Profile #4: Ji Youn Yoo, In-house recruiter at Google

Paul: Ji Youn Yoo is an in-house recruiter at Google’s Tokyo office in Shibuya Stream. We worked together a few years ago in the IT team of a recruiting agency here in Tokyo, and I was lucky enough to be her manager for a short time also. Here we talk about her very international background, all the languages she can speak, life as a recruiter at Google and the best manager she ever worked with (ahem).

Hi Ji Youn. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions today. Tell us a little about yourself.

Ji Youn: Hi! I’m Ji Youn, and I usually go by Youn or JYY. I’ve been in Tokyo since 2012. I’m currently a recruiter at Google in Tokyo, focusing on tech hiring for APAC.

How did you end up in Japan?

I am originally from South Korea but grew up in Shanghai attending international schools. My plan initially was to go to the US or Canada for uni, like everyone else in school. Then one day in my senior year my dad brought me to a university fair and he picked up some brochures for Japanese universities offering degree programs in English. It was only a year after the big 3.11 earthquake so I was a bit hesitant but my dad insisted. So I applied, had interviews with two professors who really got me inspired about the program, and flew here in Sept 2012.

I majored in Political Science and had always imagined myself working in international NGOs growing up. In the summer of my junior year, I spent two months interning at a local NGO in Sarajevo and while it was an unforgettably fruitful and fun experience, I realized it wasn’t something I was passionate about. I hadn’t thought about going any other directions previously, and I had spent all my vacations travelling abroad with my part-time job savings while my friends were preparing for exams and gaining practical experience. So there I was, not knowing what I wanted to do and with an empty resume. 

Then, my close friend was interning at a recruitment agency and how she described her work piqued my curiosity. And that’s how I started my career in recruiting, and I am really enjoying it! I spent the next 2 years in agency recruiting until I joined Google’s in-house talent acquisition team in early 2019.

I guess Google will just hire anyone who is smart, has a great personality and speaks English, Japanese, Chinese & Korean fluently. What’s your focus as a recruiter for Google? 

I recruit engineers and data scientists for Google, mainly for Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei offices. The engineers I recruit work with various products, from Advertising Products and Youtube to Android, Google Assistant, and Google Cloud. 

All those languages are coming in handy, then. What does your typical working day look like?

My day usually starts at around 8 in the morning. I scroll through Instagram for a bit before jumping into the shower. Around 9, I sit at my desk, skim through my calendar and to-do list, and plan the day by blocking my calendar with different tasks (this is something Paul taught me!). My typical workday consists of screening online applications, candidate engagement and follow-ups, various project works, and some internal meetings. When I don’t have meetings or candidate calls scheduled I usually go to a nearby cafe and work from there (with my mask on!) for a few hours. The last few months of working from home made me realize I’m not someone with strong self-discipline and getting away from my house and my bed really helps me focus and get the work done. 

What are the challenges in recruiting for Google in the locations you cover?

One challenge I personally face across these regions is, interestingly, branding. You might wonder, “What? Everyone knows Google!” But if you think about it, this also means candidates are likely to have their own images of Google established long before we engage with them, which sometimes can create emotional barriers. For example, many of the candidates I speak with are reluctant to apply as they have heard that our hiring bars are extremely high or that everyone has to be very fluent in English. But when we actually have a chat, they are pleasantly surprised to learn how our processes are designed and structured and how much support recruiting teams are providing for candidates with preparation and guidance along the way. This is also something that I enjoy quite a lot in my job, sharing about Google and helping candidates perform their best. 

What advice do you have for job hunters from overseas looking to move here? (when travel restrictions are eventually lifted)?

Set up your priorities. Depending on where you’re moving from, life here could look very different – salary structure, cost of living, work environment and role expectations, language requirement, and the weather, just to name a few. It is important to understand that making a change means leaving your comfort zone to make space for and welcome new joy. Knowing WHY you want to move here and what you can compromise on for that transition is essential.

Could you tell me a little about the main differences you’ve experienced between agency and in-house recruiting?

Before I begin, I should remind you that I’ve only worked in one recruiting agency role and one in-house role, for about 2 years each, so what I’m about to say may not be true for everyone. 

I feel the two are very different jobs. Being an agency recruiter is almost like running your own business – you identify your targets, build relationships with them, and be an expert in relationship building and “selling” your services/brand as a trusted advisor. You choose who you work with, for which roles, and for how long. It is primarily a sales role, in a very meritocratic industry, and agility and daring resilience are some of the key skills. 

However, being an in-house recruiter means you are no longer the third party – your client’s problem is your problem. Your job doesn’t just end after filling the roles or sharing market insights and advising – a big part of your work is to look back on the process, analyze huge sets of data, and fix problems. Could we have hired faster? How can we train interviewers to ensure an equitable and inclusive process? What can we do to boost online applications? You have to keep your eyes on not just the short-term hiring targets, but long-term goals covering big topics like diversity & inclusion, branding, and hiring efficiency. 

I myself have definitely benefited from starting my career on the agency side and learning these key, transferable skills, as they could help you excel as an in-house recruiter, or in any type of career. But despite the similarities, if you are considering making the transition like myself, please take time to think about what you enjoy the most in your current role and whether you are ready to make the move.

What is it like to work at Google? How good are the free snacks?

One of the things I appreciate the most from working at Google is the level of autonomy. At Google, you don’t sit and wait until the work gets assigned to you, but you go out and find problems. If you have a question but can’t find a solution, boom there’s your new project. We also have a very strong culture of collaboration. I can reach out to anyone in any office to get their advice or help, and people are always 100% committed to helping each other. Learning first-hand from people with expertise in their field helps not only with the project at hand but more importantly broadens your perspective on your career. This also links to the amazing internal mobility opportunities we have. We often say “the only constant at Google is change” – you will never get bored!

And yes, the food in the office is amazing! My favourite is the Italian place on the top floor of our new Shibuya office, which serves great pizza, pasta, salads, and affogato! (I took the photo when no one was there!)

Google office

What are your dreams or goals for the future?

For now, my goal is to explore and experience as much as possible both at work and outside of work, before I can start planning for the longer-term. 

Quickfire questions

– most important advice you’d give yourself if you could go back in time to your arrival in Japan?

Learn Japanese! Speaking and understanding the local language helps you make new connections that will really broaden your horizons.

– how do you learn new skills?

For me, learning starts with understanding what I don’t know. I am not very good at organizing or following long training programs step by step, so I like to observe other people or their final work first, then try things on my own and figure out what I need to learn to move ahead at each stage. I like to ask lots of questions and learn the best by interacting with people.

– tell me a few of your favourite or most recently read books, movies, podcasts, games?

I’m a huge fan of mystery/crime movies and TV shows – recently I really enjoyed watching the Ozark, Alias Grace, and Don’t Fxxk with Cats on Netflix. 

– your favourite place to visit in Japan?

Since we can’t travel as much as we want due to COVID-19, some of my favourite places to visit in/around Tokyo are Kichijoji, Enoshima, and Shimoda.

– what’s the best thing you’ve ever spent 10,000 JPY on in Japan?

Hmm! Probably lunch omakase sushi course and beer at Ginza Kyubey.

– the bestest manager you’ve ever worked with?

Tough question! Haha but really, I feel very lucky to have had you as my teammate, manager, and mentor. 90% of what I know and practice in my job every day comes from you – time management & planning, managing expectations, effective communications, humour – and they shaped me into who I am today professionally and personally 🙂

You’re too kind! The cheque is in the post (or whatever you young folks say)

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