Finding a job in the Japanese IT industry
Working in IT in Japan? It may sound complicated, but with a bit of experience and decent communication skills, it’s very much doable. In the final entry in our three-part article series, a career consultant from Linguage Japanese Language school in Shinjuku talks about the experiences they gathered from accompanying students through their job hunt.
Basic requirements for finding a job in IT – especially as an engineer – are technical skills, the ability to efficiently communicate in Japanese, and being able to work in a team. On top of these three, you’ll be able to choose from a wider variety of jobs if you can also speak business-level English.
Japanese language requirements
“JLPT level N2 or higher” is the most common requirement. Many companies also specifically look for N1.
Until some time ago, a lot of companies were fine with accepting IT engineers at N3 level. Recently, however, more and more employers are asking for N2 and up. Sometimes, you can still see job offers with requirements like “N3 upwards” or “no Japanese needed”. In those cases, business-level English as well as a considerable amount of experience and IT engineering skills are both must-haves (look at sites like tokyodev).
Necessary certificates etc.
For IT engineers, most job offers list at least one programming language in the requirements. To get the job, being able to work with the listed language is the bare minimum. Going by experiences of students at Linguage Japanese Language School, there’s an especially high demand for full-stack engineers.
Work experience – necessary?
Having previous work experience is a big plus.
There are many job adverts for entry-level positions that feature training on the job – however, those are usually aimed at Japanese students. In general, foreigners are expected to become “immediate assets”, so entry-level positions that require no prior IT knowledge are very rare. If you have no IT engineering/programming skills and only a basic command of Japanese, finding a job at a Japanese company will be very hard.
With less than two years of experience in programming/development/etc, you’ll often still be considered a beginner. The easiest way to convince people of the contrary is to show your skills and enthusiasm by presenting a portfolio of things you have created (apps, websites, etc).
Between helpdesk and manager level positions, the salary range is pretty wide. Aside from the position itself, your specific tasks and responsibilities will also influence how much you earn.
The overall average salary is between 4 to 5 million JPY per year. Of course, depending on your experience and position, your actual salary can be much lower or higher than this figure.
There are a lot of positions that include overtime pay for a set amount of hours in your monthly salary. IT is known as an industry with high amounts of overtime, so be sure to check the conditions that apply to the salary in your job offer.
Is it easy to get an IT job as a foreigner?
At our school, we have supported students from various backgrounds throughout their job hunt. Based on our experiences, we can say that finding a job as an IT engineer is relatively easy. Japan’s IT industry is facing a labor shortage, and if the area of expertise fits, companies can immediately profit from foreign employees, without much training.
Foreign professionals have become indispensable in the talent-starved IT industry.
For foreigners that don’t have a technical background but are fluent in Japanese, options are web writing, marketing, and consulting. One Linguage student with a background in liberal arts/humanities found an IT job in customer support, using business-level English and N2-level Japanese.
Recently, there are also many job openings for web designers, mainly focused in the game industry.
How to increase your chances
Apart from being able to communicate in Japanese, it’s very important to draw attention to your technical skills.
Make sure to prepare an overview of things you have learned in university, things you’ve created so far, your internship experiences, work projects you’ve been involved back in your home country, etc. It’s best to prepare a detailed presentation (or in-depth explanation) of some of those things for the job interview. Showing actual examples of your work is an easy way to show your skills and passion.
What do companies expect foreigners to bring to the table?
Most Japanese IT companies that hire foreign engineers do so to acquire new talent that doesn’t require much technical training. As an engineer, you will be expected to have a high degree of expertise backed up by experience, as well as the ability to communicate in Japanese. When the main language at the workplace is Japanese, applicants have to be familiar with technical terms on top of general communication abilities. Also, Japanese companies look for individuals that aren’t satisfied with the status quo and are always willing to learn and improve their skills.
For non-engineer positions, communication skills in both Japanese and English are the top priority. You’ll also be expected to provide ideas from a different perspective, work flexibly, and keep up with the newest (international) developments in your field.
Linguage students in IT
Out of 22 IT engineers that studied at our school in the last two years, 18 were able to get an engineering job at a Japanese IT company. Out of the four students who didn’t, one chose a job at a Japanese company that allowed them to utilize their native language, and one opted for an IT company in their home country.
Two other students (both with a humanities / liberal arts background) were also able to find jobs in the IT industry.
Skill-wise, these students covered a wide range, from entry-level to full-stack engineer. However, each of them was able to find a company that fit their particular combination of skills, experiences, and Japanese ability.
With a decent amount of technical knowledge, finding an IT job in Japan should be easy. The market is talent-starved, so there are enough options even if your Japanese isn’t exactly stellar (as long as you can still communicate effectively).
If you don’t have experience in programming or development and are thinking of an IT job related to marketing or consulting, your language abilities are what matters most. For these positions, competition is stronger, but not as severe as in the travel industry, for example.
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