How to apply for a job in Japanese – Guide with Example
Finding an open position is one thing. But what do Japanese companies expect from a written application? And how do you write one? In this article, we provide background information, an example and a free worksheet.
Preparing for application: Self-analysis
The first step of the traditional shuukatsu process in Japan – before the actual application – is “self-analysis” (自己分析, じこぶんせき). In this stage, job hunters are supposed to reflect on their interests and skills and decide which job type and industry is best for them.
The goal of self-analysis is to find a central axis (軸, じく) that your skills, interests, and plans for the future revolve around. The process is simple: You reflect on your life up until this point and collect things that you were passionate about (夢中になったこと), put effort into (頑張ったこと), like (好きなこと) or dislike (嫌いなこと). How far back you go here is up to you. Some Japanese job seekers start with their elementary school selves!
Once you have a collection of things connected to your person, you start looking for common aspects that connect them. This connection is your central axis, which forms the basis on which you build your job applications.
There are many ways of doing self-analysis. The method used at Linguage Japanese Language School focuses on the motivations behind your interests and skills. Below, you can find a free worksheet for self-analysis based on the contents of classes at Linguage. Give it a try!
When filling out the sheet, start with grouping your motivations up until university first, then move on to your motivations from your time of university and later. The goal is to find a through-line that connects to as many things as possible and implies a clear direction for your future.
How self-analysis helps
Thinking about what you want to do, your strengths, your interests… This might all seem like a no-brainer to you, maybe even a bit excessive. But a short look at Japanese work culture shows why this part is strongly emphasized in Japan.
Compared to western-style companies, Japanese companies tend to hire new employees (especially fresh university graduates) in relatively broad categories. For example, instead of specifically hiring front-end IT engineers, they might hire people for 技術職 (ぎじゅつしょく, engineering work). The day-to-day responsibilities are cleared up later, during job interviews and the probation period.
Japanese companies also like to train new employees as generalists that can take on a wide variety of responsibilities. This part of Japanese business culture is a remnant of the lifetime employment system. Frequent shifts between departments (and even office locations) are not uncommon. Especially susceptible to department/location shifts are employees aiming for management positions and those that don’t perform well.
Having a clear vision of what you want to do professionally is a good thing regardless of where you live. However, in Japan specifically, it helps you to…
- Stand out from the crowd (as you’re likely to apply for a broad type of work, not a clearly defined job type)
- Prevent being put in a department where you have to do work that you don’t enjoy (or being otherwise “tossed around” by internal reassignments)
Writing the application
Once you’ve done your self-analysis, decided on a job type and industry and have done your company research, it’s time to fill in your CV (履歴書, りれきしょ). In the rest of this article, we’ll look at how to write a convincing motivation for application (志望動機, しぼうどうき) in Japanese. For info on how a standard Japanese CV looks like, head over to this article.
Motivations and strengths are separate
In a “western-style” application, you combine your motivations and what qualifies you for the job in one text. But in a typical Japanese CV, these are separated from each other. Your motivation belongs in the “motivation for application” 志望動機 (しぼうどうき) box. Strengths and skills, on the other hand, go in the “self-PR” (自己PR, じこピーアール) and “hobbies and special abilities” (趣味・趣味, しゅみ・とくぎ) boxes.
Focus on work
A lot of people that want to work in Japan do so because they want the experience of living here long-term. Common reasons are the food, the language, manga and anime, relationships, or just “the culture” in general.
Of course, it’s important to have a reason for why you want to be in Japan and not in your home country, or another country altogether. In fact, many companies want to know why you want to live and work in Japan to reduce the risk of a newly-hired foreign employee quitting after a few months.
It’s fine to mention the reason you’re interested in Japan. That being said, your main focus should be on work – why the company should hire you, what you bring to the table, etc.
Potential before skills
For better or for worse, Japanese companies don’t have high expectations of fresh graduates in terms of skills. What they value most in young people is their potential and their ability to be shaped (and shape themselves) to fit the needs of the company.
Showing passion and confidence is important but putting too much emphasis on it can make you come across as headstrong and hard to work with. Japanese people are commonly said to be very risk-averse. Japanese managers prefer people that are willing to “learn the ropes” before starting to innovate. The prevailing mindset is that rules are there for a reason, and don’t exist to be broken.
To a Japanese company, an ideal fresh graduate is a person that shows strong passion (熱量, ねつりょう) and promise in a certain field but (within that field) isn’t overly picky and will – at first – accept how things are done before breaking the mold. Wax on, wax off.
Be precise and write in PREP style
HR people look through a lot of applications, so it’s important to get your point across quickly and efficiently. Also, most pre-printed CV sheets don’t leave you much room for writing your motivation anyway. Being economical with your words is key.
An easy way to grab HR people’s attention and maximize impact is the PREP principle. You don’t have to follow this structure to a tee but keeping it in mind as a guideline will improve your results.
- Point: Start with your main point, in this case, the reason why you want to work at the company. In Japanese, this is called 結論から書く (けつろんからかく) – “start by writing the conclusion”. Keep this part short, one sentence is enough. It’s OK if your main reason sounds a bit cheesy or hazy as long as it comes from a genuine place in your heart and you can back it up with something more concrete later.
- Reason: Next, give a reason for your main point. Why did you arrive at the conclusion that you and the company are a good fit? This part should be short as well.
- Example: Provide concrete backup for your reason, drawing on experiences from your past, things you’ve learned, your skills, etc. Here, you can elaborate a bit.
- Point: Tie it up by returning to your main point one more time. Just like in the beginning, a simple statement is fine here.
Now that we’ve gone over the main points, let’s look at an example.
Just for reference, this is the profile of the imaginary student in our example.
- ■ 23, male
- ■ Currently in Japan for an internship, will graduate from university soon
- ■ Likes games (esp. Japanese ones), dreams of working at a game company in Japan
- ■ Japanese level: N2
- ■ Other skills: Didn’t major in an IT-related subject, but has some level of programming experience (uni courses, self-study)
- ■ Challenges: Knows Japanese and programming, but is (at best) only OK at both. Still needs to improve
Let’s have a quick look at what makes this good.
The text starts with the main motivation, clearly marked with “I applied to your company because…”. Then, the applicant goes on to talk about experiences from the past and some of his skills. Note that they didn’t go into detail here – the fact that they learned some programming on their own is just mentioned to show that they’re committed to acquiring the skills for the job. That’s what matters most, the specifics can go elsewhere (self-PR section, job interview).
Up until this point in the text, the application could be for any given game company. In the next part, the applicant provides info about what piqued their interest in this company in particular. Here, it is a project story on the recruiting website and the company culture. Others could be:
- ■ Familiarity/identification with the product
- ■ The employees (in a professional sense, i.e. you met them / read about them and were interested in working with them)
- ■ Career opportunities
- ■ Specific benefits or systems (ex. childcare leave)
The final two sentences are a bit of a summary of all the previous points, circling back to the main reason for application. This turns the whole thing into a neat package.
When writing an application as a fresh graduate, the two most important things are showing passion (熱量, ねつりょう) a strong willingness to adapt and learn (ideally already backed up by some things you’ve already done, to not make it sound like an empty promise). For this, it’s important to determine central axis or core (軸, じく) that your motivations revolve around. Skills are still important but come in second.
A clearly defined axis gives Japanese managers an idea of where to put you and what to train you in. At the same time, it allows for flexibility. This helps you during your job hunt, as you can use the same axis to write applications for very different companies. At the same time, it leaves managers with the impression that you’re going to gel well with your colleagues and higher-ups, a quality that is highly valued in group-focused Japanese business culture.