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Risk, retrenchments and the reluctant job seeker: A review of the Japan job market in 2011

Here’s our look at the year that was in Japan.

Risky business

One key 2011 trend is the rising demand for talent in risk, compliance, audit and internal control. John McCrohon, finance director of Robert Walters Japan, says: “We have seen an increase in regulatory scrutiny and risk management requirements within the banking and finance sector in recent months, stemming from a number of very public incidents where lax oversight led to problems with a number of both foreign and domestic firms.”

There has been a 55 per cent increase in advertised openings for legal and compliance roles in Japan between Q2 to Q3, he says. Senior compliance professionals also got slightly fatter salaries; while the majority received pay rises similar to 2010 levels.

McCrohon says: “We have seen a lot of candidates who had not previously considered careers in risk, compliance; regulatory liaison or other similar areas now begin to pursue careers in this space.” The interest in such middle or back-office positions extends even to front-office candidates who are familiar with risks inherent in the industry, and who can capitalise on the growing demand for their knowledge in these teams, he adds.

Shrinking teams

Redundancies have also been another major development in the Japanese job market this year. Yoshiki Kumazawa, manager, Morgan McKinley Tokyo, says: “Headcount restrictions became a major factor affecting hiring. Banks from all geographic areas; European, American and Japanese banks all started to reduce employee numbers.”

“Japanese banks tend to be long-term thinking and will avoid headcount restrictions as much as they can. However in the last six months, Japanese banks have been as aggressive as their Western counterparts. As they have become a significant part of the global economy, Japanese banks can no longer afford to keep conservative headcount reduction policies.”

These retrenchments have been across job functions – with investment banking divisions in business lines such as M&A advisory being among the most affected.

Suddenly cautious candidates

The volatile job market has certainly hit job seeker confidence. Kumazawa says: “Most have become more conservative in their job hunting behaviour. We have observed a much more risk-adverse attitude among candidates over the last six months.”

Some choose to stay in their current roles in a familiar environment because it feels more secure. “Many candidates, particularly those from domestic Japanese banks are therefore less willing to apply to other banks even with the possibility of more compensation and career progression opportunities.”

Not completely gloomy…

Richard King, managing director, Michael Page Japan, says while recruitment levels into investment banks have been volatile this year, buy-side recruitment levels have remained robust with several asset management firms taking advantage of available talent to strengthen their teams.

He adds: “While the Tohoku earthquake had a sharp impact in hiring, with most recruitment suspended for the second half of March, the rebound in recruitment into the financial services market in April, May and June was extremely strong.”

While the second half of 2011 has undoubtedly taken a hit because of global market jitters, King notes: “There are still a large number of candidates looking for new employment opportunities due to a perceived lack of security in their current positions.”

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