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Archive for August, 2009

Looks like NHK is reporting that the DPJ took the majority in the lower house of the Diet.  Hopefully DPJ will be able to bring about the change that the people of Japan are hoping for.

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And so it begins

After almost three months of job hunting, interviews, and general stress, I am now set to become a productive member of society, soon to be paying taxes and contributing to GDP and all of those other things economists get excited about.  To be honest, I was started to get worried earlier this month.  In July I was having trouble getting interviews and I was worried this job hunt was going to turn into long-term unemployment.  I was wondering if I should have stayed in Japan and just stuck it out for a few more years to avoid the bad economy.  I was also afraid I’d end up having to take a job with a small company where I would not have much of a future.

Perhaps it is just fate, but after a call on a Saturday morning when I was not expecting any job market activity, followed by an online skill test, a “homework” assignment, a grueling two hour phone screening, and then a one-and-a-half-day long interview combined with business dinner, I managed to make an impression on the managers and I’m going to be working for a company that has a lot of opportunity for growth and is currently expanding to global markets.  This was the type of job I was looking for all along and I’m really excited about it!  I have much to learn in a very short period of time, but I’m really excited about this opportunity.

I won’t be in Charlotte any more though, and while I’m excited about exploring a new city, I’m going to miss the proximity to family and the tennis matches with my father and brothers.  Where in the world will I be going?  Here is a clue:

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No, it’s not Italy or the Caribbean.  I’ll still be in the US.  How about this clue?

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No, it is not Hawaii.  Did you guess Florida?  Close!   Let me give you another hint:

“So what if I flew to Argentina to have an affair with my mistress?  So what if I fly business class rather than economy like the rest of the public employees?  The people still support me and I won’t step down at the whim of my detractors!”

If you recognize Mark Sanford, you’ll immediately know I’m talking about South Carolina.  I never imagined I’d be in South Carolina, especially after visiting the state capital of Columbia eight years ago and being left thoroughly unimpressed.  I imagined myself in New York City, Boston, Seattle, or Washington DC, and much of my job search also focused on those markets.

We’re actually moving to the port city of Charleston, an old city on the Atlantic coast with a rich history–both the good and the ugly.  After walking around Charleston I feel better than ever about this move: French Quarter downtown and just 15 minutes to the beach.  Charleston has a lot of culture and history, which reminds me of my time in Kawagoe in Japan which also has a fine history and culture.

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Charleston will not be without its challenges.  Charlotte has a significant Japanese population and some great Asian markets and restaurants.  While Charleston has excellent fresh sea food, I have not had much luck in finding Asian markets and Japanese communities.  We’ll make the best of it though and perhaps find more than what the Internet can turn up.  I’ll be busy with the move for now, but once things settle down I hope to share my Charleston experience on this blog.

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Of course for Liam, he doesn’t care where he lives as long as the milk, baby food and toys keep flowing. Sleep well buddy, the coming days are going to be hectic!

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Aerial views of North Korea

I’ve always enjoyed using Google Earth to look at areas I’m familiar with fromt he birds-eye view. I’ve retraced bus travels from my trips in Taiwan, found former residences, and even located interesting geometries that I could never have seen from the ground.  So I was fortunate today that the BBC has a fascinating article online, Satellites uncover North Korea.  Perhaps it is the reclusiveness of the country that sparks my interest, but I really enjoyed the satellite photos.  Come to think of it, wouldn’t being a satellite analyst be an interesting job?

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Hachioji and Charlotte have one thing in common: too much distance from the sea.  Luckily the family and I were able to slip away to coastal North Carolina for a few days and enjoy the sea.  It was hot just like in Charlotte, but luckily the sea breeze coming off of the Atlantic made it very pleasant and comfortable, especially in the shade.  Here are a few photos from scenic South Port, in the area known as “Cape Fear,” perhaps due to the historical shipwrecks or tides coming in from the ocean.

14082009019Looking at South Point Marina and the seafood restaurants — this area is not known for blue crabs like my hometown near the Chesapeake Bay, but they get oysters, shrimp, and delicious fresh fish

14082009017South Port Pier – while we were there it was sparsely populated with tourists and locals trying to do some fishing in the water with a depth of less than 5 ft…I guess they were trying for catfish?

14082009018Ah, the brown-green water of the Atlantic coast…at least it looks better than the black water of Tokyo Bay, right?  Having grown up seeing this color for the sea the crystal blue waters of Okinawa truly took my breath away

IMG_2976Oak Island Lighthouse off in the distance

14082009015An beautiful old house once owned by a Captain in the Navy or Coast Guard…I doubt that captains in the Navy, Coast Guard or Merchant Service can afford waterfront property in this day and age

14082009022South Port Marina – how scenic with the boats by a palm tree!

14082009011These wetlands separate Oak Island from continental North Carolina (where South Port is located)

IMG_2912Another look at the wetlands separating the two bodies of land

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I’ve been working with a number of Japanese recruiting agencies that operate in the USA placing candidates in Japanese-owned companies in the USA.  Previously I had felt that I could find the most opportunities with Japanese firms that might appreciate my business experience in Japan and my business language abilities. I feel very differently now, but that is an issue for another post.  Regarding the recruiting agencies, some are the big global names that you see plastered all of the trains in Tokyo, and some are small companies that were launched in the USA solely.  After dealing with quite a few of these, I thought I’d share my experience.  However, living in the “Land of Litigation” now, I won’t call out any particular agency by name.

Before I talk about my experience with the Japanese recruiters in the US, I should probably speak a little about how recruiters operate in Japan.  Recruiters play the necessary role of the middleman, bringing together mid-career professionals and small to medium-sized companies in Japan.  Staffing agencies supply hourly and contract labor to the large Japanese enterprises that traditionally do not take mid-career professionals.  Unlike many companies in North America, Japanese companies rarely directly advertise open positions and instead prefer to use recruiting and staffing agencies to fill any gaps.  Japanese firms abroad also do not advertise their openings, rather they turn to recruiting and staffing agencies to find Japanese-speaking and bilingual candidates.

Getting Started

The first step with the recruiting agencies is to register your candidate profile on their website.  This is no different than from the regular American staffing agencies either.  Shortly afterward–a few days usually–a representative from the agency will call you and try to get a better understanding of your skills and abilities.  They will also try to assess your Japanese language ability too.  They will ask you what type of position you’re looking for, your desired compensation, and eventually ask you to send them a MS Word formatted resume/CV.

Some agencies may ask you to drive to their offices for an in-person interview.  Simply refuse to do so unless you live in the same city as their office; they just want candidate profiles and at this point they are in no position to introduce you to an actual job opening.  If the agency says that you must do the in-person interview first before they can introduce a job, my advice is to stop doing business with them immediately.  It is not worth your time or your money.

Applying for an open position

Next you will be able to apply to jobs listed on their websites, or the recruiters may even send you openings via email.  Usually, very little information is listed regarding the position.  The job title and location are always available, but salary information, qualifications, and other important information are often missing.  To find out more you contact the recruiter expressing interest in the opening.  You’ll most likely be in for a surprise regarding the following issues:

  • Salary and compensation:  For example, US $60k for a network engineer in Manhattan, US $50k for a software developer in downtown Los Angeles, and $25k for a firmware developer around Detroit.  If you’ve done your market research you quickly notice that the Japanese employers are offering at times about half of the going market rate for such positions.
  • Benefits: Because the recruiters know that the salary is low by market standards, they will try to pitch to you that the benefits are great with this client.  But what does that mean?  Potential employers will not offer transportation vouchers, no Japanese-style bonuses (i.e. guaranteed), no health club memberships, or any other perks.  Some claim that their health insurance policies are better than the usual plan, but then again that is what every company says about their health insurance plans.
  • Interviewing: Your are expected to shoulder the travel and lodging expensives for an interview.  If the position is on the opposite side of the country, you’re looking at hotel expenses, car rental and cross-continental airfare.  In Japan this is normal practice, but in the US the employer, unless specifically looking for local candidates only, is expected to fly the potential candidates out for interviews.
  • Visa sponsorship for non-citizens: While most American companies will not sponser a visa unless they really must, the Japanese companies are very open to the idea of visa sponsorship.

Let me recap: below market rate salary, benefits do not offset the lower salary, and the job hunting expenses fall all on the potential candidate.  Why bother! Yet what can we extrapolate from this?  The Japanese companies simply want to do business as they do in Japan.  US $60k or 6,000,000 yen is plenty of salary to live comfortably in Tokyo, where 900,000 yen or US $900 gets you a nice apartment with a short 30-minute commute to downtown Tokyo.  But $60k in Manhattan is hardly enough to get by in Queens or Brooklyn without living in the shadier parts of the city and commuting for 90 minutes.  And downtown Los Angeles for $25k below market rates?  Imagine how much money is spent on gasoline and parking garages, as well as the time sitting idle in gridlocked traffic on the freeways!

The fact that Japanese companies in the USA are open to visa sponsorship stands out the most, however.  It indicates to me that they primarily feed off of Japanese students studying in the USA as undergraduates or MBA students and looking for work in the USA after graduate.  Based on my experience, I say don’t bother unless you really want to have the chance to speak a little Japanese at the office.  If you feel otherwise, then stick to the direct placement adverts and the regular recruiters.

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