The Japanese annual job hunt and the Coronavirus

The Japanese annual job hunt and the Coronavirus

From cancelled job fair to new recruits being laid off just days before their first day of work – here are some effects the current Coronavirus crisis has had on the Japanese recruitment system.

The regular job hunt

Usually, the great annual run for jobs starts on March 1st, with companies on the big portal sites – Rikunabi and Mainavi – beginning to accept entry sheets (ES). March 1st is also the starting date of the big job fairs. The next step begins in June when companies start with their interview processes. Unofficial job offers (内定, ないてい) are then given out around September.

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While this is the “official” version of the job hunt schedule, many companies are starting to diverge from it by either recruiting year-round or employing “letter of the law” tactics that allow them to start interviews and give out job offers even faster. However, Japanese students still use these dates as a general guideline on when to do what. This year, of course, brought a lot of confusion with it.

Effects of the Coronavirus

Job Fairs cancelled/postponed

With large gatherings of people being strongly discouraged, the big portal sites decided to cancel their usual job fairs. Rikunabi was first, announcing on February 20th that all job-hunting events slated for March would be canceled. Mainavi followed on February 26th.

Of course, the cancellations and postponements continued way past the end of March. Mid-May, both portals have delayed their big events until the end of June. In July, the first events started to be held again, complete with temperature checks, entry limits, and thorough desinfection measures.

Since job fairs (合同説明会, ごうどうせつめいかい) – held in huge convention halls filled with booths – are a good way to get to know many companies in a short amount of time, this was a hard hit for many Japanese job seekers. While the major job fair made the biggest headlines, smaller events aimed at international students were hit as well.

Companies adapted by organizing online versions of these events, either as live streams or in pre-recorded “on-demand” form. They still are upcoming ones – be sure to check them out below!

Job Offers Revoked

Also starting in March, news of revoked job offers started popping up. Students that had been expecting to start to work in April were suddenly contacted by their companies, effectively being laid off before their first day. In some cases, these “layoff” messages arrived as late as five days before the first day of work.

Despite the huge attention gathered by these news, the overall number of affected students was quite low (58 students as of March 31st). Nevertheless, there was a flood of companies and municipalities offering “emergency support” for these students, usually in the form of specialized recruiting windows. For them, this was a welcome opportunity to market themselves as socially responsible organizations.

Year of the long job hunt

In response to the virus, many companies started extending the periods during which new recruits could hand in so-called entry sheets and start the screening process. The head of the Keidanren federation – which binds its members to follow the strict recruitment schedule outlined above – asked companies to respond to the pandemic by taking a more flexible approach to recruitment.

In a survey carried out by Mainavi, around 25% of students were still focusing on filling entry sheets in late April, compared to only 15% in 2019. About two months later, DISCO reported that around 77% of students had received at least one job offer as of July 1st. It was the first time in four years that this figure had dropped below 80%. Out of all the surveyed students, 38% (compared to only 28% in 2019) answered that they were still continuing their job search, either because they wanted more options to choose from or hadn’t been able to secure an offer yet.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards an earlier start of job search activities (就活の早期化, しゅうかつのそうきか). However, this year, the job hunt season will last longer than usual. If things continue this way, even events in 2021 could become affected.

Rise of Online Recruitment

With the country in “soft lockdown” mode, companies had no other choice but to switch to online options for company seminars, interviews, and sometimes even drinking parties. This has impacted students both positively and negatively.

On one hand, many students living in the countryside don’t have to take multiple long and expensive trips to Tokyo (or other “big city” areas with huge amounts of jobs) anymore. Because of the immediate connection established between job seeker and potential employer in an online interview, students also don’t have to worry about things like proper elevator or knocking etiquette.

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On the other hand, both students and companies reported that they could not get as good of an impression of the respective other during online interviews. About 30% of students – according to the aforementioned Mynavi survey – also had problems with internet data limits.

Money for Students

Students were not only hit by a change in job hunt schedules, but also by a sudden loss of income when most places offering traditional part-time jobs in the retail, hospitality, and gastronomy sectors had to shorten their opening hours.

Mid-May, the government decided to assist students by providing them with a 100,000 to 200,000 JPY stimulus. Foreign students studying at Japanese universities, vocational schools, and Japanese schools are also able to apply, as long as they fulfill a list of requirements (find out more here). Applications will be handled by JASSO, the Japan Student Services Organization.

What you can do

If you’re an international student in Japan and job hunting this year, you definitely have it harder than your senpais. However, there are still many opportunities. Here’s what you can do to secure a job even under these unusual circumstances.

Make use of online events

As mentioned above, many organizers of job fairs have arranged online versions of their usual events. Here’s a short list of upcoming events and services aimed at international job-hunters in Japan.

MyNavi Global Career Expo 2020 Summer
When? June 20 ~ 21

MyNavi Online Job Matching
When? Matching platform, no end date

CFN Tokyo Summer Career Forum 2020
When? June 27 ~ 28

If you’re confident enough in your Japanese abilities, you can also try these events aimed at regular Japanese students:

Career+ Online Job Fair
When? May 20

MyNavi Shuushoku Web EXPO On Demand
When? May 23

Approach Companies directly

Researching companies and approaching them on your own requires a bit more effort than attending a job-hunting event, but it’s very much a valid option. Aside from foreign companies, which are usually recruiting year-round anyway, many Japanese companies are still accepting entry sheets right now. If your Japanese level is good enough, use portals like Rikunabi and MyNavi or just plain old Google to collect some info and then apply to the companies directly through their own recruiting sites. In this case, of course, you’ll have to do some more research on your own. But if you’ve already been eyeing some companies, there’s no need to give up right now!

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My love for ninjas and interest in Chinese characters (kanji) were what first made me come to Japan, as a high school student. Over ten years and many visits later, I’ve found a job here and have chosen it as my new home.