Job Hunting in Japan During Coronavirus Times: How the Landscape Has Changed for Recent Grads

With the lifting of the state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area last week, many recent university graduates will resume job hunting in earnest starting on June 1st. However, job seekers in Japan are facing the prospect of looking for work in the midst of a major economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. How has the landscape changed for job seekers in Japan?

Signs suggest that, at least in some industries, the situation is shifting away from a seller’s market, where job applicants used to have the advantage of a shortage in the labor pool. As can be expected, many companies in the travel, hospitality, and tourism industries have decided to stop hiring or to severely cut back on new hiring altogether. Examples recently cited by the Nikkei newspaper include ANA Group Holdings, USJ (which operates Universal Studios Japan), and JTB (Japan Travel Bureau), Japan’s largest travel agency. Companies in the retail, food, and consumer goods have also been affected. Shiseido, for example, has decided to cut back on the number of new recruits it is hiring to start in spring 2021.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Japan, some of the changes in the job hunting process have not been surprising. For example, to practice social distancing the majority of companies are now conducting web-based, rather than in-person interviews. Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. Ltd., which has over 14,500 employees, plans to start interviewing recruits on June 1st and will interview over 1,000 people in the first round of interviews. It is expected, however, that many companies will likely conduct final round interviews in person.

Some companies are also moving much more quickly to finalize job offer decisions. According to DISCO, a major Tokyo-based global recruitment company, about 34.7% of spring 2021 college graduates surveyed by the company had received a job offer by April 1st. This compares with 26.4% (for spring 2020 grads surveyed last year) and 18.8% (for spring 2019 grads surveyed in 2018). Japanese college seniors are now in the middle of the traditional recruitment cycle, in which seniors start interviewing in June of the year before they graduate. With the many uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus, companies are basically making offers to the best candidates as soon as possible so as not to lose them to other companies.

Companies are also extending the recruitment schedule to make up for the approximately two month hiatus caused by the coronavirus. For example, Panasonic plans to extend its recruitment timetable by about two months to September in order to give students more time to apply and prepare.

Job offer rate remains high

Despite the many hurdles involved in job hunting during a worldwide pandemic, according to DISCO, the nationwide job offer rate remains high, at 50.2% as of May 1st, which was a drop of just 0.9 points year-on-year. According to a researcher at DISCO, companies that offered internships in the summer of 2019 had a chance to closely evaluate potential candidates, and therefore were able to more quickly decide whether to make job offers.

But some companies have revoked job offers

However, there are some companies that have cancelled offers to recent grads. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 37 companies throughout Japan have revoked job offers to spring 2020 graduates due to the effect of the coronavirus, affecting 80 university graduates.

There is also the increased psychological pressure of job hunting during such uncertain times. According to a recent survey by DISCO of 1,212 university students scheduled to graduate in March 2021, 70.2% of respondents said that the job hunting market is shifting from a “seller’s market” to a “buyer’s market” (which favors employers). Employers, however, seem to have a more balanced view of the current market. In a separate survey, DISCO asked 1,122 companies whether they think the job market is shifting away from a “seller’s market”. About 50.5% said that the situation is changing to a “buyer’s market”, but almost as many (47.7%) said that it has been a “seller’s market” and is likely to continue to be one.

Sources: Nikkei newspaper, May 30, 2020 (in Japanese), DISCO (university student) survey May 2020 (in Japanese), DISCO (employer) survey May 2020 (in Japanese)

Lead photo: iStock


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