4 Tips to Nail a Japanese Job Interview

You may have visited Japan or studied abroad at a Japanese university. But have you considered taking the next step and actually working full-time at a Japanese company?

Japanese Job Hunting 1

Job hunting (就職 – しゅうしょく)is an integral part of a Japanese college student’s final year in college. Internships, “taking a year off,” or “network building” are still relatively uncommon concepts in Japan. So students begin job hunting with a resume filled with their university studies and involvement in campus activities. Maybe they’ll have 1 or 2 part-time jobs or a study abroad program to add to that.

Rather than focus on a student’s concrete work experience and skills, Japanese companies focus on the applicant’s interests, potential, and their ability to follow the million unwritten rules of Japanese business culture.

As a foreigner entering this system, it can be overwhelming just trying to figure out where to start. However, with proper preparation and strategy, you can utilize your unique skills and characteristics in order to stand out and take the first step to a Japanese career. Here are a few hints that I gleaned over my own experience as well as from HR after entering the company.

4. Expect it to take some time to get a good interview

Japanese Job Hunting 2

When applying to companies, make sure to employ a variety of methods. I had success applying through online portals, attending the infamous “career forums” in Boston and Los Angeles, and creating an account and submitting my resume to Japanese job-hunting companies.

The career forums are particularly good ways to expand your horizons, but they are also fast-paced and highly competitive. Don’t expect to walk in and have a variety of attractive offers waiting for you. Many students begin preparing over half-a-year in advance.

3. Perfect your answers

As with companies in your home country, it is a good idea to research businesses you are interested in beforehand. Become familiar with their products and mission. Think of reasons why you want to work for them. Since companies make hiring decisions based off of your passion, personality, and potential, you must tailor these in order to build an image that fits well with that company.

You will be asked by most, if not every interviewer, why you are interested in working full time in Japan. Take a moment before reading on and think about what you would say. Write it down.

Make sure your answer doesn’t contain phrases like:

  • I am interested in Japanese pop culture (read: I like anime)
  • I have a (Japanese) girlfriend/boyfriend (living in Japan)
  • My country’s culture/companies/people/etc. doesn’t fit me as well as Japan’s does

If it sounds like the above, you have instantly thrown away any chance of being taken seriously as a candidate. These may seem like strikingly bad answers, but they are among the common from foreign students during initial interviews.

Instead, define concrete, achievable personal goals or dreams you hope to achieve with the company that you can explain in Japanese or English. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and think about how your response frames you as a candidate. How do your passions correlate to the company’s mission?

For example, if you were going into an interview with a food company like Kikkoman, you might want to talk about your passion for cooking Japanese food or your knowledge regarding the finer points of soy sauce production.

2. Dress like Japanese business people do

Japanese Job Hunting 3

Do your research on what to wear for job-hunting in Japan. There is a distinctive set of rules specifically for job-hunting. Expect to be judged according to those rules, especially from traditional Japanese companies.

A few essentials:

  • Black suits
  • White shirts
  • Subdued colors for accessories
  • Analog wristwatches
  • Trimmed and clean hair and nails

In terms of manners, arriving early and good posture/attentiveness can instantly win you favor with the interviewer. It is believed that the better foreigners are able to follow these rules, the more likely it is that they will be able to fit into the company culture and adapt to life in Japan.

There are many online articles intended for job-hunters in English and Japanese that are chock-full of useful tips. The more research you do, the more prepared and comfortable you will be. And it makes for good Japanese language practice as well.

1. Be yourself

Japanese Job Hunting 4

While this might sound contradictory to some of the previous advice, it is in fact the most essential part of the whole process. Conveying your passion and dedication to the Japanese language, your varied interests in the people and culture, and expressing your unique attributes in a concise and interesting way will win the hearts of many and help set you apart from the rest of the black-and-white crowd.

Any other tips?

Have any of you navigated the rough waters of Japanese interviewing? What tips or techniques have you developed along the way?

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Started studying Japanese in college. After graduation I got a job at a traditional Japanese company in Tokyo (right next to the Imperial Palace!)

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4 Tips to Nail a Japanese Job Interview — 11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. Had no idea that Japan doesn’t place much focus on networking/internships at the beginning.

  2. Hello.

    Can you explain in your view why [ I have a (Japanese) girlfriend/boyfriend (living in Japan) ]
    would be a bad answer?

    In my opinion replacing the girlfriend/boyfriend with wife/husband would balance things in your favor since it would show some kind of commitment to staying in Japan and not up-and-leave for your home country when things don’t go your way.

    • I think it’s because it shows you’re not really interested in the job and only committed to being with your significant other. In my view, the interviewer would just think you don’t really care what job or company you work for, and you’ll settle for anything as long as you can stay with your partner. This just suggests your focus isn’t on work or your career.

      If you want to work in a company abroad, you have to show why you should be hired over a native. You can bet there are plenty of Japanese applicants who are just as committed to staying in the country as you.

      This is just interview technique in general, but everything you say, now matter how unrelated the initial question may seem, should be turned into a comment about what you can give to the company.

  3. I went through two versions of interviewing so here were my experiences. Note, that I was not a student at the time of these interviews and already had work experience. I have a Masters in chemistry but had worked a desk job in pharma at the time of number 1.

    1) Boston Career Forum – typically for students who have just graduated
    – I wore the traditional suit although I went for a dark navy blue instead of black. Since I already stand out as a foreigner and had great credentials, I didn’t worry that the tips of my shoes were red. I checked to see if interviewers were looking; they were not
    – I had a few interviews lined up before going but then I winged the rest

    Result: I managed to get further interviews but since I was applying for medical field related positions, it turned out my Japanese just wasn’t strong enough yet.

    Two years ago I decided to take a risk. I went to Japan on a three month tourist visa and just applied to every job I could and did a lot of interviews. I applied to a few English schools as I knew I’d get accepted for a job and it could serve as a backup but I really wanted jobs related to my field.

    Result: Got a (great) job at a (great) Japanese company in my field (chemistry).

    2) Gaijinpot.com
    – I got my job via this website. A recruiter saw my resume and got in touch with me then he found me my current job

    My advice from these two experiences:
    1) You’re a foreigner so you already stand out; work with it. Don’t feel the pressure to do everything in a Japanese way. As long as you are polite and confident and can show you have skills, the company will want to interview you and they will be excited about you. I had companies literally running after me at the career forum after they saw my resume despite my red pointed shoes which leads to my next point.
    2) Network. At the career forum, tell companies about your skills and how you’d think they could apply to their company. Career forum is mostly sales jobs so tell them you are excited about their company and want to know if there are other positions that might be available to you. I ended up talking to the VP of a company with this maneuver.
    3) Be restrained in your movements (sit properly, shoulders back, posture straight) but don’t restrain yourself in your speech. Japanese interviewers have a memorized monologue that they deliver to each company. Again, you’re a foreigner so try the Western approach. Be relaxed and show them why you want to be with them.
    4) You will get asked the following questions no matter what. Know how to answer them.
    a) Are you married?
    b) Why do you want to work in Japan?
    c) Are you coming to Japan because of a significant other?
    d) Won’t you be lonely without your family in your country?
    5) In Japan, especially if you are 転職, go to recruiters. Most Japanese in Japan get their jobs via recruiters. They do their job and they do it very well!
    6) Take all and every risk you can! Just do it. You could be rewarded generously for it.

    Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions!

    • How did you transfer your English chemistry knowledge into Japanese? Was it hard relearning the technical terms?

      • I did no formal studying of chemistry in Japanese and I never studied chemistry terminology in Japanese. I was going to study but realizing I had only a month left before having to move to Japan I decided to just soak in my remaining time in the states and wing it when I got to my job.

        And that worked out just fine.
        Turns out I had inadvertently studied all the kanji needed for basic chemistry stuff when I had read a book with fairly explicit sex orgy scenes and drug scenes. (精液、液体、廃液、etc) Those type of words contain all the kanji one needs and by knowing the kanji they pop up in your head, which, combined with strong chemistry knowledge where you should already know what’s going on, well, it basically all worked out for me that way.

        Perhaps if I had been a biologist I would have needed to study more specific terms but for chemistry, reading the back of a shampoo bottle in Japanese is almost more than enough to get you the basic set of kanji and vocab you need.

  4. Not that I’m currently looking for a job in Japan, but reading this article I was wondering… So thought I might as well ask. Black suit, white shirt does that go for women as well? Or is the business dress code different for women?

    Last year I finished my Master’s and went job hunting (in Denmark) and I was very unsure about what to wear. In the end I got a job and for the first few weeks I wore nice business-ish clothes. It kind of made sense to show your best side in the beginning when you know no one and want to give a nice first impression. But now I just wear jeans and a t-shirt most days since that’s what most of my co-workers do as well.

    Is Japan just that much more stiff and you have to wear suits in most desk-jobs? Or does it vary depending on what kind of job you do?

    • For interviews, yes, a black or dark navy blue suit, preferably with no pattern (or minimal pin-striping) is the Japanese way. Since I needed my suit for American interviewing just in case I decided to go with navy blue since it’s a huge monetary investment and black suits are reserved for waiters here in the us. And yes, white blouse underneath. For Japanese women, skirt is preferred over pants.

      In terms of actually on the job, I can’t help you there. As a chemist we all just wear jeans, t-shirts and sneakers mostly which is then covered by our lab coat. I of course switch to dresses in the summer since it’s hot but I always wear sneakers in the lab for comfort and safety.

      However, even if the “office” allows for a casual approach, I still think it’s best to always looked polished and professional. If you’re going to wear jeans, choose a dark wash and proper fit. Make sure your shirts aren’t oversized, full of holes and armpit stains, etc.

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