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