“Seeing candidates face-to-face is an experience that most people seem to miss as part of the recruitment process”

Always adapting

Recruitment firms respond to the challenges in today’s hiring market


AUGUST 2021 Industry Perspectives / Text by Toby Waters

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced major changes on the recruitment market. When it subsides, will some changes, such as a greater number of people working remotely, remain? Will some things return to the way they were before? These are important questions for both businesses and job candidates — and recruitment firms have the answers.

Specialising in satisfaction

To succeed in the recruitment field in Japan, firms must consistently deliver on client and candidate expectations. Executive Consultants International (ECI) has achieved success through what Yujiro Miyake, representative director, calls forensic hiring.

“We offer consulting and advisory services for recruitment needs that require practical and specific handling of each hiring and candidate,” he says. “This involves profound study and understanding of the client’s industry and organisation, as well as the candidate’s profile and ambitions. We have instigated much more analysis into these issues as a result of the pandemic.”

Titan Consulting follows a similar people-first philosophy, according to Sean Lindley, business operations manager.

“More than anything else, we have invested in the quality of our service. We differentiate ourselves from our KPI-focused competitors by excelling at customer service, responsive communication, and quality consulting,” he explains. “Being in a true partnership with our clients is the basis of how we instil confidence in our stakeholders and facilitate continued success even during these difficult times.”

Responding to change

The world of work is constantly evolving and, over the past few years, there have been a number of changes to how the recruitment sector approaches placing candidates, notes Matthew Tom, recruiting director of human resources at Career Scout Japan (CSJ).

“Managing directors are increasingly asking us to identify back-office candidates who can reduce costs and drive sales,” he says. “The separation between front- and back-office activities at SMEs is shrinking every day as a result of the pandemic. CSJ seeks out candidates who can find solutions that support a company’s top and bottom line.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has also dramatically reshaped the way that recruitment services are provided — and some of these changes will be permanent.

“Hiring during Covid-19 has largely been done remotely, with 90% of companies conducting interviews by video since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Jeremy Sampson, managing director of Robert Walters Japan. “Even as employees gradually return to the office, we expect that remote interviews will continue as they help speed up the selection process, particularly in the earlier stages.”

Nevertheless, as it becomes safer to meet with people again, in-person meetings will also return, according to Bill DeLorme, president of Ryze Consulting.

“Companies will continue to be willing to complete the entire recruitment process using video interviews,” he says. “However, we do expect that final interviews and on-boarding will become in-person again. Seeing candidates face-to-face is an experience that most people seem to miss as part of the recruitment process.”

This is a perspective shared by Eric Cole, president of Cole and Company.

“Video interviewing has become standard practice during the pandemic. We expect that this will continue after the pandemic subsides but will likely settle into a ratio that makes sense for each individual company and the type of position they are seeking to fill,” he says. “For example, for executive-level positions, the interviewing process may start with a video call, but will almost certainly include a face-to-face interview, especially once more people are vaccinated.”

The difficulty is finding the right balance between online and face-to-face aspects of recruitment, according to Titan Consulting.

“The biggest and most obvious change has been moving our interactions online. After working through the initial challenges, our processes have become even swifter than a fully face-to-face process,” says Lindley. “The real challenge we face is finding the balance between speedy online-only processes and face-to-face interactions, to ensure we avoid our processes from becoming too transactional.”

Meeting the challenges of the new era

Japan’s hiring market today poses many other challenges that recruiters can help their clients address.

“Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, long-term skill mismatch and talent shortages continue to be severe in the Japan market,” says Robert Walters’ Sampson. “With a history of over 20 years in Japan, and extensive industry knowledge and experience, we help companies fulfil their unique potential and navigate hiring challenges by recommending only the best talent.”

The shortage of talent is also a problem that Cole and Company is helping to address.

“The shortage of talent in Japan makes recruitment an ongoing challenge,” Cole says. “Fortunately, our personal approach to developing meaningful relationships with our candidates and clients seems to be working. Having been in business for 18 years helps, too.”

According to David Solway, vice president of Ryze Consulting, the talent mismatch is due to the skill differences between generations — but this is a challenge that can be overcome.

“Expectations are currently at odds with the realities of the demographics of Japan. The generation currently going into their 30s is less bilingual and less international than their parents were,” he says. “We advise clients to look outside their traditional areas of recruitment and help them to access talent that can be fully trained in three to six months.”

Recruitment firms must remain keenly aware of the specific strengths and skills of each of their candidates and ensure they are offering their clients the best fit for the firm, even when working with smaller businesses, explains Daniel Fiorilli, senior recruiting director of accounting and finance and supply chain management for CSJ.

“SME clients can no longer accept stacks of resumes of unqualified candidates for every open position. They expect real return on investment from their recruitment budget, and employment search partners must explain how their candidates add value,” he says. “Recruiting companies who can’t adapt to the market’s new demands are getting cut from vendor lists.”

ECI’s Miyake believes that, in the face of the present challenges in the market, it is important for recruiters, clients, and candidates to be realistic about expectations.

“Greater caution, both from the hiring firms and candidates, is necessary as a result of the uncertainty in the future of businesses and careers due to the pandemic. This means that we prioritise economic effectiveness in the recruiting process, both in terms of costs and expected income,” he says. “We are explicit in making it clear to both parties the clear future prospects and economic rationality of working with us.”