Facebook Builds Its First App for a Foreign Market: A Job Search App in Japan

To capture the one of the last markets in the developed world where it isn’t winning, Facebook has started building custom apps to appeal to young Japanese users.

Facebook’s engineers have built a special app that helps university students connect with each other and alumni as they hunt for jobs for after graduation. It’s the first app the company has built specifically for a foreign market, according to spokesperson Kumiko Hidaka.

While that might not sound groundbreaking, the thing to keep in mind is that the job market in Japan is far more rigid than it is in the United States. Workers often stay with a single company for their entire career.

The job-hunting process in Japan is also very systematic. Called shukatsu, it can take more than a year starting during a student’s junior year of college. It’s very time-consuming — students have to attend introduction seminars at companies, visit their university’s career counseling centers, and fill out entry sheets to send to firms or recruitment sites. Then they have to go through formal examinations and interviews. If they are successful, they receive a naitei or informal job offer and attend a special company ceremony.

Companies have a strong preference to hire students straight out of school, so there is a deep fear among students that if they don’t get a job offer upon graduation, they will not be able to break into a high-salaried career. On top of that, Japan’s job market is fragile following the country’s worst postwar recession. There are 55 job openings for every 100 candidates, according to Bloomberg News.

In the app, Facebook users can swap information about the search process with others who are looking, find alumni that are already working for top choice companies and find friends or classmates who have already accepted offers.

“What we’re trying to do in Japan and elsewhere is make sure we’re providing a really good experience and understanding that there are certain differences in the way people use our product,” Hidaka said.

Japan is one of the few developed markets left in the world where Facebook isn’t the leading social network. The company has 1.7 million users there, up from roughly 900,000 a year ago, according to our Inside Facebook Gold data. It lags domestic blogging network Mixi, which has 21 million registered users, and the U.S.’s Twitter, which has 18 million unique visitors every month to its web site.

Facebook notably also just released the Mixi profile link, allowing users to sync content to the site from Facebook. It also lets Japanese mobile users sign into the site using QR codes and has been encouraging developers to internationalize their apps.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg also mentioned Japan as one of the four key international markets the company is focusing on this year at a talk last month at Stanford University.

At that talk, he stressed how he wanted Facebook to be a truly international company, not just an American one.

“My view is that every country is pretty different. We’d want to be pretty culturally sensitive,” he said. “I don’t want Facebook to be an American company. I don’t want it to be a company that spreads American values across the world.”

Facebook created its first official engineering office outside the U.S. in Japan and send a few of its strongest engineers to tweak its product for the local market.

With this newest app, it seems as though Facebook is trying to replicate the strategy that made it successful in the U.S. by seeding the social network among young university students, who will spread it by word of mouth as they enter the workforce.