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Human Resources Managers on Strengthening Mid-career Hires, Which Now Account for 40% of Openings Filled

In our rapidly changing society, Sumitomo Corporation is developing diverse businesses that go beyond the conventional "trading company business" framework. As we embrace these changes, we are looking to fill more openings with mid-career hires. The percentage of mid-career hires is increasing every year, and in fiscal 2023, 88 openings, or 47% of all hires, were filled with experienced candidates (as of March 1, 2024).
Why is Sumitomo Corporation strengthening its mid-career hiring? How are mid-career workers performing once they join the company? We spoke with Yoshinori Kokubu and Rina Hayashi of the Human Resources Dept. Recruitment Team for their input.

  • Recruitment Team, Human Resources Dept.

    Yoshinori Kokubu

    Kokubu joined the company as a new graduate in 2010, where he was initially assigned to accounting for Mineral resources and Energy unit. After stints in Algeria involving automobile trading activities for the Middle East and Africa, investment in and business development for automotive manufacturing parts and equipment in Japan and overseas, and secondment to a domestic subsidiary company, Kokubu has been in his current position since fiscal 2021. Currently, his main responsibility is mid-career hiring.

  • Recruitment Team, Human Resources Dept.

    Rina Hayashi

    Hayashi joined the company in 2016 as a new graduate. Assigned to the Recruitment team upon joining, she has been involved in the hiring process ever since. Hayashi has a hand in all aspects of recruiting, including new graduates, employment of people with disabilities and mid-career hires. Currently, she is primarily responsible for recruitment branding and selection design for mid-career hires.

Trading Companies Do Not Hire New Graduates en Masse – We Seek Strong Ambition and Expertise

Sumitomo Corporation has been increasing its mid-career hires in recent years. Can you give us an overview of the company’s recruitment strategy for mid-career workers and specific trends in this area?

Hayashi Mid-career hiring falls into two categories: "job-specific openings" that target individuals with experience and expertise in specific fields, and "open hires" that emphasize potential and target young and mid-career candidates who have been in the workforce for less than ten years. Job-specific openings are currently available for about 30 specific positions, while open hires are available for all levels of experience, with positions determined during the selection process.

The average age of new hires is 35–36 for job-specific openings and 29 for open hires. Previous employers cover a broad spectrum, including, but not limited to, manufacturing, finance, media/IT, legal and accounting.

In 2022, we filled 75 openings with mid-career hires. This number will rise to 88 in fiscal 2023, meaning that the ratio of new graduates to mid-career hires is approaching 1:1, I believe.

Number of mid-career hires by Sumitomo Corporation over the past five years

( Unit: persons )

FY2018 FY2019 FY2020 FY2021 FY2022
Mid-career (*1) 36 35 27 20 75
Male 30 27 24 14 47
Female 6 8 3 6 28
Ratio of mid-career employees(*2) 18% 14% 15% 16% 43%
(*1) Including medical employees
(*2) Ratio of mid-career employees to regular employees hired in each fiscal year
* Updated on February 15, 2024

What do you look for in mid-career candidates?

KokubuFor both job-specific openings and open hires, we are looking for people with ambitions they hope to realize at Sumitomo Corporation, and for people with the ability to be assertive in their roles. The flexibility to adapt swiftly to change and the ambition to pursue growth as an ongoing endeavor are also essential qualities.

For job-specific openings, we look for candidates who are highly competent in their field and who will be an immediate asset to the company with wide-ranging areas of expertise. For example, in the energy field: hydrogen, storage batteries, offshore wind power, etc., and in the digital transformation (DX) field: AI engineering, digital marketing, digital business investment/development, or DX strategic planning and M&A support (ITDD/PMI), etc. The field of mobility, meanwhile, includes automotive engineering (design and development) and auto leasing. In any area, we emphasize the ability to drive business forward, in addition to expert knowledge and deep experience. Specifically, the ability to identify the issues a certain business is facing, develop strategies for improvement, create an action plan needed to realize those improvements, and promote aptly designed projects.

How do you assess the personality and attitude of candidates?

KokubuDepending on the position, we sometimes set up casual interviews where we can talk at length with the candidates as a preliminary to the formal selection process. Many of the questions we ask candidates during the screening process are designed to probe their views on their careers. For example, "What do you value when working in a team?" or "How do you approached your work?" and so on.

“Open Hiring” without Experience Requirements to Accommodate Evolving Career Perspectives

What issues are you aiming to address in increasing mid-career hires?

Kokubu We believe there are three main issues that must be addressed to respond to our rapidly changing society. Namely, rethinking the traditional employment system, career self-reliance and responding to changes in individual career perspectives.

First, rethinking the traditional employment system has involved a departure from the so-called seniority system. Based on the concept of a “Pay for Job, Pay for performance” compensation model, we have created a system that encourages the promotion of talented and motivated individuals. Second, we are aiming for career self-reliance because we believe that the trading company business is becoming increasingly diversified, and that it is necessary to develop highly specialized personnel, as opposed to the more generalist individuals fostered through job rotation in the past. Finally, changing jobs mid-career has become the norm and we must adapt to this change. Hence our focus on "changing individual career perspectives."

It was in line with these trends that Sumitomo Corporation revised its personnel system in April 2021 and introduced a mid-career open-hiring process in fiscal 2022?

Hayashi Yes, that's right. As the concept of lifetime employment gradually fades in Japan, the idea of a "first career" as a foundation for long-term career planning is beginning to emerge. Given the current situation in which an increasing number of new graduates are charting a career path involving a change in jobs after a few years as they look ahead to the next rung on the career ladder, we introduced open hiring on a trial basis in April 2022. As a result, we have succeeded in attracting highly motivated people with various backgrounds and have been officially operating the program since April 2023.

Diversity Generates New Value through Comfortable Work Environments that Encourage Success

Sumitomo Corporation positions DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) as a source of value creation and works to empower women in the workplace?

Hayashi Yes. The aim is to increase the ratio of female managers to at least 20% and the ratio of female department heads to at least 10% by 2030. Since the male to female ratio of all employees is 7:3 with the majority being male, accelerating the recruitment of women for career positions is a must. The percentage of women joining the company in 2022 was around 40%, which is slightly higher than the percentage for Sumitomo Corporation as a whole. However, the image of trading companies as "male-dominated" and "tough" remains strong, and we are making efforts to create a more amenable working environment for women.

What kinds of systems and environments are in place for empowering women in the workplace?

Hayashi We have introduced a “super-flextime” work hours system. The system has no core hours; instead, employees can start and end their work day at any time during a flexible period from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Current company-wide rules allow employees to work remotely up to three times per week. Our corporate culture is such that there isn’t any resistance to the use of different and evolving systems, and we have a paid leave usage rate of approximately 70%.

Kokubu I recently became a father and will be taking two months of parental leave. There are many employees in the company who are balancing work and childcare and I have numerous role models in this regard, which is reassuring. The overtime average is just 11 hours per month for the entire company, although there is some fluctuation across departments. Some people may associate trading companies with long hours, but the company has created an environment where employees can achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Expanding Career Paths with New Businesses and Overseas Assignments on Offer

What motivates mid-career candidates to join Sumitomo Corporation?

Hayashi For job-specific openings, many candidates want to be involved in business development and investment as owners, or to be in key positions while utilizing their previous experience and skills. Others are drawn by the nature of the work and the career pathway being offered. Many candidates for open hires want to take on challenges in the global arena that only an integrated trading and business investment company can offer. Others are attracted by the opportunity to work on large-scale projects from a young age and be involved in work that moves the world forward.

Another comment we receive from both types of candidates is that the "people are inspiring." In surveys undertaken post-employment, the second most common response, following the nature of the business, was that candidates were drawn to Sumitomo Corporation by the personalities of acquaintances who work at the company, and to the people they were interviewed by.

What kind of work are mid-career hires involved with after joining the company?

Kokubu Among those hired for job-specific openings, there are many people who achieve remarkable success, such as launching a new business or taking on a key position as a section manager or general manager soon after joining the company. For example, a person who had worked for a major auto manufacturer for more than 20 years launched a commuter EV subscription service less than a year after joining the company, incorporated it as a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation, and became President and CEO.

Hayashi I have the impression that many of our open hires, like those who join the company fresh from university, have high hopes for their careers, too. This includes those who go on frequent overseas business trips soon after joining the company, and those who take on management positions within their first year. We have heard people say, "I'm gaining experience I could never have gotten at my previous job, and it's very rewarding."

Are there training programs or systems in place to support mid-career entrants?

Hayashi Since April 2022, we have been expanding onboarding programs for mid-career hires. In addition to providing training for new recruits and creating a website specifically for mid-career hires to deepen their understanding of the company, we promote networking by holding social gatherings and small-group roundtable discussions, and have introduced a supporter system. We also have an e-learning program called Sumitomo Business College that is open to all employees, allowing them to obtain essential knowledge at their own convenience.

Kokubu We are also expanding our internal job posting system. Although job-specific openings suggest a static line of work, mid-career hires are also able to switch departments over the medium to long term. For example, in one case, an employee who was involved in the energy-related business was transferred to a smart city project in North Hanoi, Vietnam. Having someone with expertise in one area move into a different one can lead to the creation of new knowledge and new opportunities for business.

In addition, in cases where an employee is transferred to a portfolio company, the work at Sumitomo Corporation’s head office and that at the subsidiary or affiliated company may be so different that it is almost like changing jobs. It is possible to gain a broad spectrum of experience even if you are involved in the same line of business, which is appealing when considering your career path over the next five to ten years.

Finally, do you have a message for those considering a mid-career opening at Sumitomo Corporation?

Hayashi My message to potential candidates is that many highly motivated people work at Sumitomo Corporation. We welcome applications from people looking to take on the challenge of a new career as we offer an environment where people can work with passion and enthusiasm regardless of their background.

Kokubu The entire Sumitomo Corporation group is working to create new value, and we need people with diverse experience and ideas. We have mid-career hires on our recruiting team, and they are truly a breath of fresh air for our organization. At Sumitomo Corporation, we’re excited to realize our aspirations through the challenges we face together!


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