugi.”
So in total, we have a time frame of about eight to 16 weeks from start to finish on this process. Certainly this doesn’t equate to the concept of bringing someone as quickly as “yesterday.” What most companies do to overcome this lag is to hire a temporary employee from a temp agency, such as Daijob Haken. With the appropriate agency, you should be able to find a filler person in one to two weeks, and sometimes as quickly as the next day.
Where the timeframe for hiring starts to creep is for more skilled and senior positions, and also ironically for lower end positions where the salary is too low for most candidates to be interested.
For the higher-end and skilled positions, such as a CEO, CFO, and marketing, support, and technology specialists, I recommend that companies think at least four to six months ahead. If they are desperate, there are interim CEO providers around (one of my companies also does this). The important thing is that you can’t be in a rush with placing your key staff. Better to have someone temporary, or bring someone in from the head office for a couple of months, and to take more time to find the right person.
Of course, it is possible that you will find the right person almost straight away, in which case you should be allowing about three or more months for them to disengage from their current employer. At the CEO level, the window of waiting may be even longer, since they will have a special level of responsibility that is probably very carefully spelled out in their Engagement Contract – i.e., they have to complete the contract or they lose a significant bonus. Thus, if you want the person to come earlier, you may find yourself having to pay out that lost bonus as compensation. In one situation I know of, the hirer had to pay out an extra US $1 million to cover lost bonuses and stock options!
At the low end, there are many positions that just don’t have any appeal, no matter how much advertising or the number of recruiters you apply. For these positions (if you can’t boost the salary), the next best thing is to have your existing staff members introduce a friend, and woo that candidate with the future potential of the job. This really works if you’re willing to put some time and energy into it, but it is time-consuming. Wooing people means meeting them regularly, once or twice a week, until they agree that moving to your firm is the right thing to do. In my experience, even with concentrated effort, this can take three to six months.
Wooing happens at the high end as well. I had one UK client some years ago who had decided on a particular individual working at a particular company. He had initially shown interest in moving when I first approached him, but got cold feet and became less willing to meet thereafter. I then engaged in some months of regular dinners and discussions about his ambitions and goals, and how the new opportunity would help him meet these. At each meeting, he’d open up a little more about terms and conditions that were an issue for him, and I was able to take these back to the client. As it turns out, he really just wanted to be sure that the new employer took him seriously and was willing to put in the effort to bring him in. Although I did most of this, in the end he appreciated the work done and agreed to take the job.