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Working for a Foreign Company

    In recent post-bubble years there has been a significant expansion of business operations by foreign companies into Japan, and there are certainly many job opportunities here, even though there has also been a strong localization trend (replacing expatriate staff with Japanese) at many firms.

    Expansion by foreign firms in the computer and software industries has been particularly rapid. Many other industries such as retailing and financial services are also making strong inroads into the Japanese market.

    However, unless you fall into the category of "cream of the crop" from your graduating class or have technical skills in high demand, it will take a little time to find a suitable job with a foreign company in Japan. A realistic time frame for most people would be one to six months. It is often said, however, that the scarcity of foreign people in Japan makes it easier for an average person to get hired by a well-known company.

    One thing to keep in mind is the fact that many foreign companies bring their expatriate staff over from the home office without hiring their compatriots in the Japanese labor market. Depending on the company and the type of job this can be more true or less true. Even though the expatriates brought over by their companies no doubt receive better compensation and benefits packages, the fact is that at least half the foreigners working for foreign companies in Japan were hired in Japan.

    At the same time, readers should keep in mind that even in 100 percent foreign-owned well known foreign firms, the vast majority of their employees are Japanese, often only with a few foreign management or specialist personnel. Nevertheless, there are thousands of foreign firms in the Japanese market and there are many more thousands of foreigners working for them.

    By using this book you can find leading foreign companies by industry, and you may want to send your resume in to several companies in an industry where you have experience or interest, although this will not necessarily be a high percentage game. Most growing companies, however, are always on the lookout for the right kind of resumes that come across their desks.

    At the same time, you should be reading the English newspapers closely, and perhaps I should say the Monday edition of The Japan Times. Again, this is where 70 percent of the jobs for foreign people advertised in Japan can be found.

    If you are fortunate enough to get a job with a foreign company there will be many benefits as opposed to working for a Japanese firm. First of all, you will generally be treated as a valuable company asset with a long-term view to the employment. For example, the company will provide training, give you responsibilities and consider you for promotions, as any company rationally should do.

    In addition, the pay should be a little better and not based on some grand idea of social fairness. In other words, your pay will be based on your ability and market value, and not on age, whether you are married, number of children, etc., as in a typical Japanese firm. You will also find that you will receive most of your pay in the form of cash as opposed to receiving things like subsidized company housing.

    Finally, when working for a firm whose management is from a Western culture, I think you will find that it is just a lot easier to fit into the job. There will be less cultural conflict, and your employment should generally proceed more smoothly.

    On the downside, foreign firms tend toward lean operations. Whether economic conditions change or maybe you find your work not being so highly evaluated, a foreign firm will be much quicker to let you go. Generally speaking, foreign firms are more demanding from a performance point of view.

    Along these lines, you may actually find yourself working longer hours at the foreign firm, and with the better compensation/career-track package you will find yourself wanting to prove your worth. Even though it is said that employees at Japanese firms work long hours, ironically this is not often the case with foreigners at these companies. This is explained in the next section.

    It may seem a little difficult at first, but if you take the time to gather information, network, and do a proper job search, you should be able to find yourself in a good career-oriented position with a foreign company.

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