The IT Job Market
Andrew W. Silberman is Executive Director of Advanced Management GROUP (AMTGROUP), a company whose mission is "Developing Global Thinkers." The AMTGROUP conducts business seminars and provides individual career coaching and graduate school admission counseling. Computing Japan spoke with Andrew about how he got started working in Japan, the services his company offers, and his advice for the IT professional. Read on and catch a pearl or two of wisdom from this veteran career coach.
What brought you to Japan?
Andrew Silberman: Back in the late 1980s, I was conducting seminars for international businesspeople and students at San Diego State University on topics ranging from basic MBA management and marketing to doing business in the 21st Century. Many of the participants were flying over from Japan - in those days, the bubble was still expanding - and I kept hearing again and again "Why don't you offer this kind of training in Japan? There's a market there."In 1991, one of my pre-MBA students invited me to Tokyo. When I arrived, he sent his father to meet me at the Skyliner Station and arranged for me to live in his grandmother's guest apartment for two weeks. I was enchanted by that red carpet welcome.
So you just came over and set up a company?
Silberman: Well not quite. It did take two and half years to research the market and dream up the AMTGROUP. I got together with two former graduate school colleagues. We'd all studied international management at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and we shared the goal of continuous personal and professional development. What better way to start than to set up a company dedicated to what we wanted for ourselves? We pooled our resources, wrote a plan as we were taught in business school, and dove in. And stayed afloat!
What was your biggest challenge getting started?
Silberman: They say that at the top of every sport, it's all mental - the players' abilities are all too close for skill to separate winners from losers. Watching an ATP challenge tour last month in Singapore, I totally agree. In the sport of business, I've found the same thing. The biggest challenge was and is my own view of the obstacles in front of us. Our company took off as soon as the three founders decided to make it fly. That came about a year and a half into the venture. It's as simple (and difficult) as that. For us as for our clients, in the business of professional development, attitude is everything.
That sounds like a Tom Peters sound bite: "Hire for attitude, train for everything else."
Silberman: Well who am I to argue with Tom Peters? Except that at the AMTGROUP, we believe you can even train in some of the attitude you're looking for.
Does that approach work in Japan
Silberman: (Grins) If you believe it, it does. It has for me.
What are some other obstacles companies face when starting up in Japan?
Silberman: That really depends on who you talk to. But birth pains are the same anywhere in the world, right? Here we struggle with "foreign everything:" employment rules, visa restrictions, bank lending policies, you name it. But if you offer a product or service that truly adds value, this market will reward you, and reward you well.
Do you have any advice for the recently-arrived IT professional?
Silberman: Network like crazy. And polish your communication skills. In this column in the March issue, I remember reading the managing director of Goldman Sachs say something like "You might be a great programmer, but if you can't persuade your boss, clients, or colleagues to adopt your approach, you'll get nowhere."He's right on. You need to know how to market yourself. Whether a company brought you here or you're looking for a job now, remember to work on improving what we call "portable skills."That can be presentations, writing, negotiations, or other business skills. And personal development as well - knowing more about your own strengths and weaknesses. I was speaking with one of our corporate clients, DuPont, and they were saying that professional skills depreciate at 20% per year. Think about that! Five years from now the only real, useful asset you'll possess is your ability to learn new skills - and fast.
How about for the non-IT professional?
Silberman: All the above "plus alpha,"a favorite phrase around here, meaning, "and then some."The IT employment market is the hottest right now. Even if you're looking for work in another field, you won't get far as a computer-phobe! My advice is, if you've come here with a plan, follow it through to fruition; and if you don't have a plan, listen to Jack Welch (General Electric's CEO) who says, "Control your destiny or someone else will."Set your goal, map out the steps, and - most importantly - take the first one. Is this still a good market to "step into?
Silberman: Absolutely. The best in the world for some - including us. We grew 40% in 1998, and most of that growth came right here in Tokyo. While the economy as a whole may have slowed, our market continues to expand. We're now working with more multinationals who are coming here as the yen has weakened and deregulation pushes on. Our biggest growth has come from non-Japanese companies and individuals who are seeking to improve themselves. Companies looking to increase their bottom line are re-examining top-line issues like coaching and leadership development, while individuals are seeking better jobs or they're thinking of heading back to graduate school.
But surely you'd prefer a strong economy to a weak one.
Silberman: Right. Believe me, I'm hoping for the economy to turn around. The return of corporate Japan's profits will lead to bigger training budgets! But for now, I'd just like to remind your readers that recessions offer a great chance to change - to change what hasn't been working, whether on an individual or corporate level. A British farmer's daughter recently told me, "At the end of the day, you need manure to make things grow." Now you might think that only goes for farming, but it holds for business too. That farmer's daughter is now an expat executive working for Dow Jones in Singapore. It's something every IT professional in Japan should keep in mind - you need a little manure to make things grow.
For more information, contact the AMTGROUP at +81-3-3384-9884, or access http://www.amt-group.com.