Online Applications: Get Your Dream Job in Japan
Can you find your dream job in Japan? To answer this question, we talked with Clemence and asked how she persevered and managed to find the job she wanted in Japan.
Read on to learn about:
✔ Online Applications
✔ Essay Questions
✔ Company Seminars
✔ Group Interviews
✔ When it’s okay to wear ripped jeans
✔ The Value of Internships
✔ Why Personality Matters
and much more!
Q: Congratulations on getting a job in Japan! How are you feeling?
Relieved! (laughs) The process was quite long and tiring, so the main feeling now is really relief.
Q: Before we get started, can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I graduated last year from a business school in France. It took me 6 years to graduate. My specialty in Business School was Marketing but I did two years of internships in luxury companies specializing in visual merchandising. It’s a job where you work on the layout of the shop and the display, not on the product itself.
I took a few classes of Japanese on and off during high school and business school, but it was really at the beginner level, like introducing oneself. It was more culture than proper language study. I arrived in Japan one year ago in October and attended school for six months in Osaka.
Q: Oh, so you first stayed in Osaka before coming to Tokyo? Why did you move?
My boyfriend is Japanese, and we were living in Osaka, but he started his job this year and the company is in Tokyo, so we moved here.
Q: What made you initially interested in Japan?
I cannot pinpoint a precise aspect, but I’ve been interested in Japanese culture since I was a kid and thanks to the Japanese classes I took, when I was in Business School, I got the opportunity to come to Wakayama University for an exchange. I stayed there for 5 months but I was mostly taking Economics classes, not really Japanese classes or anything. Still, I got to experience more of the Japanese culture, Japanese people, the lifestyle and met my boyfriend. He is one of the reasons why I came back but not the only one, not at all. I’ve always wanted to live in Japan.
Q: When you started your job search in Japan did you already know what job and industry you wanted to work in?
Yes, even before coming to Japan I knew what job I wanted. It has been my goal for several years and I refused to go other ways. I knew it would take time but didn’t want to give up on my dream.
You have a goal and you know you just have to work in that direction. There is not much questioning, it’s more acting. I received a really huge number of “we are sorry, your profile is really interesting, you have skills, but your Japanese level is insufficient” from companies I applied to so I was really distraught if I will be able to find a job or not, considering my Japanese ability.
The Japanese skills
Q: What was your Japanese level like when you first came to Japan?
It was a disaster, even until I came to this school. Like in my previous school they focused a lot on getting students into university. It was mostly written learning. We were good at grammar I’d say, but that’s it. Until I arrived in Tokyo 3-4 months ago my level was zero. I almost couldn’t speak, and I was expressing myself with a lot of gestures. I really couldn’t have decent conversations with friends or so.
Q: Did your Japanese improve since coming to Tokyo?
Yeah, drastically! Like, I went really from zero to I can get a job with interviews just in Japanese.
Q: That’s quite something! What has changed during this time?
Here, in this school, I think they make us more at ease to speak. The way they teach is more focused on connecting students with each other and making them speak together.
I finally understood that being ashamed wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I had to get out of my comfort zone and kind of pushed myself past the limit I set for myself (laughs).
Now that I did, it’s so rewarding. I can hang out with Japanese friends for a whole day and we speak 90% Japanese. From everyone I hear “wow, your Japanese really improved a lot!” (laughs).
In conversations, there are still difficulties every day, but I remember feeling very stressed about speaking Japanese and now I can connect with people in my environment! It is really a huge difference.
Q: What kind of company will you be working for?
I entered a French company based in Japan and it seems to be quite popular here. The company is a premium apparel company. First, wished for one of the big luxury brands, because in France I used to work for maybe the most famous luxury fashion brand, but of course, considering my Japanese level when I started doing interviews, I knew I had to somehow adjust my expectations.
Starting in Japan as New Graduate
Q: What will your job look like?
I have no idea (what position I will be working in). I entered as “新卒” (しんそつ, new graduate), the same way as Japanese students who are beginning their fourth year of university. I will start my job in April next year, and the company will decide where I will work in February.
At first, for I guess two or three years I will be working in a shop. My studies directed me more toward office jobs, but Japanese companies tend to make you go through all the steps of the company, so I will be a sales assistant first. I asked to be placed in Tokyo, but I will see. I can be sent to I don’t know where, but I hope it will be Tokyo.
I will be a sales assistant (at first) but I want to come back to my original job which is visual merchandising. And, companies in Japan they help you a lot to progress in society, in life.
So okay, they may put you in the worst – not the worst but the lowest position in the company. But companies don’t tell you that you’re going to stay there forever.
Every year they offer you training and if there are available positions in the company you can learn new skills. I think I can receive training to get back to my original job. First, “field visual merchandising” where you tour the shops to make sure that they follow the guidelines and then in the future I hope to go back to “office visual merchandising” where you create the guidelines yourself.
A new Perspective
That’s the goal. I know that it will take more time than it would have in France because there I was already doing the job and could have continued this way. But I chose to come here, and the process is different. Maybe it will take 5 years, maybe 10, I don’t know. I set this goal for myself and I will get there one day one way or the other. Just be patient.
In France, I thought the most important thing was to get into a top position really fast because that is kind of the mood that business school sets you in. If I had stayed in France, I would have considered that being a sales assistant was not an option after the studies I did before.
But here I came to the realization that it doesn’t matter how long it takes (to reach your goal) as long as you get there.
Maybe being a sales assistant for a while is not what my studies set me up for, but I will learn new stuff and I may do my future job way better thanks to this experience at the shop. A new way of thinking, more patient, more adult maybe.
Q: Working at a high-end store, the company must be expecting a high level of Japanese from you?
They expected from me the same Japanese level that a Japanese university student would have. Of course, I think they may have forgiven some of my language mistakes because it is obvious that I am not a native Japanese speaker, but the level was really high.
Sometimes I remember not understanding the question at all, and what saved me was that it was a group interview and that I could hear the answers of the other students.
What was really the most difficult of all was Keigo. They expected excellent Japanese manners and a very polite way of speaking which I really didn’t master yet. I will have to get to this level.
What is good about Japan’s hiring system for new graduates is that as I will only start in April next year, I can start working part-time from October. For six month I can get used to things while continuing to study Japanese at school in the morning and go to work some days, so that’s good. So, by the time I start I will be used to everything, I hope. (laughs) That’s the plan.
I wanted this kind of gradual thing, to get used to everything. It seems like all Japanese students do it like this. They sign their contract literally one year before starting the job. It seems like all Japanese students do it like this. They sign their contract literally one year before starting the job.
The Online Application
Q: How did you start your job search?
I started almost as soon as I arrived here (in Tokyo), so around April. It was an intense process because I’d go to two or three interviews a week, or two company seminars and one interview. So, it was really intense.
Q: Where did you look for job offers? Did you attend any job fair?
Not at all, because the companies I was interested in didn’t attend job fairs. There are so many students coming to their company seminars that they host it by themselves.
I did everything online through job platforms. Some of the companies did a few things by phone, like booking the interviews, but most was done online. You would just choose the company seminar online and confirm via email.
Q: How many companies did you apply to?
I applied to 16 but I didn’t follow through with all of them. Sometimes you sent the entry-sheet and they don’t even invite you to the seminar, it’s already a no from the start.
Q: What does the online application process look like?
1. Registering on the platform
First, I signed up on the Rikunavi platform and my teacher helped me with the whole process because really at that time my Japanese level was below the ground. I had to write about myself, write about my job, my school, my experience, but it is so difficult to find the right words in Japanese and to not sound like a 5-year-old kid is speaking.
2. Doing Pre-entry
When you are interested in companies, you pre-enter online and they send a questionnaire, where you have to answer a couple of questions. Most of them are in essay format, so one has to write 400-word essays for each question. It took me afternoons, and afternoon, and afternoons, just to write those essays in Japanese. Again, the teacher helped me to correct them.
3. Attending Company Seminars
Then you go to the company seminar. I often found myself with more than 150 Japanese students in black suits, that was scary.
Everyone is going. It was intimidating to be the only European person there. At the seminar, you listen to the company presenting themselves, presenting the job, the benefits they offer when you work there, etc. It lasted for over a long time.
The Company Seminars
Q: Was it difficult to keep up during the seminars?
It was all in Japanese, some of them (the seminars) were really difficult. Especially, when they talked about the welfare and company benefits: “we offer you this from this age and you get these and those benefits”. I really didn’t understand anything.
Concerning the company history and DNA, it was easier because usually, the companies were European fashion or luxury brands. And sometimes I was lucky because the company video was recorded in Europe, so it was English with Japanese subtitles. I felt so grateful to be at an advantage for once since everything else was in Japanese.
At the end, they asked if we had any and I had questions, but I couldn’t ask questions, because I didn’t know how to ask in a polite way.
Before getting invited to interviews, we had to write another essay, on paper this time, about “What did you think about this company seminar” and I was just thinking “I don’t know, I don’t know how to write Japanese…” (laughs).
I didn’t know how to write Kanji. I knew how to recognize them, I knew how to read them, I understood them, but I had no idea how to write them. I hadn’t written (by hand) for such a long time because we use a lot of technology normally.
I was lucky in one aspect. It was the fashion industry, so companies weren’t as strict on appearance and dress codes. They asked us to come in clothes that reflect the company image, so like more sporty, more elegant, more feminine, but never the black suit, beige trench coat, and small heels that companies usually expect here for interviews.
I’ve been surprised by quite a few looks.
Q: How was the interview process with your current company?
It took around 1,5 months just for this company. Between each step, there was at least a week of wait every time. You do pre-entry, you go to the company seminar, each time it takes one week, and when you get your entry-sheet you have one week to fill it out, and then you wait another week. It was like this every time.
First, I pre-entered on Rikunavi and went to the company’s seminar. It was a really weird seminar. It took 3.5 hours. At the end of it, I had to write small essays, explaining why I chose that company and what I thought about their company. That was it. They read this and if they thought that we were okay people they sent us the entry-sheet. From this point, I wrote the entry-sheet. It was super long as well. They asked for more than 400 characters for each of their questions, it was horrible.
After they read it, I was invited for an interview. The first interview I took with a lady from HR. After I received the okay, I had another interview, that time with the area manager and the HR lady, and my final interview was with the boss of HR and the regional sales manager.
The first two interviews were group interviews with 3 other students, so we were 4 in total. The last interview was only me and the two people from the company. I was really happy when I could finally sign with the company.
Why Interviews are harder in Japanese
Q: What was your experience at interviews in Japan?
Taking an interview, it can be, not shameful but you feel really like you don’t know anything. I felt stupid so many times. Even questions that must sound simple to Japanese students, for me it was like “what are you talking about”.
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I went to more than a dozen interviews in Japan. It feels like a lot. I had taken I don’t know how many job interviews in French or in English before for internships and it’s a very challenging process but usually, you just have to think about what you are going to say, about how to sound smart.
For a Japanese interview, you have to think about the content and how to word it, how to use correct Japanese, how to use polite Japanese.
It was really exhausting to think about these two aspects all the time. I remember after every company seminar and every interview I took hour-long naps. I was exhausted.
Q: You mentioned group interviews earlier, what were they like?
I had to do group interviews in Japanese, maybe with 4 other Japanese students. A lot of group interviews!
And not like, ‘you answer, you answer, you answer’. There were many types of group interviews. We did exercises like listening to other people’s life stories and then having to introduce them to the company employees, which was really difficult.
Other times there were group interviews where you do tasks at the end like reading a text and ranking the characters of the story according to whether you think they did good or they did bad, discuss and agree with other students, and give a presentation at the end, really original content.
Q: Many people say that job-hunting in Japan is different compared to other countries. Do you feel the same way?
From my experience so far, I think it is totally different from other countries. I worked in France and I worked in Hong Kong, which is very western in the way of management and stuff. Usually, the focus is on your skills and background.
What Japanese companies really want to know
They ask about what you studied in university, but for me, it was more questions like what I did in my previous internship or what club I joined in business school. Companies wanted to know what my role was in it and if I managed other people, and other questions like that. And they asked about my skills and what can I do.
In Japan, on the other hand, they focus a lot on who you are and whether your personality and values will match the company personality and values.
I’ve never been asked these types of questions before and it was really surprising. Questions like what I expect from companies and other really personal values, and moral questions, which was a first for me. Of course, I’ve received these types of questions from HR at companies in France, but past the HR step, once you reach the people in teams it is more skills-oriented and you don’t have these types of questions anymore.
Japan tends to hire university students, so they don’t expect them to have previous skills. They want to know if they will be the perfect base for the company to build knowledge on.
If the base doesn’t match there is no way (to get hired), but if they feel the students will match the company values then it’s okay. So, they don’t really focus on skills.
Different view on long-term Internships
During interviews, I would explain that I did an internship for 2 years because I knew this has an effect on company people but here in Japan, they were just like “ah, okay” and I was surprised because I expected a reaction. But in Japan, they see internships as some kind of observation internship. I managed projects and things like that, it was almost like a real job, but they don’t pay attention to this.
But they were really happy when I said “I traveled the world, I really like to discover other cultures” and they were like “oh, that’s amazing!” I was surprised at what points they focused on compared to what other countries would focus on.
Q: After making this experience did you adjust your interview strategy?
I was kind of used to interviews before and knew what they asked and how to answer but yes, I really researched a lot about companies. Not to tailor – because it sounds really bad, but to find true aspects in my personality that would be good to highlight to match the company’s personality. So, I kind of changed strategies but still pushed those skill aspects, because it is a point that Japanese students cannot make since they don’t do many internships.
This way I could show that I’m hard-working, do stuff, that I can adapt to new environments, etc. But globally after experiencing this new type of interview for me, I highlighted more the emotional part instead of the skills part.
I don’t know if this is universal, or how other students feel about their interview, but this is definitely what I felt and discussing it with other Japanese friends they told me the same.
The Japanese School
Q: You mentioned earlier that received support from your teachers? How did your school help you with your job search?
It is crazy how the teachers helped me. Almost every afternoon they helped me through entry-sheets, etc. It took massive amounts of time. I really didn’t expect this from the school.
I chose Linguage Japanese Language School based on the description online that said that they are helping students get a job in Japan. “We are going to do our best to help you to reach this goal.” It was made true (for me).
That is exactly what I expected from this school. Of course, I wanted to learn Japanese, but I wanted to get professional insights on how to get a job and I got it.
The teaching method is good. It is really balanced, while my other school was really exam-oriented. That is why I feel I learned so much here because it’s balanced.
We did a two-week Looking-for-a-job workshop and stuff, but the business Japanese we study in class is more for once you enter the company, how to behave properly, speak properly. This is really good of course but I think it will be more useful next year than this year. Otherwise, our level is still beginner/intermediate, so we work a lot on grammar and vocabulary, how to generally be able to speak Japanese.
We are using a lot of technology in class. You don’t have to carry those books around every day and that you can access the textbooks online, that’s fantastic. At the same time, I feel my writing skills may be lacking a little bit. We do write essays in class to exercise grammar and patterns and stuff, but when I went to company seminars I noticed that I didn’t know how to write those Kanji by hand, so I think it is still good to be able to write.
The teachers were really helpful in all aspects. Like from the most practical, like helping me type those entry-sheets and correcting them to moral support.
They took through every step of everything, from signing up on Rikunavi, choosing companies, offering me new perspectives, connecting me with job agencies, helping me answer the telephone because I really don’t understand anything when Japanese people talk on the telephone. It’s too polite, it’s too fast, and I’m really bad at it. Every time a company was calling me, I didn’t answer the phone and then called them back later with a teacher who helped me get through the phone conversation.
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They really helped me in all aspects, teaching me manners, like how to look okay in interviews, good manners. I started (my job search) as soon as I arrived here, so nobody had told me those manners before, so I really had to speed up the learning process for those interviews.
I remember texting the teacher “I’m so stressed about this interview. I don’t want to go” and she replied “That’s okay. Do your best. I believe in your potential” and that really comforted me emotionally.
I did so many interviews, but I hate this process of being judged by companies and people. I know there is a lot at stake and that makes me really stressed. So, they also helped me a lot with this emotional aspect as well.
“Oh, I really don’t want to go!” – “Do your best!” This positive support was really nice.
Q: Would you encourage people to apply to jobs even if they don’t yet meet the language requirement?
For me, the companies I applied to them didn’t set any Japanese level because they were expecting Japanese students anyway. So, when they saw my face, they looked like ‘hm, what are you doing here (laughs) with your awkward Japanese level?’
But yes, I guess if you apply in the more standard way for us Western people, we will apply not to a company, but we will apply for a job, and I have seen a lot of offers that ask for N1, which sounds horrible (laughs).
It is written beginner job but they ask for 5 years of experience and N1, studies in this, this, and that.
I guess if I was by myself, and I wouldn’t have been here, and the teachers didn’t push me to go to company, I would have thought that it is impossible, that I cannot do this, it is too hard, my Japanese is not good enough to do those kinds of things.
But I guess just try and at worst you will be refused, and you don’t die, so that’s okay, If the company doesn’t want you then it is just not a match. There are a thousand other companies in this world, so you have a lot of margin to practice.
Q: What advice would you give to other people hoping to find a job in Japan?
Don’t give up.
At first, I was thinking “Am I really doing this? Am I really going to go to job interviews when I don’t know how to speak Japanese?”
When I received a lot of “no sorry” I thought “Will I be able to find a job?” I also told to the teacher “I will get refused anyway, why do I go to those interviews?
Thanks to the teachers help and support, encouraging me saying “Just give it a try!” I started thinking “If you don’t give up you will get used to it. Your Japanese will eventually get better” There are only good things to come out of it because even if you fail it still gives you more practice. Of course, it’s exhausting but worked out for me, it took a lot of time, but it worked.
Just continue toward your goal!
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