Updated July 13, 2023

Headhunters in Japan: Here's What You Need to know


Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Japan has a low unemployment rate, but getting a job — especially as a foreigner — can be difficult.  So many people in Japan enlist a "headhunter" to help them with their job search.

What is a headhunter? For our purposes, headhunters are equivalent to "recruiters". They're people that connect employers with potential employees — usually on behalf of a recruiting or "executive search" firm.

Chances are you’re here because you want to land a job in Japan.

This guide will help you understand recruiters in Japan.  What they can do, where you need to be careful, and most of all, how to make the most of recruiters to find the best job possible.

So keep reading if you want to get a better understanding of how to use recruiters in your job search.

Pros and Cons of Using a Recruiter


You're probably wondering why you should use a recruiter — or maybe if you should.

It's true that there are various options for finding jobs in Japan.  Personally?  Our first recommendation is curated job boards like Japan Dev — they're a great middle ground between using a recruiter and searching a more general job board where quality can vary.

But ultimately, we want everyone to be able to make an informed decision, and recruiters are another valuable tool for finding a job in Japan.  Now let's look at some more detailed pros and cons to see if it's a good fit.


  • Recruiters have a network you don’t have.

They can connect you to companies you didn't even know existed. They’ve been in the business (or industry if it’s a specialized recruiter or recruitment agency) and have acquired knowledge and contacts.

  • Recruiters can vouch for you.

A good recruiter will develop relationships with their clients.  That means they can essentially offer a referral, which can potentially help you stand out to companies.

  • Recruiters are often bilingual.

If your Japanese is not yet up to speed, then recruiters can help you navigate the process — and the papers involved.

  • Recruiters have data about companies

Usually recruiters will introduce lots of candidates to the same companies, so they get to know their interview processes well.  They gain a sense of what the company cares about, and maybe even data on things like salary ranges.  They can be a good source for this information.

  • Using a recruiter can save you time.

If you want to focus on your current employment, passion, or skills while waiting for your next job, then a recruiter can be a good assistant.


  • Recruiters are expensive for companies.

In Japan, recruiters typically earn a fee of 30-35% of your yearly salary.  So if you land a job paying $100,000 a year, the company might have to pay another $35,000 to the recruiting firm.

This shouldn't directly impact you as a candidate, but it's something to be aware of.  Some companies don't use recruiters because of this, so if it's the only method you use to search for jobs, you may miss out on them.

  • You might not get a chance to represent yourself

If you’ve read our interview tips, you’d know that weaving your narrative in the company’s story is important to landing your dream job.

If someone else is communicating with companies on your behalf, you might lose the chance to impress them in your own words.

  • Not all recruiters are honest

Remember how I mentioned that recruiting firms get 30-35% of your salary as a fee for placing you at a company?  This can be quite a large sum of money.

Usually an individual headhunter will share this fee with their firm, but even so... it creates a strong incentive to convince you to join a company through their firm.

But what happens if none of the firm's companies are a good fit for you?  An honest recruiter will tell you the truth.  They'll admit that maybe you should try some other avenues for finding jobs, like job boards or referrals.

And, I want to believe most recruiters are honest.  But it's still good to be careful, in case you run into one that isn't.  It's possible that some less-honest ones might try to push you towards jobs that aren't a good fit because it's in their best interests, not yours.

No matter what you do, remember that working with a headhunter is not your only option.  And if you do decide to enlist the help of recruitment companies, make sure to try a few different ones.  Every recruitment company works with a different subset of companies, so meeting with a few different recruiters will give you a more holistic view.  It will give you context, so you're less tempted to take the first offer you get.

Get advice from lots of different sources and make a decision once you have all the data. Don't rely just on a recruiter, who may have a strong financial incentive behind their actions.

Types of Recruiters in Japan


There are different types of recruiters, so here’s a little bit of information to help you with the jargon.

  1. Headhunter – this refers to an individual who actively seeks a specific candidate for a specific company. In Japan, headhunter is synonymous with the general term recruiter.  The majority of this article is about headhunters.
  2. In-House / Corporate Recruiter – staff working in a company’s HR department, particularly those seeking to fill job vacancies within the company.  
  3. Contingency Recruiter – this refers to an individual or external firm whose aim is to fill in a job vacancy in a company. These recruiters are only paid when they hire someone for the position.  Most of the recruiters in Japan fall into this category.
  4. Outplacement Recruiter – this is usually an agency whose main goal is to get a new job for employees who were made redundant or terminated due to business downsizing.
  5. Specialized Recruiter – this refers to a recruiter working in a specific agency. For instance, IT recruiters specialize in connecting IT companies with IT job seekers.

You'll encounter a mix of headhunters, in-house or corporate recruiters, and specialized recruiters. Headhunters and corporate recruiters will usually be the ones to find you.

If you’re gunning to further your career in the same industry, it’s usually best to work with specialized recruiters. If you think you’re more flexible in your career options, go for recruitment firms or agencies with a more diverse network.

How to Evaluate Recruiters in Japan

So what qualities should you look for in a recruitment agency?

  • Industry Experience and Connections

How long has the agency been in business? Do they have any connections with big and prominent companies?

  • Industry and Market Knowledge

Do they specialize in your industry? Do they understand your skills and the role and position you’re targeting?

  • Resume Assistance

Can they help you tailor your resume for the Japanese market? Can they give you assistance in crafting an effective cover letter for your market?

  • Sincerity

Do they seem genuinely interested in helping you get a job? Are they approachable and personable enough for when you have questions, concerns, or negotiation points?

  • Determination

Does the agency have a high retention rate? Will the recruiters stay long enough to sell your skills in the job market?

  • Accreditation and Registration

Is the agency reputable and legal? Can you trust the company with your personal and professional information?

List of Recruiters in Japan

Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to check out the top recruiters out there.

The most experienced recruiter will not necessarily land you the best job, but experience in consulting and staffing is a good sign that the company has built strong relationships with good companies.

First, a quick disclaimer:  We're not endorsing any of these companies.  We gathered a list of tech-focused recruiting firms in Japan and we're sharing them as information.  They're not in any particular order, and we highly suggest you do your own research and check our list of developer jobs in Japan and consider referrals and job fairs in addition to the below.

Now, let’s get to the list of recruiters in Japan.

Michael Page has over 40 years in the recruitment business. It is an international specialist recruiter, and its Tokyo office specializes in connecting client companies with mid to senior employees. It has three dedicated teams, one for foreign multinational corporations or gaishi, another for Japanese corporations or nikkei, and a team for Temp/Contract.

Robert Walters has been in the recruitment business for 20 years, and it has offices in Tokyo and Osaka. It specializes in permanent and contract recruitment in various industries. Its unique selling point is its team-based profit share system.

Morgan McKinley started in the late 80s in Ireland but has expanded to other countries, including Japan. Their Tokyo office specializes in IT and Sales & Marketing and Fintech among others. Jobs offered are usually mid to executive-level positions.

Robert Half has over 70 years of experience and knowledge in the recruitment business. In fact, it pioneered the idea of professional talent solutions. It has offices in Tokyo and Osaka, and it is well-known to yield good results in tech and finance jobs.

RGF (Recruit Global Family) International Recruitment is under the Recruit Group in Japan, which started in the 60s. Its office is in Tokyo, and it offers clients HR technology, recruitment advertisement, employment placement, and staffing.

East West Consulting KK has been in the industry for 30 years and has Tokyo and Osaka branches. It describes itself as ‘a Japanese company with a Western approach.’ Payment to this consultancy can be success-based, retainer-based, or a flat fee.

Hays Specialist Recruitment Japan KK or Hays Japan has been in business for 20 years. It deals with filling permanent positions, contract roles, and temporary assignments in various fields. It has offices in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka.

En World was founded in 2000. Its headquarters is in Tokyo, but it can help connect you to jobs in various prefectures in Japan. It can help you find a job in various industries as well under permanent, temporary, or contract employment.

IT is the home base of Skillhouse. The good thing about a specialized staffing services company is that they understand the jargon, skills, and needs both of the potential employee and the client company. With Skillhouse, you are under haken contract, which means that Skillhouse will be your employer, so your salary and benefits will be provided by it, and not the client company.

Computer futures is another IT-focused recruiting firm.  They have an office in Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

Wahl + Case works with lots of well-known tech companies, including some gaishikei ones you've likely heard of.

Specialized Group offers professional recruitment services in Japan, especially for executive search.  It's targeted towards Tokyo's international business community.

Jellyfish aims to provide a "fair opportunity to people all over the world".  They focus on helping IT engineers find jobs, especially at startups.

Career Fly is a recruiting firm focused on STEM positions (science and engineering).  They're based in Tokyo.

SPOTTED works with candidates in technology and finance to help find them jobs at entrepreneurial companies.  They're aiming to support the startup ecosystem by helping them find talent.

Active Connector focuses on tech and IT related positions, helping people in Tokyo find jobs.

Career Craft is another recruiting firm that aims to offer personalized support and help people find their ideal job in Japan.

Even this is only a small subset of all the recruiters in Japan though.  We recommend searching Google to find others, or keep an eye on your email and LinkedIn messages — you'll probably receive messages from the folks above and others.

How to get Recruiters to Work with You

Recruiters usually work on commission, so if your resume doesn't look promising, it’s possible that they will turn you down. But don’t fret! Here are some tips to get recruiters in Japan to work with you.

  • Get a work visa.

Only large recruitment firms will take a risk on people outside Japan since they have to do extra legwork to assist you with your visa. You’ll have a larger recruiter network if you’ve already secured a work visa in Japan. So, it’s actually plus points for you if you’ve already tried working in the country and are moving on to your next job.

If you’re curious about visa options, you can check out our article on visas (especially if you’re an engineer). You can also view eligibility and requirements at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

  • Craft a good resume.

Recruiters will help you tailor your resume for the Japanese job market, but you have to give them something to work with.

Resumes with a steady employment history normally look good to Japanese companies. This means that you’re not jumping from job to job and you don’t have any employment gap. Do not be discouraged if you do, though.

  • Flex your Japanese language skills.

It will be easier for the recruiter to find a suitable job for you if you have some Japanese language skills. If you have a JLPT certificate, make sure to disclose it to your agent. If not, you might want to enroll in language classes. For those already living in Japan, take advantage of community centers with volunteer Japanese lessons as classes only cost 0 to 500 yen per class.

For the IT industry, though, some companies are okay with limited Japanese language skills.

Alternatives to Using Recruiters


Headhunters and recruitment agencies aren’t your only option to look for a job.  Here are some other options.

  • Job boards

These websites list job opportunities.

Most of them accept jobs from any company that wants to post.  But this can be overwhelming — often there are thousands of companies and it can be difficult to find the good ones.

But Japan Dev is a curated job board.  We focus 100% on internationally-minded tech companies that hire software developers, designers, PMs and more — basically anyone who works on a dev team.

Japan Dev does not work on commission so it's affordable for companies, and our incentives are aligned.  We only tell you about the companies we believe in, and it's up to you if you want to apply. 

It’s a win-win situation for both job seekers and client companies, so we hope you'll include Japan Dev in your job search.


  • Simple to apply

  • Accessible and transparent

  • Plenty of options

  • Some are curated to save you time


  • Some job boards have a huge number of positions, which can be confusing

  • You have to handle setting up interviews and communicating with the company yourself

  • Referrals

We may run a job board, but even we have to admit: referrals are a great way to get a job.

It's when you utilize your network to find someone already working at a company and apply directly through them.  While it usually doesn't guarantee an interview, it can increase your chances of getting one.


  • High chance of getting an interview
  • Less competition


  • Your name and reputation are tethered to someone else, and vice versa

  • Requires you to have a network

  • Meetups, Conferences and Job Fairs

There are many different kinds of networking events that you can use to find jobs in Japan.  They can be another good way to directly meet people from companies and increase your chances of getting an interview.

For engineers, you can check the best tech meetups in Tokyo right here.


  • Builds your network
  • Industry-specific
  • Social
  • Informative
  • Chance to make a first impression in a more relaxed environment


  • Plenty of competition
  • Not ideal for introverts

We hope this guide proves helpful to your career journey.  Recruiters can be a valuable tool to find jobs in Japan if you use them right.  So we hope you'll take the advice in this article and use this knowledge to find a great job in Japan.

Then all you have to do is nail the interview.  Good luck!


Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.