Hiring based on actions rather than words.Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.11.33 AM

The Yomiuri Shimbun – A hiring event held at a mahjong parlor. A company employee in a white shirt, center, plays with students in casual dress.

2:00 am, October 11, 2015

By Masanori Yamashita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer – From the start of this month, companies are officially allowed to begin making informal job offers to university seniors. While this year’s job market is said to be a sellers’ market, some companies are turning to tools other than the usual written tests and interviews to discern candidates’ potential. I went along to two such events — mahjong and a riddle-solving game.

“I’ve got Kokushimusou (thirteen orphans).” “Wow! Incredible.”

It is Aug. 27 at a mahjong parlor in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and a total of 40 company employees in suits and students in casual dress huddle around mahjong tables. Cheers can be heard at a table where a student obtains the “yakuman” score of “thirteen orphans,” the highest score in mahjong.

The occasion was an event held by Kakehashi Skysolutions Co., an employment-assistance company in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Employees from firms in industries such as IT and medical equipment trading that are looking to hire new employees play mahjong with students while recruiting personnel from those companies watch discreetly from the sidelines. Seeing a student discard a mahjong tile without thinking for very long, a recruiter from a staffing-services company jots down notes such as “Not wearing a suit” and “Able to foresee how things develop.”

Kakehashi first held this mahjong employment event three years ago.

“While playing mahjong, students are required to make a series of decisions. It’s an ideal way for today’s companies, exposed to constant change, to find the talented people they are looking for,” says a Kakehashi staffer.

According to them, companies put more weight on how the students play than on whether they win or lose. Through the mahjong events, some students have been exempted from a part of the selection process and have been successful in getting hired by a trading company and a consulting firm, according to Kakehashi.

  • Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.13.33 AMThe Yomiuri Shimbun – The writer, left, taking part in a problem-solving escape game at a hiring event alongside staff from Digital Hollywood University

Besides mahjong, Kakehashi also holds events for clients that are looking for candidates with audacity and originality, such as “ogiri” in which students have to give impromptu funny answers to a question, and “instant theater” in which students are asked to perform an improvisation.

XING Inc., the Nagoya-based firm that operates the online commercial karaoke brand JOYSOUND, began last year holding contests in which job seekers submit karaoke videos. The applicant who submits the best video is exempted from having to go through a first-round interview.

This year, the second time the contest was held, the firm had 22 applicants including a male student who sang a song in a happi coat while pretending he was beating a taiko drum. XING plans to give informal job offers to six students, one of whom reportedly passed through the karaoke video selection process.

Chisa Yamada, who now works at the firm, was selected for hiring last year after submitting a video in which she sang an anime song with great enthusiasm.

“I’m an ‘otaku,’ a big fan of anime, but in an interview I would be so afraid of how I would be judged that I would not be able to put across the real me. I’m good at karaoke, so through karaoke I showed myself just as I am,” Yamada recalled. She said that her video became a topic of conversation, and that the subsequent interviews went smoothly.

This spring, in line with its philosophy of “what one likes, one will do well,” the firm made Yamada the first rookie to be assigned to the department that chooses music for karaoke distribution.

Even major corporations are beginning to look beyond traditional methods to evaluate the talents of job-seekers.

Panasonic Corp., headquartered in Osaka Prefecture, recognizes that diverse and unique personnel are needed to create new business lines and last year launched an “unconventional hiring path.” Now candidates with special experiences, such as having received an award for saving someone’s life or having been the first to climb an unscaled peak overseas, can bypass one of several interviews in the selection process.

This summer, I heard that Kakehashi and Digital Hollywood University in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, would be putting on a joint hiring event in the form of a problem-solving escape game, so I took part.

The participants were given about 40 problems, such as number puzzles or finding words encoded among randomly arranged letters. The idea was that by solving all the problems they would successfully escape from the imminent danger of a giant meteorite colliding with the Earth.

The students and other participants were divided up into teams of four to five persons and evaluated on qualities such as mental flexibility, logical thinking and leadership. If they succeeded in correctly answering all of the problems within the one-hour time limit they would receive a high evaluation. On that occasion, the session was being held to help the students discover their own strengths, but at the real event the winners would be exempted from first-round interviews at participating companies.

The people on my team were all rather reserved. There was little exchange of opinion, and we were able to solve only about half of the problems, so we finished in last place. The person in charge of the event commented that my mind was more rigid than those of the students and that my teamwork was poor. Realizing that I was not at a level where I would be likely to get recommended to a company, I was a bit depressed.

Eight years ago, when I received an informal job offer, I was proud that my talent had been recognized. Has cranking out article drafts day after day tired me out so much that I have lost what I used to have? I felt like asking our company’s personnel department: “Uh, excuse me, but what exactly was it that you found appealing in me?”