Welcome to JAC International’s audio series, Job Market Pulse. I’m Duncan Harrison, Managing Director of JAC International, welcoming you to our audio series as we aim to provide a guide to navigating the Japanese job market. Today we’re unraveling the art of networking in Japan, why it’s crucial for your career, and how you can dive in effectively.
Firstly, let’s talk about what’s unique about networking in Japan when compared to other countries. When it comes to networking in Japan, it’s not really about exchanging business cards. It’s more about building relationships. It’s a whole different ball game here, really. It’s personal, and it’s about trust.
Imagine that you’re going to a network event in the US or Europe, you might just get right down to business, right? But in Japan, it’s more kind of like a dance. You’re getting to know someone, you’re sharing experiences, and maybe, just possibly, maybe, you’ll talk about business after you’ve established a real interaction.
There’s also the nomikai, or drinking parties. These aren’t really just about enjoying a drink or two. They’re more like kind of a foundational part of networking. In Japan, it’s where you can create bonds, where bonds are formed. It’s almost like an art form how these casual settings can lead to serious business discussions later on.
And it’s not really just about the initial meeting. Follow-up is key. In Japan, you’re expected to nurture the relationship, sometimes even outside of typical work scenarios. It’s not really even uncommon to be invited to social events, and your attendance can be just as important as your professional credentials. Something that stands out in Japan is the emphasis on humility and respect. And it’s fascinating how these subtle cues can often be doors to opportunities.
Lastly, it’s Japan. Let’s not forget the power of the group. In this country, being part of a group or community is quite often the gateway to networking. Individualism, really, in Japan, often takes a backseat, and it’s about how you fit into the wider ecosystem. That’s a perspective that can really change how you approach networking.
One example that comes to my mind is when I was quite new to Japan, I basically joined as many clubs and societies to help my networking as possible. One of them was a hiking group. I’ve always been quite into hiking and we had an international visitor visit Japan to join a hike whilst he was here on business. We got to talking during this hike and eventually, we got a business relationship going. This company that he belonged to, where he was the global CEO, actually became one of our very best clients.
So if you’re new to Japan, you might be wondering what are the first steps to start networking. Firstly, try to embrace the local etiquette. Start with mastering the respectful exchange of business cards. It really is an art form in Japan. Treat each card you receive like a precious gift.
Be very inquisitive and you’ll be off to a good start. And it’s an easy way to strike up a conversation. Obviously, don’t forget the language, even if you’re completely new to Japan. If you could just get some very basic Japanese words, this can go a long way in showing respect and a willingness to integrate into the culture here. It’s a sign, really that you’re serious about your life and career in Japan.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of just showing up. Attend events, seminars, and talks. When you’re new, your best asset is your fresh perspective and your willingness to learn. Share that energy and you’ll find that people will be willing to share their networks with you.
I’d also recommend joining any kind of club, societies that you’re passionate about. As I mentioned, when I first came to Japan, I was in a hiking group. If you’re into squash, try and find a local squash group. If you’re into tennis, find a tennis group. There’ll be like-minded professionals at these events, so join as many of those as possible when you’re new to Japan.
Some of the recommended events or platforms that I would be looking into if I’m new to Japan, especially for executives, is The Economist network. This is for C-level executives. There’s a regular meetup about once a month where topical discussions are held. The Chambers of Commerce are all very active, both in Tokyo and Osaka. I’m from the UK, so I regularly attend the British one. There’s a big chamber of commerce for America. Spain has a big one. Most of the European countries have active chambers of commerce, so I’d definitely be looking to join that. If you’re looking to polish up your public speaking or general presentation, Toastmasters in Japan is also very active.
Something you might be wondering about if you are going to start going to your first events is where to start and also what to talk about. Discussing one’s background and current endeavours is a common starting point in networking conversations and this approach is, of course also valid in Japan. However, the manner in which it is done can differ from Western norms.
In Japan, while initiating a conversation with your background and current work is standard, it’s usually done with a level of modesty and subtlety. Begin by briefly introducing your professional background and current role. Small talk, though I’d say a bit less common than in Western cultures, is acceptable and can be a gentle way to start. You might comment on the event, the venue, express interest in Japanese culture if you’re a foreigner. Gradually steer the conversation towards professional topics, showing interest in the other person’s work and experiences. This approach not only shows respect but also helps establish a comfortable rapport before delving into deeper professional discussions.
In Japan, where harmonious relationships are valued, this balanced approach to networking conversations is often appreciated. Finally, it helps to remember that if you have some nerves, that’s perfectly normal. Most people attending will be feeling the same. Just go for it and you’ll be fine.
Now let’s talk about some Do’s and Don’ts for networking etiquette in Japan. Firstly, do’s– do exchange business cards with both hands and treat them with respect. It’s a reflection of how you treat the relationship. Secondly, make sure you show up on time– even actually a bit early to meetings and events. Punctuality is especially important in Japan and is a sign of respect. And do be an active listener and practice your active listening skills. Showing interest and asking thoughtful questions can be more valuable than speaking at length about your achievements.
Moving on to don’ts– I’d say don’t be overly assertive or direct in your approach. Subtlety is appreciated in japanese business culture. Be sure not to ignore hierarchy, acknowledge and respect the seniority within any group or business setting. And most importantly, don’t forget to follow up. A simple message thanking someone for their time can go a long way in establishing a continued relationship.
Now, how important is LinkedIn or other social media for networking in Japan? In Japan, while traditional face-to-face networking remains predominant, the influence of social media platforms, including LinkedIn, is steadily growing, especially among the younger generation and within international business communities. They’re become an increasingly important tool for making initial contact and staying in touch after in-person meetings.
Here are a few tips for leveraging these platforms. Firstly, make sure you fully complete your profile. A completed profile with a professional photo and also a detailed work history makes a strong first impression. Secondly, cultural sensitivity– when engaging on these platforms, remember to maintain the formality and respect that are hallmarks of Japanese business culture. It also helps to engage thoughtfully, share content that’s relevant to your industry, and contribute to discussions in a way that adds value rather than just self-promotion. Be mindful of language considerations. If possible, provide information in both English and Japanese which can help bridge the gap with local and international contexts. Next, always be on the lookout for events and also always actively connect with relevant people.
As a recruitment company, JAC International– we are big advocates of helping people to network in Japan and grow in their own professional connections. Obviously, this was really difficult to do during the COVID period, but since restrictions ended last year, we’ve been very active in holding events ranging from it get-togethers– Cybersecurity get-togethers, we had a big one for HR, in an external venue last year. And from these events we were able to gain many exclusive clients and candidates. So, yeah, naturally, this is a thing that we’re really keen to promote and facilitate.
I often get asked, “Is networking just for people looking for a job in Japan?” Absolutely not. Networking isn’t just for job seekers. In Japan, building a network is crucial for a variety of professional reasons.
Firstly, business development. Networking can lead to partnerships, client leads, and business opportunities. It’s about who knows you and what you can offer. Also, knowledge sharing is definitely a two-way street. You’ll gain industry insights, and you can also share your expertise, which can enhance your reputation. We’ve had many examples of mentorship being enhanced through networking programmes– both finding mentors for yourself and becoming one can be a result of effective networking and also fostering professional growth and learning. Community involvement is another thing. It helps you become an active member of the professional community, which can be fulfilling both personally and professionally. So networking is a continuous process that supports your overall career development. It’s really not just a tool for finding a new job.
So here are some takeaways from this first episode Firstly, be active. Join a networking event, join a sports event, join a social event and widen your network on professional platforms. I’d suggest definitely connecting to a JAC International consultant, who are getting themselves out there in different networking events as well in Tokyo. Connect with them on LinkedIn so they can connect you with opportunities.
Finally, thanks for joining us on this first episode. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and you’ve got something out of it. I’m Duncan Harrison. Please join us again next time as we explore more facets of the Japanese job market.