“If you’re faced with non-traditional challenges, you can’t use a traditional approach to hiring”

Changing with the times

Advisory Group helps businesses see differently


Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Benjamin Parks

“The times change, and we change with them.”

While the truth of this proverb is evident, Japan can sometimes seem determined to stay the same. Even as the government promotes the idea of an “ageless society” — in which workers are encouraged not to retire at 60, but to continue as long as they are healthy and want to work — businesses in Japan are reluctant to think beyond their longstanding hiring practices, rooted in the lifetime employment system. For many job-seekers today, this is a frustration. But for Jivago Matsuoka, CEO of Advisory Group, it is an opportunity for his clients, his candidates, and for meaningful change.

Matsuoka, who has more than 10 years of recruiting experience, founded Advisory Group in 2015 as an agency for temporary, contract and project-based employment, but with a difference. The firm focuses on the skills and experience of each individual candidate and what they can bring to a client, brushing aside traditional concerns — such as age or gaps on a CV — that businesses might have.

“I’ve previously worked with two major recruitment firms here, and they have reach and big databases,” Matsuoka observes. “But when their recruiters get a request, they often find someone who’s perfect, but who’s 55, and they don’t try to sell their potential.”

One of Matsuoka’s clients is Jason Evans — general manager at O&M Halyard Japan G.K., part of the Owens & Minor family — who has extensive success in creating productive company cultures. He agrees that typical Japanese attitudes are leading to a wealth of talent going underutilised or overlooked.

“Japan is sitting on a pot of gold: people 50 to 55 years old,” he says. “And Advisory Group is ahead of the curve in recognising this. Some of my situations have been unique, but Jivago’s been flexible and able to solve any challenge I’ve thrown at him. For example, we needed to fill two senior finance roles — immediately — and he helped us fill them with people we would not have found through other recruiters.”

In addition to the effects of Japan’s ageing society, today’s job market is changing in another way. According to Matsuoka, there has been an explosion of those who are choosing to be contract workers or specialists.

“When I started out, maybe one in 100 wanted to be a contractor — now it’s one in 10,” he says. “I call these flexible workers ‘portfolio career specialists’. They have specific skill sets and can go from one company to another because they’re really good at what they do.”

Many of the candidates Advisory Group puts forward are in the 45 to 55 age-range or are working mothers who are looking for some flexibility in their work schedules. While this approach flies in the face of how Japanese firms typically hire, Matsuoka has seen that when he can persuade clients to think outside the box, it means a win for everyone involved.


The Advisory Group advisors (left to right): Roy David Cheung, Taisuke Takahashi, Rosbelle Sagum, Luca Hatton-Ward, Jivago Matsuoka, Alexandre Ngo, Milan Pham, Yumiko Eisley, Justin Connor Chao


“The real issue that companies are struggling with is to have a flexible mindset for hiring people, regardless of age, gender, education and so on,” he observes. “It’s the recruiter’s responsibility to educate clients on the value of a candidate, but they’re not. We drive the process, where most others follow it.”

Matsuoka gives the example of a bilingual certified public accountant who recently was looking to return to work after taking a five-year break to raise her children.

“The recruitment firms all told her, ‘Sorry, you have a five-year gap, we can’t help’. No one met her, let alone heard her story,” he says. “I brought her in, told a company about her value, and she got an offer in one week — at the same salary as five years ago.”

As an employer, Evans knows that gaps on a CV are sometimes unavoidable realities, but he believes they should never automatically disqualify a prospective employee.

“I don’t care that much about the past; I care about a good fit and what an employee can do for us going forward,” he says. “If you’re faced with non-traditional challenges, you can’t use a traditional approach to hiring. The obsession with perfect employment records is detrimental to the process and, in my mind, they’re a meaningless measure of a person’s worth or success in a position.”

Evans notes that Advisory Group’s process is more effective than that of other recruitment firms, and that it allows him to make decisions quickly.

“They don’t just throw résumés at you,” he says. “When you give them a request, they’ll dig and make sure they truly understand what you’re looking for. Then we get two or three résumés of people who are very close to what we need.”

Other points about the firm’s service that Evans highlights include speed, regular communication and timely feedback.

“Jason sees the value of bringing in highly skilled professionals, and he doesn’t question the process,” Matsuoka adds. “That’s why we have such a successful track record working together.”

Advisory Group is also changing with the times by implementing new technology to help its clients. One such innovation is CVideo.

“It’s an online meeting room where the client manager can meet the candidate and have a quick chat,” Matsuoka explains. “It takes five to 10 minutes and can be done on your mobile phone. If you get a good feeling about the candidate, we’ll send a résumé and set up a proper face to face meeting.”

Evans adds: “With CVideo you can cut to the chase. If, once you start talking to a candidate, you realise they’ll be a good fit, you end up taking a chance on them.”

Both Matsuoka and Evans are watch aficionados, and they liken the value of vintage timepieces to recruitment.

“Hiring some of the people I hire is like finding a watch from the 1960s or 1970s in perfect condition,” Evans says. “These people can do a fantastic job — regardless of age.”

“It’s not true that people’s value goes down as they grow older,” Matsuoka adds. “With their experience and achievements, they appreciate in value.” 

“Japan is sitting on a pot of gold”