Applying for a job in Japanese
Why do you want this job, and why did you apply to this company? At first, answering this question seems like an easy task. However, thinking of a convincing answer can be surprisingly difficult – especially when you’re applying in a foreign language, and it’s your first “real job.” In this article, we show you how to write a reason for application that allows you to pass the first round of screening!
Basics to keep in mind
Before we look at an example text, let’s cover some basics. Some of these aren’t unique to Japan, but Japanese HR people value them all the same.
Reasons and strengths are separate
In a “western-style” application, you write one text about your reasons for application and your strengths. But in a typical Japanese CV, these are separated from each other. Your reason belongs in the “reason for application” 志望動機 (しぼうどうき) box. Strengths and skills, on the other hand, belong 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.
On the other hand, you’re not going to get dropped just because you mentioned one of your strengths in the “reason for application” part. Briefly talking about your skills or strengths to prove a point is fine. Just be careful to not get off topic!
Focus on work
A lot of (I’d argue most) 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. When you’re filling out your CV, all of these things have to take the back seat. This seems like a no-brainer, but when you’re thinking about working in an exciting, foreign country, it’s easy to forget.
Of course, it’s important to have a reason for why you want to be in Japan and not in your home country or anywhere else. Just like your strengths, there’s no problem in mentioning it. But your main priority should be the reason why you want to work at that company.
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 adapt to their surroundings.
Showing confidence is important but putting too much emphasis on it can make you come across as headstrong and hard to work with. On the other hand, being too passive is not a good look either. A too strong emphasis on points like “I want to learn” or “I want to grow my abilities” is likely to earn you a reaction along the lines of “sorry, but we’re not a school”.
In a similar vein, be careful when talking about special types of paid leave or other employee benefits as one of your “main attraction points”. It can make it seems like you’re only after the benefits and have no intention of properly contributing. When in doubt, I’d recommend focusing on something else.
To a Japanese company, an ideal fresh graduate is a person that shows strong passion and promise in a certain field but (within that field) isn’t overly picky and focuses on the opportunities and positives of the tasks at hand.
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.
A mistake that many Japanese applicants make is following up their reason for application with a list-up of the company’s features, products, or services. This is often intended as proof for having done their research but ends up backfiring. The reason is simple: The company doesn’t need you to explain their own stuff to them.
For the same reason, you should be careful about straight-up putting the company’s corporate philosophy slogan in your text or reusing other wording from the official website. It can be tempting to do this, especially when you’re not super confident in your Japanese abilities. But it’s best to use your own words, even if they’re simple.
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 being honest and showing 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). Skills are a plus but come in second.
For our example, I chose games because it’s one of Japan’s more famous industries that also tends to attract the attention of a lot of (young) foreigners. However, with a bit of tweaking, you can apply the same principles to an application in any industry. So even if you’re still years off from actually applying anywhere, how about trying it out? It’s never a good idea to start practicing early!