Japanese companies finding exceptional talent through exceptional hiring November 27, 2013 Nikkei

University students hunt for treasure on an uninhabited island as part of a Voyage Group summer internship program.
TOKYO (Nikkei) — Many Japanese companies are breaking from decades of hiring tradition in the quest to find the exceptional, not just the competent.

The Japanese labor force’s share of income, which represents the percentage of economic value added by corporate activities, stood at 75% in corporate heydays of the early 1980s. It is currently around 60%.

With competition becoming ever more global, companies are finding that it is not enough to just screen applicants through standardized tests. Finding innovative new hires means using innovative new hiring techniques.

Hidden skills

Voyage Group, a Tokyo-based company that helps create corporate websites, plans to hold on Dec. 25 a recruitment test for university students scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2015. For many of the students, the path to the test center has gone through an uninhabited island in eastern Japan, where they showed their worth in summer internships.

Voyage Group started these internships two years ago. It has participants hunt for hidden treasure on the island as a way to see how well participants perform in an unfamiliar environment.

Finding treasure does not guarantee a job offer, but it does get one noticed by management.

The program also lets the interns know what kind of company Voyage Group is. The company hires 15-20 new graduates each year. Its competitors Yahoo Japan and CyberAgent each hire a few hundred every year. CyberAgent says it wants employees who like the challenge of going up against these larger rivals.

“We’d like all interns to understand that they would be asked to make the best possible decisions and act at their own discretion in difficult situations,” a company official said.

Award winners only

The employment situation for new college graduates has been picking up since around 2010. About 81.7% of university students graduating in spring 2014 have been given at least one informal job offer by Oct. 1, 5.5 percentage points higher than last year’s rate, according to Recruit Career.

The old way of companies gathering employees who can do a variety of tasks competently is changing. Many companies are now seeking people who excel in one particular field.

“If you hire based solely on educational background and scores on written job-aptitude tests, you’ll just end up hiring people who can only perform well at routine tasks,” said an official at the personnel department of a listed information service provider.

SoftBank group in the spring of 2011 began seeking graduates who had won major prizes. The awards have been for a wide variety of fields, such as computer programming and fiction writing. Even a national collegiate wrestling champion was hired.

This initiative has been designed to “look for those who set goals and achieve them by working hard toward them day in, day out,” a company official said. The program “enables us to identify and hire high-potential applicants that we wouldn’t have noticed before in routine job interviews that simply ask for competent answers to routine questions.”

SoftBank says that this year a thousand different skills have come across its human resources desks from upcoming graduates seeking to work there from next April. Only 20 or so applicants have been given informal job offers by the company so far.