Although personal connections and networking are an universal phenomena, I think the Japanese place a stronger emphasis on this method of hiring. This week's Cultural Conundrums column by Kate Elwood looks at the concept of trust as it relates to hiring new staff. It's funny that the person who vouches for a new hire is responsible for the "trustworthy" behavior of the new recruit, but if there's a cut back or restructuring it is often impossible to find out who is responsible, since no one wants to claim responsibility (Japan has done nothing to dis spell my distaste for bureaucracy). At any rate, I am sensitive to this phenomena and am very careful about who I recommend for jobs and try to be sensitive when dealing with employers who I have been introduced to by acquaintances. At the same time I am very distrustful of institutions, they rarely show the same sensitivity in my experience. Anyway here are some of Elwood's observations:
It is often observed that Japanese people tend to prefer to find suitable people through personal contacts. While this seems to suggest that the Japanese system is based on trust, it is possible to argue that the opposite may be true. The researchers Toshio Yamagishi and Midori Yamagishi conducted a survey of 1,136 Japanese and 501 American respondents related to trust, reputation and honesty. The items included such statements as "Most people are basically honest," "People are always interested in their own welfare," "The people I trust are those with whom I have had long-lasting relationships," "Having a good reputation is most important for business," and "I am trustworthy."
The researchers found that the American respondents had much more general trust than the Japanese respondents and were more likely to believe that a person's reputation was valid and important. The Japanese respondents, on the other hand, showed a stronger preference to make use of connections.
On the basis of this discrepancy, Yamagishi and Yamagishi posit a difference between trust and assurance. They suggest that Japanese people rely on the assurance derived from committed relationships precisely because they do not have as much general trust and that this assurance is derived from reasons other than basic goodwill, for example, that it is to the personal advantage of the person who is being depended on to behave in a "trustworthy" way.