TOKYO • The low birth rate and slowly recovering economy are keeping Japan's job-to-applicant ratio at a 25-year high, with the figure at 1.43 for January.
In Tokyo, there are more than two jobs for every applicant.
Small companies are the worst hit by the shortage of workers.
But even some better-known employers are gradually changing their rigid hiring and employment practices. And some are beginning to consider foreigners.
With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world, Japan stands in contrast with Europe and the US, where a lack of good jobs has fuelled support for politicians who want to crack down on free trade and immigration.
Only 3 per cent of Japanese are out of work, compared with 9.6 per cent in the euro region and 4.7 per cent in the US, latest figures show.
At present, big companies and elite students have exactly seven months to find one another.
Japanese who are out of work.
People out of work in the United States.
Jobless people in the euro region.
The hiring season for third-year university students opened on March 1 and major companies will formalise their recruitment decisions by handing out certificates at ceremonies on Oct 1.
Polls of the most popular employers among students generally find major banks, trading and insurance companies, travel agents and airlines among the top 10.
While large employers offer starting salaries little different from those given by smaller companies, the steeper pay trajectory - at least for men - means a foot in the door promises a far higher mid-life income for those who stay the course.
Some also offer benefits like company-subsidised accommodation and resort vacations.
Mr Michiyoshi Aoki, 22, among the 31,000 students at a recruitment fair, said his job search will not include small companies.
He has his sights set on the big names in life insurance and automobiles. "There's still a lot of competition to get into big companies," he noted. "But if you work at a large firm, you'll have bigger opportunities and more of a future."
With a market even tighter than that before the global financial crisis, large companies are beginning to loosen hiring practices and mid-career recruitment is growing.
Food company Calbee, for example, plans a new drive to recruit those who graduated as long as five years ago, in a bid to improve diversity.
Trading company Mitsui & Co is planning overnight camps in August to broaden the recruitment base to applicants who may be overseas earlier in the year.
Hoshino Resorts is allowing students to answer questions by video for the first time to make it easier for them to apply from afar.
Big companies are waking up to another untapped source of recruits - foreign students at Japanese universities.
A job fair for overseas students at Pasona's Tokyo headquarters on March 10 attracted 32 companies - including all the major banks.