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3 Sins of Hiring Executives in Japan and How to Avoid Them

3 Sins of Hiring Executives in Japan and How to Avoid Them

6 months ago by David Sweet
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​Speaking to a company this week on expanding their Japan operations: “I know we are looking for a unicorn,” she said, “hiring someone who is Japanese national, great English, and 35 years old.” 

I would argue that this company, like so many others, aren’t searching for a unicorn, but are actually getting ready to fall into the same trap that so many others fall into.

So what are those traps?

Japanese National

Granted, some positions need a native Japanese person for the role: someone in marketing writing copy; a sales person in domestic sales; and an HRBP dealing with employee relations and labor law are a few examples. However, these days, you can hire foreigners that have long-term commitment to Japan, know the language and culture, and many times relate better to HQ. 

Moral of the story: Be more creative in exploring who you are willing to hire. 

Hiring Youth

When someone says they want a young person person because “they are more aggressive, ambitious, or energetic,” I smell the stench of bull-malarkey! They trying to cut corners and hire for cheap—a huge mistake in Japan. 

There was one Canadian company that was looking to hire a CFO in their 30s. “We have hired people in their 20s and 30s in every country we set up,” a senior executive explained. The problem is young finance and accounting professionals in Japan are not exposed to situations that their foreign counterparts are and lack the maturity, skills, and business acumen to jump into a CFO position. The company persisted, and after persisting for over a year to find this candidate, they finally hired a 53 year old…just in time to close the business in Japan because of hiring.  

Moral of the story: Drop the age discrimination.

Good English

Without a doubt, positions that require overseas reporting need English, but I’ve witnessed countless overseas directors selecting a candidate with “good English” over “quality skills.” One company hired a job-hopper with exceptional English over a candidate with a Japanese CPA and business English. When asked why, the director responded, “He doesn’t have to pause when he speaks.” Two months later, they needed to sack the incumbent and requested the Japanese CPA. By that time, however, he was hired by another company. 

Moral of the story: Hire the candidate best qualified in skills and experience. 

How to Avoid These Sins

Retain an executive firm that systematically seeks out the best talent, shows knowledge of your market, demonstrates an ability to acquire candidates who are not in your network, and commits to you their service until the role is filled. If you go with your APAC talent acquisition team, you’ll lose to your competitor. If you go with a massive global company, a company outside of Japan, or a cheaper option, you’ll just be committing one more recruitment sin. 


David Sweet is the founder and CEO of FocusCore Japan, a leading executive search firm. He is author of six books and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Development. For more information, contact him at David@FocusCoreGroup.com.