Terrie's Job Tips -- Should I Become a Recruiter?

Today we answer a reader letter about whether he is cut out for recruiting.

Reader: I recently turned thirty and have lived in Japan for four and a half years. I snapped out of a dangerously comfortable situation at an "Eikaiwa" (English Teaching) job and uprooted everything to come to Tokyo a couple of months ago. I currently teach a mixture of corporate in-house classes and high-school work. I love teaching and have done it for seven years now in Korea, New Zealand and Japan. However, I know I need to diversify and I really want to try something new. I'm wondering if recruiting might be a viable alternative?

I know that there are many recruiting firms in Tokyo and I've sent feelers out to one or two just asking for information on the types of people they look for. One company recently told me no prior experience is necessary and that I should send a resume in. However, friends tell me that many new consultants in recruiting companies don't last that long and that there is a high level of churn. I don't want to get into a job that could potentially be very unstable. Also, what is a realistic first year salary for a new recruiter?

Terrie: OK, I can say straight up that as a beginner recruiting is not for the faint of heart. You not only have to have the sensitivity to understand where a candidate's head is at when trying to line them up for a job, but you also have to be strong enough to go out and find that candidate in the first place... they don't usually come to you. This means that you have to have a good tolerance for social rejection in the course of searching for your candidates, and yet have a high EQ and good Japanese (since you have to convince your typically Japanese candidates that foreign companies are safe to work for). This mix of skills is hard to come by naturally and takes time to train and learn.

As a newcomer you have no track record and it is difficult for even experienced operators of recruiting companies to tell if a newcomer has the unique mix of guts and sensitivity. Usually they will let a well-equipped person try out and see if they have the golden touch. This inevitably means that companies taking on untested newcomers realize that there is a high level of risk involved and are probably willing to accept a certain amount of churn. For you as the newcomer, what is important is to realize that the greener you are, and the more quickly a recruiting company takes you on, the higher the likelihood that you are going to have a quick exit.

But you have to start somewhere, right? And I don't think the above situation is so different for other professions, such as sales and even proofreading. So, if your heart is telling you to break out of the comfort zone, you need to be willing to take a risk.

The good news is that you already have some assets to take with you into the job. For example, I would guess that through your teaching experience, you probably have the patience it takes as a recruiter to deal with people. This will get you in close with candidates once you find them, and increase your chances of a successful placement. Further, you may also have a personal network already established that you can use to kick off your new job with. Both candidates and customers could be lying in wait in your meishi file. If they are not, then before jumping into the new job, make it a point to start networking and getting to know people well enough to be able to call them up later.

Recruiting is a profession worth taking up. It offers a highly portable career that can be continued in a number of other countries. Right now, Japan is a good place to get started. There is a continuing demand for high-quality staff among foreign companies in particular and given the tight market for candidates, recruiters are in big demand. This means that it shouldn’t be too hard for you to get offers.

Just remember to leave those companies using a payment system called a "draw" as your second selections. Instead, as a preference, you want to find a firm that will pay you a proper salary from Day One, even if it is relatively modest. The trap with a draw is that you have to pay it back (it's essentially a loan) and if you don't make placements quickly, it can wind up being quite a drain emotionally and financially.

Salaries for recruiters vary quite a bit. As a beginner, you shouldn't expect a base of much more than JPY250,000 per month. Although this is probably substantially less than what you're already making as a language teacher, the difference lies in the commissions. Many recruiting firms pay between 10% and 25% of the overall client payment for the successful placement of a candidate as commission to the consultant making that placement. This means that some of the top recruiters in Tokyo are making more than JPY20m-JPY30m annually. Typically, though, a competent recruiter can be expected to make about JPY10m or so in annual commissions and JPY3m or so in base pay. Most people take 2-3 years of focused effort to reach this level.