Recruiting young new talent is one of the great joys of my job. This is not just because it is obviously much more rewarding to be able to offer a concrete career to a young university student rather than delivering abstract economic forecasts to clients. No, most importantly, my meetings with university students and young talent actually strengthen my bullishness on Japan. Youth power Japan is very real.
Rather than talking in generalities, let me tell you about my latest concrete recruiting experience. We all know Japan is special and in the case of recruiting globally-minded Japanese, it really is. Could not be easier, could not be more efficient: every autumn, Japan organizes the “Boston Recruiting Fair” – the Boston Convention Center is rented for three days and students from around the world who are interested in getting a job with a Japanese company – or in the Japan business of a global company – come together. It’s very convenient and very efficient. Last year, about 25,000 students came from all sorts of universities around the world – Japanese kids studying overseas, globally-minded Japanese studying in Japan, or overseas kids interested in Japan. Companies from all industries and sectors are represented – from Japanese and global fortune 500 players, to small/mid-sized niche players.
Even the Bank of Japan and several other local bureaucracies are there to meet new talent. It could not be easier, better organized, or efficient. The truly global nature of this Boston Forum certainly stands in sharp contrast to the local domestic practices. Also, I know of no other country where global recruitment is organized in such efficient manner.
The real excitement, however, comes through the applicants. Last year, I received notice from about 200 students wanting to come and work in financial research in Tokyo. So much for Japan no longer being “interesting.” Most interestingly, slightly more than 40 percent of the applicants were Chinese. And of these, almost all had spent at least two or three years in Japan during high school or
doing undergraduate studies.
Four or five years ago, barely 10 percent of applicants had been Chinese. So yes, a tremendous shift is going on. And yes, those Chinese kids are eager and keen to work in Japan. Clearly competition for jobs is getting tougher for Japanese kids, no matter what the official immigration policy says. And clearly, from a hiring managers’ perspective, those “tri-cultural” students are very attractive – fluency not just in the languages but also the cultures of Japan, China and America carries a premium.
So why does this make me optimistic on Japan’s youth? That’s because the real surprise came from the Japanese nationals applying. With 40 percent Chinese and about 10 percent from other nationalities, the Japanese were still about half of all applicants – now studying in America, the UK or Australia. The surprise was that of the Japanese applicants, more than one-third had been studying in China for at least one or two years prior to their studies at English-speaking universities. How impressive, and what a clear sign that competition always works both ways: we’ve got a more global, more competitive job market with more students from China competing for Japan-related jobs. At the same time, my experience from the latest student recruiting fairs has been that Japan’s youth is responding and not afraid to compete. Tri-cultural Japanese kids can do, hands down. If at all, the only problem is my own incompetence – while I am perfectly capable of checking the Japanese language ability of Chinese students who claim to speak Japanese, I am absolutely incapable of testing a Japanese applicant’s Chinese language ability. I guess I am the one getting old and expendable…
Now, the flipside of all this is the fact that almost none of these tri-cultural, aggressive kids were actually interviewing with Japanese companies. Why not? The answer was almost always the same – they were worried about limited career prospects relative to true global companies. They do not want to spend the first four of five years of their working lives being the nail that’s hammered back in.
Indeed, how aggressive and impressive some of these Japanese new global youth were left me very optimistic. One kid was
studying at an extremely competitive US university, double major in mathematics and economics with a GPA just a smitten from perfect. Twenty-two years old, two years in China, sharp as a tack. So after a while during the interview I asked him:hey, let me ask you a real ‘gaijin’ question – where do you see yourself in five or ten years and who do you want to be?” He replied, “Well, Koll-san, until six or seven months ago I had the perfect answer to this – I wanted to become the first Japanese national to win the Nobel prize for economics.”
Then he paused, leaned across the table and said “But Koll-san, now that I have been working with two Nobel prize-winning economists, I realize that academia is not for me. I want to work in the real world!”
What more do you need to know? See what I mean – I’m very bullish on Japan’s new global youth. Whether Japan Inc. can adapt to their raw energy and global outlook and ambition is, of course, a different question.