hiring Japanese speaking employees

A while ago I thought that my business had expanded sufficiently that I needed to hire someone to support me. However, after three months of recruiting and interviewing, I admit I failed to recruit anyone.

In reflecting on why I have not been able to hire someone, and what I need to do next, I have realised that I am in danger of falling into the same traps that I have often seen Japanese companies in Europe slide into.

The first trap is being attracted to Japanese speakers without considering their skills and your business’s needs more carefully. It’s easy to find Japanese speakers in the UK – there are between 30,000 to 50,000 Japanese people living in the UK now – many are students or expatriates but there are also residents who have settled here, often married to British people.

In addition to this, there are around 6000 members of the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme UK alumni association. These are British or other English speaking nationals who have worked in Japan for 1 to 3 years or more, usually in a school or in local government. Most of them fall in love with Japan as a result, and want to pursue careers where they can continue to have contact with Japan and use their Japanese language ability.

The second trap is to hire Japanese people (usually women) and JET alumni into general office administration roles, somewhat vaguely defined, to cover everything from receptionist to HR to translation work. This often leads to frustration on both sides. Japanese women begin to suspect that they are being treated like second class Office Ladies, and when they complain to their British husbands about the overtime or the menial tasks they are asked to do, their husbands often urge them to raise a grievance dispute with their employer.

JET alumni begin to worry that there is no career progression or professional development. Many of them come to me, asking what they should do, and I always advise – find a profession you feel suited to first, like law or accountancy, and then find a way to connect back to Japan.

In both cases, some of the disappointment can be avoided by having a clear job description and a proper contract, and for the Japanese company to be realistic and open about what kind of expectations both parties should have as to how the job can develop. If possible, they should provide or support training where needed, and remember to revise the job description accordingly, as the employee progresses.

So, to take my own medicine, I need to be more clear and focused on the support skills I need, which is primarily invoicing, chasing payments, paying suppliers and some management accounting (forecasting cash flows etc). This does not require a Japanese speaker, fun though it would be to have a like minded person to work with.

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