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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Sep 13, 2023

Once upon a time in Japan there would be a thick pile of resumes sitting on your desk for you to go through and select the new potential hires for interview.  You would conduct rounds of meetings, put them to the test in certain skill sets and then make a studied decision to bring onboard the best person.  They were nervous and you had all the power in the discussion.  They were selling you on them and why they should be selected.  Ah, those fond memories of days gone by.


Today, unless you are some mega firm in Japan, highly attractive to job candidates, you are unlikely to be getting many resumes at all and the quality is usually not that great.  Instantly, you are in a bad place, because your selection horizon is limited and the scope is narrow.  The other interesting thing is that candidates cancel the meetings with barely any notice or don’t even bother to show up or do show up and try to auction the process, so they can get more dough somewhere esle.


Many bosses come up through the ranks from technical backgrounds or through the finance route.  Not that many leaders or hiring staff have come up through sales.  What we have here now is a mismatch between the hiring person, who needs to sell the candidate on their firm and that persons’ skill set. For many in the hiring process, the idea that they would have to sell in itself, is an anathema.  They look down their noses at sales and protest that they are professionals, not used car salespeople.  This is a good thing.  It means those of us who know what we are doing and understand how to sell the candidates on the company, are going to monopolise the minuscule hiring funnel that comes our way.


So how do we sell the candidate on joining our happy band of professionals?  If you have piles of money, then throw piles of money at the problem and you are done.  If that isn't you, then let’s see what we can do. You as the boss should meet them in the first interview and in the last interview.  Wait a minute buddy, I am a high-powered executive and I don’t have that sort of time to be running around meeting job candidates.  Quite correct and the chances are that your firm is in the throw piles of money at the problem category, so you can relax and get back to drowning in your email inbox.  For everyone else, meet them and control the image of the brand and the firm. 


Meeting the boss in one company and just meeting some apparatchik in a rival company, is a totally different value equation.  First, we have to work on first impressions. Your office may not be gorgeous, but you can be gorgeous.  I don’t mean you have to be handsome or beautiful, although in life that does seem to help.  Even if you are not a stunner, your way of greeting the candidates can be stunning.  It sounds ridiculous to say this, but greet them with a warm smile and friendly eyes.  Take your time shaking hands or bowing at that first greeting – absolutely don’t be in a rush to get down to business.  They will be nervous being in a strange environment, meeting someone they don’t know, so we need to take our time and help them to relax.  We never wear jackets in the interviews, so that we appear less fearsome and intimidating.


Engage them in some small talk, at the start and get a sense of how nervous they are and how they come across as a communicator and how they manage their own their first impression with us.  Explain how many rounds of interviews there are and what are the stages, if they progress through the different interviews.  In our case, we do three, with me being the first and last interviewer.  Most Japanese candidates are not very good at being interviewed, so I have found that getting them to relax is vital, so that who they are can be found more easily.  I always tell the candidates that in this first round interview there won’t be any hard or tricky questions.  I note that it will be a conversation and we will just go through their resume to get a sense of what they have done, so they should relax and know this will be the easiest interview they have ever had. 


I use the first interview as a screening process, to see if we want to have a more detailed conversation later.  I also tell them that we will talk money in the third round, so I take that topic off the table immediately.  Now they have to invest in this process, to find out how much money they can make here, rather than just trying to leverage the interview against another firm, they are already talking with in the background.


After going through their resume and finding out a lot more about what they have done and the reasons behind the choices they have made, I will have a strong idea whether there will be a further round or not.  At this point in the process, if I think I want them onboard, I start the sales push for why they should join.  I talk a lot about our positive, supportive culture and our values.  In our case, we try to avoid overtime, so that our team can have a good balance between work and non-work hours.  I tell them that if they tell me they want to take three weeks off in a row, that is terrific and we are happy for them to do that.  We encourage our people to take all of their leave and long breaks are not an issue.  I explain that our success is based on their success and that we are here to help then progress in their careers.  I explain to them that my job is to make them happy and if they are happy, our colleagues and clients will be happy. We then invite their questions.


The whole thrust is about how we can help them achieve their aspirations and I don’t talk about what we want from them for the company.  That conversation can come later in the process, after they have become more invested in working with us.  We don’t want to scare them off by going hard on what we want too early.  The second round is done by a senior person from my team, who is Japanese, so that they can relax with them.  They are also on a full charm offensive with the candidate as well.  Depending on the tasks they will be doing, we will do any skill testing at this point.


If they get through to the last round, I sell them on the package they will receive working with us, especially emphasising the large amount of training they will get.  Money is an important factor, but not the only factor.   Flexibility, culture, work atmosphere, training, coaching, development are all key points of interest for the candidates.  Even if they don’t join us, their experience of our firm throughout the process has been very friendly and supportive. They leave with a very good impression of us and our brand.  If they join, they find that everything we told them was true and they can trust our firm to do the right thing for the team members.