Terrie's Job Tips -- JETs - Part Two: Building Human Networks in Remote Areas

During a recent CLAIR conference for Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) teachers finishing their contracts, I was asked to make a presentation and provide counseling for those people wanting to get jobs once they moved back to their home country, and for those thinking of staying. I spoke with many attendees and found that almost everyone wanted build upon their Japan experience when returning home, rather than simply consider it as a fun 2- to 5-year diversion in their lives. So today's article is framed with that desire in mind.

I had mentioned in my presentation that networking is extremely important for future jobs – not only to find them, but also because apart from any professional qualifications and being able to speak some Japanese, your personal human network is probably the most important factor for a potential future employer.

For example, someone returning to Australia would have a stronger chance of joining a manufacturing or technology company with export ambitions if they had contacts in Japan that the company could take advantage of. Or someone entering the New Zealand hospitality industry, would be able to help their employer market to Japanese travel groups. By virtue of the fact that the returning person can directly generate potential sales and introductions for their future employer means that their chances of landing a well-paid and interesting job increase substantially.

I was then asked by a teacher based out in a remote area how it was possible for her to create such a network when she was so far from Tokyo. I admit that I was flummoxed by this obvious impediment to networking (i.e., living where there is a lack of people to network with) and didn't have a ready answer for her. I have been thinking ever since about that challenge, and talking to others who live in remote areas about how they do it.

This is what I've come up with.
1. Become known to local heavy hitters and make the most of local contacts. We often think that the biggest companies are those based in Tokyo and those are the ones that we have to go after. However, Japan was a rural economy until just 40-50 years ago, and therefore, many of the nation's leading companies have founding families based in the "provinces". As a result, there are some surprisingly powerful and wealthy individuals in seemingly remote places. I have a friend who is going through this exercise of establishing local contacts, and she has found two companies which are the largest players in Japan in their relative areas of the food industry. As a foreigner in a remote area, it is that much easier to get noticed by the founders of such companies. You just need to work up the gumption, have a good story to tell, and find someone willing to make the introduction.

2. Make the investment to travel to regional cities and find business groups to participate in. Although this approach is less effective in terms of time and money, the advantage of living well away from a city is that you can call ahead and make appointments that are based on your unique situation and distant location. People are sympathetic to travelers and are likely to make a special effort to get you in to events and meetings. The types of groups that you want to be networking into include the local chamber of commerce, any foreign business groups, industry associations (there is one for every area of business in Japan), and of course personal introductions from the gentlemen that you met from your first round of efforts.

3. Go online. Japan has a burgeoning online community culture, where it really doesn't matter where you are located. Find yourself some groups on Mixi and similar websites, and blog/post away to your heart's content. Japanese may be shy in person, but I find that online people tend to be more outgoing and easier to make contact with – especially for special interest groups. Yes, these conversations will typically need to be in Japanese – so obviously you need to brush up. But the good thing is that for younger groups in particular people use a limited number of kanji and expressions, and it won't take you long to pick up sufficient vocabulary.

4. Create your own group. If you find yourself unable to find likeminded people in your given area of interest, make your own group. An example of this might be a local English-language learning club, a technology users group, an investment study group, etc. Yes, this can be hard going if you're in a conservative farming area, but try something that will benefit the locals and you may gain traction. That friend of mine living out in the countryside has set up her own initiative to advise the local city office on foreign direct investment into their region. This has generated a lot of interest and led to her meeting all kinds of local alumni.