One of the most decisive factors for choosing which company to work for in the present job market is the opportunity to advance one’s career. The ‘Deal Breaker’ often ends up being the suggestive mood or even the promise of rapid promotion. In most countries in the ‘Western World,’ an employee works hard, gets the results, comes early and stays late, stands out by showing initiative, etc.
Not too different from the famous story about the door boy who ended up being the head of one of the worlds largest luxury hotel chains.
But what is it like in Japan? Could this work, and is there an easy way to the top? It depends on the type of company on the individual ability the nature of the job offer and luck.
Japanese company types
At this type of company, new recruits are hired right out of the University. The number depends on the size of the company, but the average for an established business is somewhere around 50~100 new recruits.
The new workers all enter the company at the same time every year in spring. Generally, the students know before graduation if their job hunts were successful and where they will be employed.
This type of companies cultivates their talent within, but hiring for management positions from the outside is becoming more and more common.
Because of the nature of the recruitment process, these types of positions might not be commonly accessible for foreign graduates or job seekers.
However, if the opportunity should present itself and you end up working for a traditional Japanese company doing the above routine won’t do you that many if any favors.
In Japan, working hard is standard. If there are deadlines to make most likely everyone working for a traditional Japanese company is going to do overtime.
Workers who demonstrate good character traits and (of course) good performance get promoted with time. How long that takes depends on the individual and the nature of the position and what positions are available.
Since the traditional business model applies the (another) quintessentially Japanese business concept of ‘Kaizen’ or ‘constant improvement (改善), positive feedback is not likely either.
The Modern Hybrid
Like traditional companies, the majority of new recruits are hired by bulk. The companies usually have a fixed yearly number of employees they hire. They prioritize hiring people for full-time positions/long term or Seishain (正社員).
The modern Japanese companies are also more open to recruiting talent from abroad and even market competitors.
Promotions tend to happen faster and are more performance-based. Asking for promotions or even vaguely bringing it up is still not something an employee hoping to get promoted should do.
Despite that discussing promotion is still easier than in a traditional company.
The modern Japanese companies are very open to hiring talent from overseas, even for managing positions. Experience tends to play a more crucial role than academical background and promotions are performance-based.
Just like in many other countries around the world, the more progressive Japanese companies tend to be in the tech field.
The requirements for software engineers to get promoted, for example, are not too different from Europe and the US.
Is there a way to get ‘Fast-tracked’ through the ranks in a Japanese company?
Apart from a few anecdotes and popular fiction, there is little to suggest that ‘Fast track’ promotions are a standard or that they happen at all. The best a potential employee can aim for is to have excellent credentials both academical as well as professional. And of course, be very good at the job.
In general, the golden standard to getting good evaluations (that given time lead to promotion) is to work hard, have a high-performance output, be a good ‘team player’ and have a positive attitude.
It is standard practice to research a company before even putting together a resume. As you Google your potential new workplace, you can most likely form an opinion on what type of company it is and how rigid the hierarchy is.
If you use an employment agency to look for work in Japan. Just ask the representative on your chances of getting promoted with each offer. It is not likely that an agent will give you false hopes or make empty promises.
It is important to remember not to be aggressive when looking to advance your career in Japan. To ask for a promotion or to bring up your positive performance stats or over eagerly making a ‘show’ out of your abilities will more likely than not leave an impression that you only care about yourself and your career. And not about the company nor the work.
If you like the company you end up working for and enjoy the job and perhaps are even good at it, promotions like all good things in life will come in time.