Let’s face it, when it comes to the job market, everything has changed. The global financial meltdown has resulted in layoffs, rising unemployment, and bankruptcies; companies are either downsizing, holding off on hiring, or hiring with extreme caution. Suddenly we find ourselves in what looks to be an employer’s market, as the number of job openings has dropped while the number of job seekers has skyrocketed.
In Japan, though arguably less affected than the United States, the job market has become more competitive and less fluid, reduced to a trickle in some sectors and frozen solid in others. The credit crunch is squeezing the foreign-capital firms and domestic Japanese companies feel their pain. And there’s no doubt that Japanese employers and employees both look to the future with a wary eye.
So why should you remain upbeat about your job search?
Believe it or not, some things haven’t changed at all. No amount of economic uncertainty can change Japanese demographics, which continue to show a decline in population and an aging, shrinking workforce. In specialized professional sectors such as accounting and IT, companies still suffer from a skills shortage, especially when it comes to language and communication skills. For bilingual professionals, the job market continues to reward the right mix of skills and attitude. Japanese returnees in particular with the right skill sets are still in extremely high demand.
What are the right skill sets?
In a competitive market, specialization is the key—and bilingual specialists in finance, accounting, and IT are still rare in Japan. Even if many foreign-capital firms have slowed their hiring, Japanese companies are realizing that they are in a good position to attract professionals with linguistic and cultural skills as well, many of whom would have been snapped up by foreign multinationals just months ago.
Accountants and auditors with solid track records should be able to find employers. With continuing SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) and J-SOX (also known as the Financial Instrument and Exchange Law) requirements, listed firms need people with international regulatory and compliance experience and know-how. The imminent shift to IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), slated to go into effect in 2011 in Japan, can only increase this need. Mid-to-senior level consultants and contractors can also be optimistic—Japanese companies are beginning to see the cost and performance benefits of hiring accounting professionals on projects or fixed contracts, and there is sure to be a steady or increasing number of accounting projects for the foreseeable future.
In IT, troubles in the financial industry are not necessarily felt in consumer, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and other commerce and industry sectors. Hiring is sure to be slower than before as the market is flooded with ex-financial IT professionals, but companies are aware of the opportunity to boost their knowledge and experience base. It is also likely that the changes in the regulatory environment—as those mentioned above or other potential changes—will create a need for new applications, infrastructure changes, ERP solutions, and so on.
And in this competitive landscape, firms in Japan need increasingly creative salespeople, better marketing ROI, and communications strategies that embrace technology and evolve in tandem with customers. Bilingual and bicultural sales and marketing specialists with a history of meeting or surpassing revenue targets are well positioned to find roles in a variety of sectors.
Changing your approach
If you fit into any of these categories then the outlook for your job search is still positive, and probably will be for some time to come. At the same time, as long as the bear market persists, you should approach your search with a different set of expectations than you may have had several months ago.
First, consider the downside. Fewer companies are hiring, and more people are looking, so competition will be more severe than in recent memory. Add to this the economic situation and it’s easy to conclude that job seekers should have lower expectations in several areas. Salaries and benefits for instance are holding at last year’s levels or decreasing slightly, so don’t expect much of a pay increase for changing jobs. Employers are also offering promotions and better job titles less frequently, so if you want to move, be prepared for a lateral shift. And since caution is the byword these days, and increasing headcount often entails getting permission from disparate stakeholders, get ready for a longer job search.
But on the upside, your search could well be worth the wait. Remember, companies are hiring more carefully and selectively, which means that once you join a firm you are likely to be more valued from day one. While it’s true that employers will have higher expectations of you, you will enjoy their confidence and be in a position to truly contribute to the company’s growth and success. You will also be able to help your new employer through these difficult economic times—the challenges will be greater, but they’re the kinds of challenges that make careers.
Rise to the Challenges Ahead
Regardless of whether or not you find a job in Japan, it’s important to remember that it’s not so much where, but how you weather the crisis that will determine your positioning afterward. Seek experience and build your skills, and make sure you do your best to make positive contributions to your company. At the same time never lose sight of your own personal career goals. In times like these making some sacrifices may be necessary, but there’s no need to sacrifice your career path as you rise to the challenges along the way. That, at least, is something that hasn’t changed a whit, even in this turbulent market.