Japanese Job Interviews – Know what matters
A job interview is where you have to appeal your skills, right? Turns out, not in Japan. At least, when job interviews for new graduates, especially non-science majors are concerned.
Japanese companies are looking at your personality and potential, much more than they care about your skills and achievements. As a new graduate in Japan, you can tackle new challenges regardless of your major and lack of work experience.
Know what is important to recruiters in Japan, to get that job or opportunity you are looking for!
All that matters more than your hard skills
1. University name
Japanese companies care more about the reputation of your university (they have a rigorous ranking system even for high schools) than about your major or grades. New graduates, they think, even if the candidates majored in a related field to the job, simply do not have the necessary working skills.
By basing their choice on the university’s reputation, they try to pick the smart people (good university equals rigorous entrance exams) who will be quick to pick up the necessary skills.
With graduates from universities abroad, Japanese companies have to get creative to find other evaluation criteria, since as long as you didn’t graduate from Harvard, your interviewer has probably never heard of your university. If you ever attended a Japanese university, no matter the duration, tell them!
2. Reason for being in Japan
During the interview, you are guaranteed to get questions along the lines of what made you come to Japan, how long you’ve been here, if you plan to stay, and whether your family back home doesn’t miss you. This part isn’t just small talk, nor do they mean to invade your privacy.
They ask to assess the risk that you will leave them soon after joining the company to return to your home country. If so, no point in hiring and investing in you in the first place, right.
Throughout the whole interview process, it is possible to not get a single question regarding your relevant skills for the position, let alone ask for proof in the form of certificates or graduation papers.
Instead, your interviewer may chat away, observe the way you carry yourself, ask about your family, listen intently to your description of your role in extracurricular activities, or spend most of the interview talking about your graduation thesis or another seemingly unrelated matter.
All this, to get a better idea of who you are as a person, your thinking, and values. In the name of harmony at the workplace, they want to hire people who will fit in and have an understanding of Japanese manners.
4. Goals at Company
This part requires the most preparation. Why you chose their company, and no other (even though everyone quietly acknowledges that you applied to at least 10 if not 100 other companies simultaneously)?
Whether you did proper research about the company, agree with company values and policies, and if what the company can offer lines up with your own goals and 3, 5, or 10-year-plan – all these are factors for how motivated you will be once working there. Motivated folks that stand behind the company, are what’s going to help them face the future.
Conclusion: Potential over Skills
Seize your potential
Japanese companies evaluate your potential more than your skills at the time of application. This recruitment practice developed out of Japan’s working culture that has long been defined by 4 factors: absence of internships, big names, on the job training, and lifelong employment. All this created a system that does not focus on hiring new grads to do jobs they already have the skills for. Instead companies often invest 1-2 years and teach new employees the skills necessary to do the job (this does involve your willingness to study outside of working hours just so you know).
Of course, the Japanese working culture is changing a lot at the moment. While still not considered as working experience, internships are increasing, life-long employment makes room for more acceptance of job changes, etc. While the context that created this type of recruiting is slowly unraveling, the practice remains alive and the potential of candidates plays a central role in hiring decisions as can be seen when language teachers go into recruiting or when humanities majors start careers as programmers and network engineers. So what’s stopping you?
The skills you do need
After all, this is said, you still need skills, just maybe not quite those skills you were thinking off. Hard skills like programming languages, if considered essential for the job, are evaluated by someone who works in your field during one of the interviews.
Your general skills, like middle school math, language skills, all those little things that will help you to master the office Olympics between documents and data, will be tested in recruitment tests.
You will need Japanese skills and a lot of them. They might turn out to be the biggest challenge on your way to a job.
If there is a job or industry you want to enter, even if you don’t have the right skills yet, give it a try. A lot of humanities majors graduate without skills matching one specific job. In America and elsewhere this leads to many of them going through multiple long-term internships, studying while working jobs they don’t want to get the skills they need for the career they want to have.
In Japan, most office jobs at the entry-level don’t come with super specific skill sets. Truth be told it might be hard to become a designer with zero background, but if you are interested in IT you will have plenty of opportunities. Just approach companies directly or look for companies open to humanities and science majors, both in person at job events and online.
A few conditions to keep in mind
- ✔ A college degree (any) is a must (for your visa).
- ✔ Get your first job until 28 (hard to find entry-level positions later).
- ✔ Be willing to put in the work (study).
Even if it is a different country and not your native language, don’t lower your aspirations.
✖ Don’t take that part-time job, hoping that in one or two years your Japanese will be good enough to get a job.
✖ Don’t be reluctant to apply because you don’t meet the requirements.
✔ Do prepare early on. Many Japanese grads start job hunting in their third year of university. Find out about companies, requirements and necessary skills early on to have time to prepare.
✔ Do apply for the jobs you want to do, not the ones you think might hire you easily.
✔ Do approach and talk to company representatives. The Japanese recruitment process allows for interaction with HR from the start, use that to your advantage.