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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Student athletes looking to win job-hunting race


Staff writer

Whether you are a university senior looking for your first "real job" or a company veteran looking for a change, the most important thing to include on your resume is a concise summary of specific skills you can provide, whether that be system engineering, knowledge of corporate law or a flair for foreign languages.

News photo
A job seeker in his 20s (right) confers with an employment consultant at a seminar last month in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

As demand for people with specific skills rises amid the economic recovery, some job-hunters are stressing what might seem at first glance like an odd selling point: membership in official university sports clubs. Although highlighting one's athletic prowess as a means of landing a job is relatively rare, some venture companies are starting businesses that introduce sports-oriented, would-be employees to companies seeking physically and mentally tough workers.

About 50 former sports club members, mostly in their 20s, looking to change jobs gathered in Tokyo last month to meet with human resource staff from a dozen companies.

Tetsuhiko Namiki, president of Owens Co., which sponsored the get-together, pointed out that firms often sought "brainy types" during the economic slump, when companies were able to hire only sparsely.

"But now that the economy is recovering (and) prompting companies to expand (their) business, they want energetic people who have the power to make a breakthrough," he said.

Sports clubs, called "taiiku-kai" in Japanese, are officially recognized by their schools and represent them in competitions.

Although many students these days opt for recreational clubs or "circles" where they can make friends, enjoy sports and generally have a good time after surviving the ordeal of the college entrance exam, official university clubs -- known for their harsh discipline, heavy workouts and strict seniority system -- still attract students who want to dedicate their college years to being a serious athlete.

But companies that participated in the Owens job fair said the qualities the student athletes develop through years of hard training are a potentially useful asset to their companies.

Akio Fukushima, official at Axa Life Insurance Co., said he is seeking tough people who can endure the pressure to fulfill sales quotas that are immediately reflected in employee salaries.

"Many people in the younger generation nowadays give up trying too easily," said Fukushima. "Athletes are more persevering."

Up until the bubble economy burst in the early 1990s, companies had sought a "straitjacket" workforce that could get along well and work within a certain framework, said Masayuki Kakuho, an executive researcher at Works Institute, a research arm of Recruit Co.

As companies have been forced to survive in a more competitive business environment, they are seeking students who are more motivated and can act on their own judgment, Kakuho said.

He added that the trend of hiring people with athletic backgrounds is part of corporate efforts to hire more diverse personnel as the economy picks up.

"Many companies are expanding posts for new recruits this year and they are looking for those who are energetic and physically tough and motivated, hoping that they will revitalize the company atmosphere," he said.

Despite their busy practice schedules during their school days, student athletes had no trouble landing jobs at big name companies until the economy slumped, thanks to the strong sports club alumni networks.

But not any more, said Tetsuo Watanabe, manager of career education and support division at Nippon Sport Science University. Now only a limited number of talented athletes from traditionally strong university clubs are recruited in this way. The alumni connection doesn't work the way it used to, Watanabe said.

At the same time, student athletes often have trouble landing a position because they are busy training while other students are out job-hunting.

This has prompted Kaimei Kenmochi to form a venture company, Indus Inc., in 2003 that sponsors job seminars and publishes an annual magazine featuring information on job-searching activities for athletes.

More than 24,000 students registered for Indus's network nationwide in fiscal 2005. Indus President Kenmochi and other executives often visit university sports clubs to offer advice to seniors, and to find out about prospective recruits from coaches.

Kenmochi said that he hopes to change the stereotype of university athletes as physically strong but mentally weak.

"(Athletes) have self-control, know the importance of respecting their superiors and know the role they need to play to achieve a goal," said Kenmochi. "Those elements are all necessary for workers."



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