Top 10 Skills to get hired in Japan
Find out which skills you need to get a job in Japan! You know your code and are ready to dive into new projects, but a different country with different rules and values can make you unsure about what skills are valued by Japanese companies.
In America, saying you are self-motivated and work independently is the dream of any employer. But a Japanese company might feel reluctant to hire such a candidate because they might not be a team player that works well with others and can adapt to the company hierarchy.
Luckily, a 2020 survey by DISCO gives insights into what these firms are looking for in foreign applicants. Among a list of 26 items, each company chose three skills and characteristics most important to them when hiring science graduates. Let’s take a closer look at the top 10!
(※This article was first published in July 2018 and last updated on February 25th, 2021.)
Top 10 Skills Japanese companies look for23>
1. Japanese skills 49.6%
This one doesn’t come as a surprise. Aside from big international companies, the working language of most companies in Japan is typically Japanese, and the overall English level is quite low.
Depending on which company you apply to, the language requirements can go well beyond JLPT N2. When asked about their desired Japanese communication level, a whopping 73.2% of companies answered that they were looking for candidates that could reach “advanced business level and higher” by the time they started working at the company. 26.1% even required “native-equivalent” skills.
Yes, these are the numbers for science graduates! However, during the selection process, around 60% of companies were satisfied with “intermediate business level” skills and lower. So if you can convince them that you can close the gap in the time between getting the job offer and starting the job, you should be good to go.
2. Communication skills 40.5%
Closely related to Japanese skills, this broader category encompasses not only the language you communicate in, but how you communicate. In a country that values group harmony and teamwork, one can see how a lack of communication skills may break the mood.
Traditionally, Japanese managers want employees to share as much information possible, as exemplified in the ever-present slogan “hourensou” (報連相, ほうれんそう). Humbleness, politeness and business etiquette (verbal and nonverbal) are also part of communication and tend to be taken very seriously.
3. Special/technical knowledge 38.8%
For every third company, special skills and technical knowledge are a critical factor when hiring science graduates. Wait, only one third? Is the most common reaction to this. After all, you expect to be hired for your skills, right?
One reason for this phenomenon is that many Japanese companies train their new recruits on the job. They feel that university education, without any real-world experience (and without knowledge of proper terminology and business manners) is simply not enough for fresh graduates to hit the ground running and deliver results right away. After joining, chances are that you’ll have to adapt to pre-existing internal technologies, so being too focused on one very particular skill can sometimes be even seen as a downside (little flexibility).
However, from the perspective of the company, training requires time and money, so it’s not like most of them are not interested in pre-existing skills at all. To achieve a high level of trust right from the start, don’t only list your skills, but show examples of how you’ve applied them in the past – the more, the better.
4. Cooperativeness 26.4%
It is more than a stereotype that the Japanese are a very community-oriented bunch. Companies look for people who can work well with others and are good team players. “Lone wolf” behavior tends to be seen as a risk, even if it results in success.
When working you will usually work in teams, make decisions in teams, and generally keep everyone in the loop about what it is you are doing at the moment.
5. Basic skills 23.1%
This factor really comes to live in all those recruiting tests candidates go through in Japan. Kanji skills, reading skills, math skills, logic skills – all these things many of us forget after they graduate high school, suddenly become essential to getting that job in Japan.
To be fair, for non-Japanese, kanji has never really been a strong point anyway. Since Japanese companies don’t put so much value on the degrees of their new recruits, they care all the more about candidates’ ability to grasp and process information to estimate their work performance. Though this testing method may be a little questionable for foreigners.
6. Enthusiasm 16.5%
This is a real Japanese classic. Nothing impresses bosses in Japan as employees showing enthusiasm for their work, especially when it leads to concrete results. Doing one’s best (頑張る, がんばる）really symbolizes the Japanese work ethic. The underlying idea is that when you are motivated, work hard enough and just keep going, you will succeed eventually. This kind of perseverance is often seen as being more beneficial to the firm than an initial advantage in terms of skills.
7. Understanding foreign cultures 15.7%
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Coming to work at a Japanese company, you need to adapt to the local environment. To a certain degree, companies are willing to make arrangements and give foreigners a pass (sometime colloquially called the “gaijin card” among non-Japanese). But in the end, certain rules and cultural positions are non-negotiable.
To maintain harmony at the workplace, companies hope to hire someone who is willing to learn about and adapt to Japanese culture and the specific culture of the company. Even if you do have a point, stubbornly insisting on your own point of view is not likely to get you much sympathy.
8. Vitality 9.9%
This is not about how healthy or happy-go-lucky you are, but ties right in with the previous points. Vitality to the Japanese recruiter means that the person is ambitious, with clear goals, a constructive outlook and high motivation and determination to get things done. The opposite would be a candidate who just wants any job to keep themselves afloat and has little interest in learning new things and honing their skills.
9. Language skills other than Japanese and English 9.9%
While not further specified, it’s almost certain that languages falling into this category are mostly Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, etc. – the languages of Japan’s Asian trading partners. It’s much easier for Japanese companies to expand to nearby countries, and recently, there has been a rise in workers from Southeast Asia (especially Vietnam). Both of these factors probably contributed to non-English languages ranking about as high as English itself. That being said, you’re still not likely to be able to use them outside of specific job positions or industries like tourism.
10. English skills 9.1%
Sorry guys, English skills just are not valued that much in Japan yet. Mainly because if you work for a Japanese company, most of your bosses and coworkers simply won’t be able to understand English. Unless you happen to join a company or a department that frequently communicates with foreign clients, Japanese is of higher importance.
Still, you are “the foreigner”, so if there ever is something English flying through the office, everyone will put their hopes on you. Using the morning meeting (朝礼, ちょうれい) or other occasions to share IT news from abroad is a good way to get a good reputation and provide valuable input. Who knows, you might just be able to shape your work environment as you go.
Gain additional advantages with these skills
Not the top 10 but still highly appreciated, these soft skills could be what tips the scales in your favor.
- 11. Sociability 6.6%
Another group-oriented value. Even outside of concrete work situations, sociability works as a kind of glue that keeps the group together. Nowadays, you might not be forced to attend each and every company drinking party. However, showing up every once in a while and making efforts to connect with other employees wil reflect positively on you.
- 11. Reliability 6.6%
Important-sounding, but rather vague. Reliability is probably low on the list because the things you can do to boost this “perk” are already covered elsewhere. If you’re polite, show attention to detail in your documents and work, are quick to reply to requests and show willingness to adapt to your surroundings, people are likely to put bigger trust in you.
- 11. Abundance of Ideas 6.6%
As an engineer, you’ll have to come up with various solutions to problems. Sometimes, you even get the chance to develop your own solutions from scratch. They might not get used right away, but coming up with creative solutions is a skill companies want you to foster, so never shy away from sharing your thoughts.
- 14. Common sense 5.8%
Another very vague one. What exactly falls under “common sense” varies wildly from person to person. I’d wager the guess that companies that chose this perk were looking for people who quickly adapt to a wide variety of situations without requiring exact instructions or lengthy training.
- 14. Stress tolerance 5.8%
Especially in the final stages, projects can sometimes get really busy. Naturally, companies prefer employees who don’t run out of breath right away and have the resilience to power through things from time to time. Knowing how to efficiently use your energy will grant you some extra points.
The most important factor to find a job in Japan are your Japanese communication skills. If they are top-notch and you are fresh out of university, all doors are open to you. Thanks to on-the-job training, it’s also often possible to choose a route that’s slightly or even completely different from the direction your university major pointed you in. Quite a few foreigners working as successful network engineers and programmers in Japan have non-technical backgrounds.
With good Japanese skills, you will have many opportunities to get a job and the chance to be put on challenging projects, allowing you to take more responsibility from the start. Jobs that require little or no Japanese do exist, but by improving your Japanese, you will also do yourself a favor. Japanese skills enable you to find out more about a wider variety of companies and reduce the chance of a mismatch. Plus, living in Japan is just generally more enjoyable if you know the language!
High-level IT and development skills can land you well-paying positions right from the start, but broadly speaking, these kinds of opportunities are few and far between. You’re most likely to find them at non-Japanese companies with branch offices in Japan or high-profile Japanese IT giants. Outside of those, solid technical fundamentals and maybe a bit of experience with a high-demand programming language coupled with business-level Japanese skills are what’s most likely to get you a job.