Some brief background on myself. My name is Jason Winder, and I have been running businesses in Japan since 2003.
In that time, I’ve interviewed several hundreds of people, and hired probably just below 100 people in various capacities, ranging from freelancers, to part-timers, to contractors, to consultants, to full time employees.
We also receive daily job applications from a very wide range of candidates, so I’ve seen the full gamut of job applications, and job applicants.
Before starting business, I got 4 jobs in Japan myself. So I’ve been on both sides of the table, and I have some degree of insight into how the general process works.
Getting a Job is Sales
Sales is the process of finding out as much as possible about your potential customer’s problems, and proposing a solution to help or resolve these problems.
In this situation, your customer’s problem is the job description, and the solution is you.
The Shotgun Resume Method
This is why the shotgun method so rarely works. A common method of job hunting involves sending your resume to hundreds of companies, and waiting for a reply.
“I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs, and I’ve been for loads of interviews and I haven’t gotten a single offer!” is a sadly common story among job seekers who copy and paste their resumes and cover letters, and send them out to every company with a jobs email address on their website.
If the job seeker doesn’t take time to understand the company, and personalise their written and spoken message to the hiring manager at that company, it’s easy to see why the business might pass them over for candidates that offer more personalized communication.
How Do I Personalize My Message?
It’s important to understand that when a company hires a staff member, they are trying to solve a problem or a series of problems. The more you understand about these problems, the easier it is to talk yourself into the position.
Let me share an excellent example from a recent interview:
Candidate: Can you tell me about the kind of qualities you’re looking for in an employee?
Jay: Sure. We’re looking for someone who really loves helping people. And right now we’re looking for stability. We had a recent employee leave Japan immediately after the earthquake, after he was introduced to all of our clients. Any time a consultant leaves, or changes, it causes disruption to our clients, which we do our best to avoid. It also provides internal disruption to our company. So right now, we’re looking for a someone who can provide us with stable support over the long term.
Freeze! Did you notice the pain points, problems, statements, and desirable qualities in the above sentence? Here is a list.
- We’re looking for someone who loves helping people.
- We’re looking for someone who’s stable.
- We’re a bit wary after a recent negative experience.
- We were a bit frustrated after a sudden departure caused some internal disruption.
- We value customer service, and aim to provide a high quality and stable service to our customers.
If you’re a candidate for this job position, what would you say?
The candidate in this interview sat there, and thought for a moment. Then they responded.
Candidate: I see what you mean. In my previous job, my manager used to hire a lot of temp workers. It was my responsibility to train them so we could provide a good quality service to our users. These staff members often only stayed for 2 or 3 months before leaving, which was frustrating for me, since I wanted my users to get fast and professional support. So I definitely understand how it can be frustrating when you’re trying to provide a high quality service and people in your team leave suddenly. This experience made me want to search for a company I can work with long term.
This was simply a fantastic response. Lets look at the response line by line.
This candidate nailed the interview, and we ended up hiring them.
The WIIFM Principle
A common subject in sales courses is the WIIFM principle – “Whats in it for me?”
When you’re trying to sell to someone, you need to run everything you say or write through the WIIFM filter.
If you’re a salesperson focused on what you want, you’ll never sell anything. If you call up your prospects and say: “Hey, buy my product so I can make my quota and get my bonus.”
You will obviously irritate your prospect and guarantee they’ll never answer your calls again.
However, people do this alarmingly often when applying for jobs.
Here are some paraphrased sentences from the last few months of job applications. It’s a little harsh, but note that none of them pass the WIIFM filter as considered by a hiring manager:
- I need a job to advance my career because I’ve been doing the same job for too long. (WIIFM? -Hiring Manager)
- My goal is to become an industry leading professional at a leading global organisation. So I need experience to gain valuable industry recognition. (WIIFM? -Hiring Manager)
- This kind of opportunity would give me a large boost in my future career. (WIIFM? -Hiring Manager)
- I would like an internship to gain work experience, broaden my horizens, and improve my career profile. (WIIFM? -Hiring Manager)
Doubtlessly, at least some of these applicants are qualified and would add value to the business. However compare these statements with candidates that make client focused statements either verbally, or in their applications.
Client Focused Statements
Demonstrating understanding of the business goals or challenges makes for a compelling employment application.
- I’ve read your website, and I understand that one of your selling points is that you provide seamless bilingual services.
I had the chance to work in the international department of a large Japanese company for 4 years, so I believe I am uniquely equipped to work seamlessly in any kind of Japanese/English business situation.
- I did some research on your company and I was excited to discover that most of your customers are Japanese small businesses that are looking to improve their invoicing.
I actually coded an invoice creator as part of my thesis in university, so I’m very interested to learn more about how my experience might be able to benefit your customers.
- I noticed from a recent article that your company has expanded to China.
Since I am half-Chinese and I have had the experience of working in a company that set up in Shanghai, I may have some useful language skills and experience that could be directly applied to your new operation.
- I was reading about a new regulation that will be applied to companies selling products in your state.
I’m not sure how much this might affect your company’s operations, however at one of my previous companies I had direct experience in implementing a series of tools that eliminated 75% of the administrative overhead generated by new state regulations. I’d be very happy to share my experience if it might be helpful for you.
- I noticed you started your business just a few months ago. In my understanding, getting your name out there can be challenging for a new company.
I actually have some experience in SEO where I have managed to rank for 8 very competitive key words for a personal project of mine. In my understanding, your business would do very well if it ranked for “Keyword A”, “Keyword B”, “Keyword C”. I’d be very happy to discuss some of my ideas on improving your search engine results if you have some time to meet with me.
A busy hiring manager will gravitate towards someone who will make their job and life easier.
How To Ask Your (Potential) Employer The Right Questions
Here are some questions to ask where the answers you get back will help you sell yourself to your potential employer.
These questions assume you’re being interviewed by the person who would be your manager:
- When you’re selecting a new employee, how do you make your decision?
- I’m very interested to learn more about your business. If you don’t mind me asking, what are some of the challenges you’ve been facing recently?
- What kind of qualities do you look for in a Job Role (ie, Customer Service Manager) ?
- How do you personally define success within your team?
- Could you tell me a little bit about the best employee you ever had? In your opinion, what made them so good?
This will likely get you plenty of information about this managers ideal staff member.
As a bonus, you will stand out from all of the other candidates, since it’s very rare for candidates to ask these kinds of questions.
Bonus Japan Section
If you’re looking for a job in Japan, here are some useful resources for you.
- The Gaijinpot website has a lot of general job openings.
- Foreign companies often use CareerCross as a place to find and hire staff
- Robert Walters is one of the better recruitment firms in Japan. We highly recommend them.
The more Japanese you speak, the easier it will be to get your foot in the door.
Pop things like the Japanese Podcast 101 onto your iPod to improve your skills as you wander around Tokyo.
Watching Japanese TV shows with English subtitles can also be a great way to improve your Japanese vocabulary and pronunciation.
Basic Meeting Tips
If you’re going into a meeting with Japanese people present, follow these basic guidelines:
- If you don’t have a business card, it’s a good idea to get one made. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a company name, and if it just says your name, phone number and email address
- Hand over your business card with both hands
- Receive business cards with both hands
- Place the business cards you receive on the table in front of you
- Do not fidget with the cards, or tear them, or play with them. They are an extension of the person you received them from, so treat the cards carefully and with respect
- Make sure you take the cards with you. Don’t make the mistake of leaving cards behind.
- Go two steps deeper than the shotgun method. Pick a company, and discover what challenges they’re facing, either through research or by asking them directly.
- Communicate that you understand these challenges, and talk about your past experiences in dealing with these challenges.
- Ask your potential employer the right questions as quickly as possible. This will ensure that you will give the right answers later in the interview.
- Make sure that all of your communication to this company passes the WIIFM filter.
- Become “Client Focused”. Relate everything back to your prospective employer, and what they’re trying to do. Talking about your own experience and skills is good, but ideally talk about yourself in the context of helping your hiring manager solve their problems.
- Follow up by email and phone.
Following these steps will put you ahead of 99% of the crowd, and will help you get a job.
Best of luck in your job search. Please drop me a line and let me know how you go. I always enjoy hearing from people, and I’d love to help if I can. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.