Time to look the other way

Among the firing, strategic hiring remains key

The headline economic figures on trade, production and consumer confidence appear to leave little room for doubt. Japan, despite avoiding the excesses that sparked the near collapse of the global financial system, has fallen victim to the resulting global economic downturn.

The grim statistics also appear to match the general mood of corporate Japan. Even before the latest trade figures showed the largest drop on record, a survey by Robert Half International of 3,500 finance and accounting professionals across 14 developed economies showed that the Japanese are pessimistic, even by international standards. They topped the list on perceived job insecurity as a result of the crisis (Japan 63 percent, Ireland 62 percent, Hong Kong 54 percent, UK 49 percent, Italy 48 percent, Spain 44 percent, France 43 percent). The report also showed that about half of Japanese companies surveyed reacted by cutting costs.

What does this mean for employment in Japan? A foreign executive facing a host of issues in the downturn could be forgiven for thinking that staff retention and recruitment are far from the top on the list of urgent concerns.

But it was not long ago that the same manager, given the language and cultural differences faced in Japan, found that staffing represents one of the most challenging aspects for international companies doing business here.

As any crisis offers opportunity, now may be just the time for an employer to steal a march on the competition through strategic hiring. Based on recent business trends, we see that a few companies are doing just that – although few would want to talk about it.

Things may look bad here, but it is clear that the job markets are anything but rosy elsewhere. This means that talented foreigners will be reluctant to go home, where they lose the chance to leverage their Japan skills, while foreign-trained Japanese professionals may be more willing to consider a move back home.

As prestigious Japanese firms such as Nomura embrace a more global outlook in bringing in foreign expertise from defunct counterparts such as Lehman Brothers, individuals are also considering the message this sends and are changing their own expectations. Famously loyal Japanese employees are increasingly looking at foreign players as a means for career development. In this way, Japan is uncertain of the future and considering options, which for some for the first time includes a serious look at foreign employers.

In this way, opportunity also exists for job seekers, although amid significant competition. Now, more than ever, is the time to go back to basics in job-seeking. Something as simple as ensuring that your resume contains no typos and making sure your clothes are properly cleaned and pressed can mean the difference between instant write-off and getting your foot in the door.

The financial crisis, like all other tectonic shifts, will bring its own opportunities. One only needs to look at the massive regulatory and auditing requirements that have come from The Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

If the president of the United States is now in the business of setting suggested caps for some CEO salaries as just a first step to reform, the scale of re-regulation that will follow should not be underestimated.

(David Price is Japan's Managing Director for specialized recruitment firm Robert Half International)

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