My First Japanese Job Interview

I study Japanese. I love Japanese. I want a job in Japanese. Three simple feelings that led me to begin my new adventure in trying to start a career where I could finally use my hard-earned language ability. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I would like to share my story of interviewing for my first Japanese job.

My First Japanese Job Interview

I want speaking!

For a long time, I have started to ponder on whether there were any jobs available that solely relied on spoken Japanese, without any expectation of fluency. Getting paid to talk in Japanese 8 hours a day sounded like a dream come true.

Most communication based jobs I found held a lofty requirement of “business level conversational and writing fluency.” With a strong foundation of immersion based input learning, my spoken skills are lagging behind a lot. I would approximate my reading level at 60+, and my spoken Japanese at around level 20-30. Unfortunately for me, jobs involving heavy communication in Japanese were not really aimed at learners.

However, suddenly a bright diamond shone in the rough.

My First Japanese Job Interview 2

Finding a job I could actually do

I found a job advertisement without the insurmountable prerequisite of business level fluency in Japanese. It described itself as a great place to practice your “Japanese language Skills” with no real reference to any level requirement. I was excited. With haste, I applied for the role and a few others with similar vague requirements.

Within 24 hours I had received a phone call from the recruiting agency. They were interested! I went to their office the following morning, adorned in my finest “salary man” wannabe clothing. They were impressed with what they saw in the preliminary phase, so they organized an interview with the hiring company. I was told to expect a spoken Japanese test and a regular interview.

The interview begins

I arrived at the head office of the company and after some formalities, took a seat in the appropriate room and waited for my interviewers to arrive. Surprisingly, I was not nervous. I am generally a fairly outgoing person, and was not fazed by the idea of embarrassing myself. I think I have grown too accustomed and numb to that emotion over the years.

My two interviewers entered the room at the same time. There was a Western fellow to my left and a native Japanese person to my right. I bowed and gave a 宜しくお願い致しますand a handshake in respect to their cultural customs. Off to a bright start! The English part of the interview I will skip over, but needless to say I believe I nailed it (hey, I never said I was modest).

My First Japanese Job Interview 3

The Japanese conversation battle

It was time for the main event! I spoke one on one with the Japanese interviewer. She had a stern, expressionless, Japanese business appearance. The other interviewer sat back and observed our conversation (which I’ll translate into English below).

The interview started off fine. I understood everything that she said and asked, and was able to answer without much hesitation. If there was any hesitation, it was a result of having trouble with actually answering a question, not the language used.

Right from the start: “What are the positives and negatives about Japanese people?”

Wow, what an abstract and broad question. I was a little caught off guard. I tried to be honest without being offensive. I said something how deep their culture is and how polite the people are. On the flip side, I mentioned they can be a tad too serious.

The interviewer agreed with me. She said that when speaking to old Japanese businessmen, they can be quite cruel and unforgiving to foreigners, and that I cannot really afford to be discerned from a Japanese native. She debated whether I would be able to understand the old businessman way of speaking, as it pretty uncommon to hear. I said I was confident I could, or at least get used to it quickly.

It was at this point that I realized I was a little bit over my head with this position. The required Japanese level was much higher than I originally envisioned. However, I had nothing to lose, and everything to prove, so I continued to put forward my own views. I said that I wasn’t a seasoned talker, but can to an extent maintain 尊敬語 (high level of politeness). I also stated that I had a high listening ability, and should be able to deal with most communication.

Showing my skills and study methods

My First Japanese Job Interview 4

From that point on I demonstrated some of my listening skills by playing some news podcasts and explaining what I heard. She asked in what manner I was studying and for how long. I told her a little over two years, and then proceeded to show her some of my Anki J-J reviews (free advertising, Adam!) I read out loud a page from a novel to demonstrate my comprehension level, which included many military terms and other complex political themes.

They were somewhat impressed by that demonstration. I further explained that I had not had a lot of speaking experience, and would exponentially get better if given a bit of growing room. Truth be told, I had not engaged in a Japanese conversation since December 2015, when I was on my holiday in Japan. Overall, my conversational experience probably would not even amount to 1% of the total time I have been studying Japanese (though of course I did not tell the interviewers this).

The interviewer proceeded to ask me a few more miscellaneous questions. The two that I got caught up on were those in which I missed the topic words. The first was a word that I had not yet studied, which meant various prefectures. The second meant punctuality and either I hadn’t learned the word or couldn’t parse it from the spoken Japanese.

The English interviewer cut in at that point and was honest and up front with me. He was impressed with how far I had come in such a short time, and told me that I have great potential. However, he knows how brutal the Japanese clients can be. Mistakes cannot be afforded, and it was not at all a training program to become able to conduct the required communication.

I asked if there were training procedures available in terms of a manuscript or any pertaining technical jargon for the job, to which he promptly replied no. He explained that the only people that were not native Japanese that were in this role had a degree in Japanese and several years (ex. 6+) living in Japan and working at a Japanese company there.

Losing steam

My First Japanese Job Interview 5

It became apparent that this job was more intended for Japanese natives themselves, or those at a level almost indiscernible from them over the phone. I was not too disappointed, as having my first opportunity to interview for a job in Japanese was a lot of fun. I probably would not have attempted it had I known its requirements were the same as elsewhere, but it was a great experience and an excellent benchmark for my level.

Before completely giving up, I tried to compromise and see if they could place me around Japanese natives while I picked up some of the job-specific formalities, whilst conducting English liaisons. It would also be a good opportunity to socialize in Japanese until I met the requirements for the job.

The interviewer said he would love to, but unfortunately all those positions were already filled up. He said he would be happy to speak to me again in a few months or whenever I felt I had my speaking up to scratch. I do not think I will be going back, but it was a nice offer and great sign of respect and appreciation of how far I have come.

The future

My First Japanese Job Interview 6

So that was it. My first Japanese interview. Hopefully you can learn from my experience (I know I sure did!)

I do not know whether I will apply for this type of Japanese position in the future. I imagine once I get to a level in which I can converse at in a highly fluent manner, I would not find equivalent value in that kind of work. Regardless of my ambitions yet to come, it was worth going in to get an impartial perspective of my ability.

Thank you for reading! And if you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.

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James K.


My First Japanese Job Interview — 3 Comments

  1. Whew, you’re a brave guy! I can barely form coherent thoughts in English job interviews…

    Kudos for giving it a shot, and for not giving up even as it started to turn out more difficult than you anticipated. I think many interviewers would appreciate the ability you showed to think on your feet, come up with compromises to get yourself in the door, and so on.

    Anyway, better luck next time!

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