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Job Hunting in Japan

With the dawn of spring comes the busiest time of the year for the various movers and shakers in Japan’s huge Human Resources and recruitment sectors.

In April, millions of fresh college graduates will move into their new jobs and become “company men and women”.

In Japan, where the age of maturity is 20 rather than 16 or 18 in most other countries, this moment is considered the final step into adulthood for a great many of these young people.

It can however also be a time of great upheaval.


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As modern Japan struggles with the twin challenges of an economy still reeling from the Asia-wide stock market crash of the late ‘90s, and the changing demographics of an ageing population, the dream of lifetime employment, once the mainstay of Japan’s economy is, increasingly becoming a luxury reserved for a privileged few.

Short-term contracts, often of just 1-2 years are becoming the norm. This has created something of a new annual tradition, the springtime rush to secure a new job.

Unfortunately, English teachers like me are especially vulnerable to this predicament. One year contracts are the norm in this industry and renewal is by no means guaranteed. As I write this blog, it is late January, and I have less than 10 weeks left until my current contract is due to finish. I still do not know if my current contract will be extended or not. This is the same for millions of people, both foreign and Japanese, all across the country at this time of year.

So, purely from a point of self-preservation, I am once again compelled to dip into the jobs market and see what is available.

So, if you are looking for a job in Japan, how should you approach it? What are some of the key things you need to do and what do companies in Japan expect of their applicants these days?

Hopefully today I can offer you some advice to help you navigate these increasingly murky waters.


Photo: texty cafe on Flickr

Please bear in mind that the advice I offer today comes primarily from the angle of an English teacher and freelance writer in Japan. Hopefully though, at least some of my hints and tips will apply to you too, whatever your industry may be.

Here we go:

1.  Polish up that CV

It’s probably the oldest piece of job hunting advice you will find, but it is every bit as applicable here as it has always been. Make sure your CV is up to date, make sure it includes all your details. Bear in mind too that Japanese companies as well as foreign companies operating here have expectations that may differ from your home country, in terms of what constitutes an effective and appropriate CV.

For example, you should always affix a colour photo of yourself, in business attire, to the top corner of your resume. In Japan a professional image is as important as a professionally written CV, so make sure you look your best.


Photo: texty cafe on Flickr

Also, try to keep things brief. Try to keep things down to no more than 2 or 3 pages. Of course we want to show everything we can offer to a new employer, but you also need to keep in mind that, especially in a climate as competitive as Japan’s job market, you may be up against dozens, maybe even hundreds of other candidates. Do not assume that the recruiter has either the time or the inclination to read 6 or 7 pages of your background. It’s a fast track to the nearest rubbish bin for your CV.

2.  Monitor all emails and reply as fast as you can

When a Japanese company decides that they like you, things will often move quickly. For example, when I was informed I had been successful in my current job, I received a notification which required me to reply with my notice of acceptance within 3 days, by postal mail. I guess it’s just lucky I didn’t decide to go to the Onsen that weekend!


Photo: COD Newsroom on Flickr

Likewise, at an earlier stage in the process, the period between a first and second interview can often be very brief, you may be expected to turn up for a an interview at only one or two days’ notice. For companies in Japan their priority is always to fill gaps in the workforce as quickly as possible. To that end, they may favour the more flexible and more malleable candidate over the more experienced and capable one.

3.  Avoid certain topics

At the job interview itself, there are certain topics that you should not bring up at the interview, even if you think the interviewer may be prompting you to do so. For example, breaking a contract of employment with a company is, by many, perceived to be disloyal and would lead a company to question the candidate’s honesty, integrity and reliability.


Photo: studio tees on Flickr

Yet, at the same time, companies in Japan are also pragmatic. They realise that you will, in all likelihood be breaking your contract if you choose to accept their offer of employment. However, in order to maintain social graces we avoid discussing this situation. Likewise, if they ask why you wish to work for them, keep it constructive. Perhaps your current boss is a self-important ego-maniac, or your co-workers are a bunch of knuckle-dragging imbeciles, but don’t say that to your prospective employer. It is possible to talk up your possible future employer without bad-mouthing the people who currently pay the bills.

4.  Make as many applications as you can, and always be polite

Remember, you will in most cases be up against dozens of similarly capable candidates in most job hunting scenarios. Don’t take any rejection personally. If you don’t hear from them within a week or two of application, move on, forget it and keep applying elsewhere.

If you do get an offer, but you feel, for whatever reason that it’s not the right move for you at this time, then send them an email politely declining the offer. Don’t burn your bridges unnecessarily, because you never know where you might end up in the future.

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