Work in Japan Advice Board

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Crazy Adventures of Harvey

How to get your first job in Japan - The Adventures of Harvey2015.02.17

    Maybe I’m not an expert of getting hired by Japanese companies, but I can say that with admittedly not brilliant Japanese I did have some success when it came to interviews.


    I’m a big fan of realistic and practical advice. It would be so easy for me to regurgitate advice you’ve heard so many times before like:


    1) Make sure you speak in keigo and say “失礼します!” when you knock on the door,

    2) Dress spotlessly including ironing your shirt, trousers and socks (I’ve genuinely heard that advice. I mean come on socks? Really?)


    Etc. etc.


    My aim here is to tell you what I found that employers genuinely take into consideration and that your gaikokujin-ness/internationality is by no means a disadvantage.


    Let’s start with the Resume


    Be aware of differences between Resumes


    There are actually 2 types of resume you may need:

    履歴書 (rirekisho)

    職務経歴書 (shokumukeirekisho)


    The shokumukeirekisho is simple to understand because it can be any reasonable format and has flexibility. It’s main purpose is to show off your previous positions and academic history in detail. I’m trying to say that it’s very similar to a Western style CV.


    The rirekisho is a little harder to grasp, but it is very simple. Searching the word rirekisho in the dictionary will yield results such as “Resume” or “CV”, but this can be misleading. A rirekisho is a document with a fixed template which is usually handwritten and requires a real passport photo to be glued on. These templates can be purchased from convenience stores, and information you have provide may include age, nationality, marital status and some things typically considered taboo in other countries. It basically serves as a fundamental profile of the applicant without any fluffiness.


    One company I applied to physically rejected my rirekisho because it didn’t have a real photo attached. Be the person who came in prepared. That actually leads me nicely on to my next point.


    Be incredibly prepared


    This advice is more general than Japan-specific but I’d like to say in my experience it went down well when looking for a job in Japan.


    Companies were very impressed when I went galactically above and beyond their expectations when it came to preparation. And this doesn’t mean remembering the whole company history including when the CEO drank his first chilled Asahi beer (sorry my mind slipped, I’m writing on a Friday afternoon).


    As an example, when I interviewed for a Japanese automobile parts manufacturer for a job in Tokyo, I decided to brush up on/learn completely from scratch the “Toyota Way” of production by reading two full books before the interview. Yes, it’s extreme and yes, it took time but it served two main purposes.


    1) The interviewer saw me as someone who is really willing to learn about the company

    2) I had a much better idea of what the company was about


    In the interview I was able to talk in a lot more depth about manufacturing than most candidates and could also apply my previous experiences more relevantly (is that a word?) to actual situations that may occur.


    It doesn’t matter if you misremember a few concepts or can’t quite remember a few key points. As a young person, HR managers know that you need time to internalize such things and they don’t expect you to be experts. In fact, they probably don’t expect you to know anything.


    As it turns out, the “Toyota Way” was something that I couldn’t see myself embracing and it prevented me from making a move which I may not have enjoyed.


    The advice above comes with the assumption that you know to research into the company itself (if not memorizing dates trying to get a good idea of the industry, operations and direction) and take an even closer look at the job description of the position you are applying for. Matching your skills and experience to the roles that will be required of you is a fundamental step in preparing for a successful interview.


    Japanese ability


    To put it simply, to work in a job which requires Japanese, you will need to be able to speak a certain level of Japanese. Even though my degree at University was languages, I don’t consider myself a natural at learning languages and I struggle to speak naturally. What I am good at, is fearlessly strolling in to an interview setting and expressing myself.


    You will need at least JLPT N2 for most positions and if you haven’t reached that level yet, I would strongly advise studying your ironed socks off until that level is reached.


    In most cases, you don’t need to have passed a JLPT test if you get an interview without it. I’d imagine it wouldn’t hurt to have the qualification (especially at the screening stage), but I never had it and just said “my level is equivalent to JLPT N-whatever” when I applied.


    Be polite, be reasonable, smile


    Interviews aren’t a series of monologues conducted by two people sitting opposite each other. To me, the “inter” in “interview” implies some kind of “interconnectivity” and “interaction”.


    Put yourself in the employers shoes. Would you rather someone sit in front of you who has obviously memorized a bunch of answers and is carefully trying to navigate through the interview without stepping on glass, or would you rather someone who has come in prepared, ready to talk and is using the opportunity to learn more about the company.


    Creating a dialogue is all about answering the interviewers questions logically and to the best of your ability while bearing in mind that you are there to learn as much about the company as they are there to learn about you. Don’t just use the “do you have any questions?” section at the end of the interview to commit to a two-way conversation, you should feel free to express your opinions at all times, as you would a normal conversation.


    Level the playing field and find out how you can both benefit from moving forward.


    Send a thank you e-mail


    After any interview you should send a thank you e-mail to the people involved. If you don’t have specific contact details, you could always ask for a meishi at the end of the interview (if you haven’t received one already) to make sure contact is possible.


    If you don’t hear back, chase up!


    It’s been a couple of weeks and you haven’t heard anything. You’re worried that you’ve been rejected but you don’t want to call or e-mail the people involved for fear of being too persistent.


    Guess what? Chasing up on such matters once or twice doesn’t irritate anyone, and is actually looked upon positively due to your showing a genuine interest in the company.


    One friend actually didn’t hear from a company for 3 weeks, called up, and it turned out there had been a miscommunication in HR meaning that he was unaware of an interview scheduled for the following week. These things happen.


    Final Thoughts


    Interviewing to work in Japan isn’t as scary as people may make out. No-one expects perfect Japanese and as long as you can express yourself you should make it out alive.


    Don’t have preconceptions that Japanese people expect things to be done in a certain way. Most Japanese people hiring foreigners will be aware of the difference in culture (perhaps having experienced it themselves) and you can use that to your advantage by showing that you are different and you can offer something extra.


    I’m sure that certain industries may have different rules when it comes to joining the company. I’d imagine larger organizations will require to a certain extent people who will adhere to every rule and regulation and if that’s the kind of person you are you should express that.


    But what worked for me was being a little different, being enthusiastic and fun to talk to but demonstrating real preparation and a willingness to adhere to fundamental rules (the rirekisho springs to mind and also being 15 minutes early to every interview).


    I hope that you enjoyed the article and that my advice goes some way to helping you find your perfect job. Good luck!

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    Article Writer

    Harvey studied Spanish and Japanese at University before working as a freelance translator and English teacher. In 2013, he decided to join a Japanese company.

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