Anton van Rossum 

17 December 2020

T.K. asks:

Until recently, I served as the sales manager for Japan at an American MEMS company, focusing on semiconductors for in-vehicle, industrial and consumer products. This summer – in the midst of the corona pandemic – I was fired. As my sales record was very good, I’m quite surprised about my dismissal.

Working at US and European semiconductor and electronic device manufacturers, I’ve been involved in sales, marketing and management for the Japanese market for about 30 years. For foreign companies to get a foothold in Japan, local representation is indispensable. In addition to a background in direct sales, I have extensive experience in setting up business through cooperation with distributors. I’ve been doing that from a home office for several years now. I’m a real self-starter, able to achieve business objectives extremely efficiently.

In recent months, I’ve hardly received any response to my applications. A headhunter I spoke to about a position told me that I’m too old for this industry. I’m 56 and this comment worries me. Can I ever get a job in sales again?

The headhunter answers:

You’ve found a strong concept for your professional career. For doing sales in Japan, Western companies simply can’t do without local representation. Because of the language barrier and cultural differences, they need an insider to approach the parties in the market and maintain contact. In the specialized technology markets in which you operate, candidates with your background are pretty scarce and in high demand. Your industrial experience in Japan is attractive to every blue chip, SME or startup in the field. Your network within Japanese tier-1 companies and distributors is invaluable to any company wanting to do business in Japan.

Concluding you’re “too old” for the industry is thus far too short-sighted, if you ask me. Perhaps the consultant you spoke to (temporarily) lacked a clear vision of the labor market. It doesn’t surprise me that application procedures take longer than normal during the corona pandemic. There are countless reasons for this: the uncertainty about the economy and market developments, the obstacles to meeting candidates in person, overcrowded agendas due to working from home, to name a few. Especially the automotive industry is currently experiencing a dramatic time due to the pandemic, but it’s adverse times that separate the winners from the losers. There’s no doubt in my mind that demand for sales professionals will increase again – industry just can’t do without.

You lost your job because panic broke out in some boardrooms when the market collapsed at the start of the pandemic. In Japan, a state of emergency was declared in April and many other countries went into lockdown. Your employer at the time made a calculated decision to part ways. After all, you could no longer do customer visits and global new car sales fell to a record low (-20 percent). However, this panic reaction is mainly to the disadvantage of your old employer. Unable to benefit from inside information of the Japanese (car) industry, he stands to lose a lot of business.