Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Working in Japan: Interviewing

Let's say that you've come to Japan as a JET or maybe you've come via a contract with some eikaiwa school, and now you're ready to work at a "real" Japanese company.

First, if you're looking for work now, sucks for you; hiring season is pretty much over. The best time to look for employment, that is non-eikaiwa employment, is between January and March. Companies will be hiring new university grads at this time and it's when they set up interviews.

I can't stress enough the importance of a resume written in English AND Japanese. Some people will say that you only need an English resume, but in my opinion a Japanese resume is first with an English resume being a plus. Many companies that have job openings for foreigners specifically request a Japanese resume and shokumu keireki sho (職務経歴書), or employment history. 
Maybe I should have written about making a resume first...

It's not unusual for a Japanese company to have a round of interviews before making a decision. Round one is more of a relaxed interview, round two is more serious, round three is where they'll make their final decision. 

What to wear:
Wear a suit. It should go without saying, but a suit is the way to go. Make sure that your hair is neat. For men, facial hair should be shaved, or groomed. The suit should fit properly. 
For women, long hair should be pulled back, either in a ponytail or bun. If you prefer to leave it down, make sure that it isn't unruly. Women should wear make-up. In books about interviewing for Japanese women, every. single. one writes that make-up is a must. Just make sure that your make-up is clean and fresh looking. Not club make-up. Earrings should be small, the same with necklaces, bracelets and watches. 
Both men and women should make sure that they are not wearing perfume that's too strong. 

At the interview:
When you enter the room, pause at the door, bow and say "shitsurei shimasu." Then when you reach your seat, bow with a "shitsurei shimasu" before being seated. Do not shake or cross your legs. Do not fidget. Do not fiddle with your hands. Sit up straight. 

You will most likely be interviewed with up to three other people. There will probably be three or more interviewers. Each interviewee will be asked to stand and give a self-introduction. You won't have much time, and you will have to give your self-introduction in Japanese. The chances that the interviewers have seriously read over your resume are slim, so, try to highlight items that are not normally on Japanese resumes; years in Japan, experience in outside fields like blogging, etc.

If you are interviewed with a group of people, one interviewer will ask a question and then go down the line and have each interviewee answer. If you are not called on first, use this time to think over the question and to formulate an answer. I would suggest standing up to answer the first question. Standing up to answer questions is what Japanese students and business people do. It's quite formal and shows that you understand Japanese culture. The interviewer will probably tell you that it's OK to sit and answer, but they will probably be impressed that you know that part of Japanese culture.

The questions asked are typical; hobbies, a situation you've "failed" in and how it affected you, why you've applied to the company.

Special "foreigner" questions:
Based on the companies that I've interviewed with, the interviewers never fail to ask the "foreigner" questions. I can't comment on questions asked of Asian (born and raised in Asia) foreigners vs. questions asked of western foreigners. The questions I have been asked are quite frustrating:

- Do you like Japan?
No, I hate Japan. I'm interviewing for kicks and shits.

- Can you eat Japanese food?
No, I can't. Can you?

- Can you speak Japanese? (after conducting an interview with me in Japanese!)
No, I've obviously been speaking to you through an interpreter this whole time.

- Tokyo is quite far from where you live now, won't it be hard to move?
I moved halfway across the world, but, you're right, moving around Japan is wayyy harder.

- We have an American guy here, he causes problems by not asking questions.
Is this a question? Are you venting? What's this got to do with me?

Apparently, these types of questions are very important to Japanese interviewers. But, in my opinion, it just shows how underprepared they are in dealing with foreigners. You will most likely be asked things like this and more. Try not to lose your cool. 

When you leave the room, first stand and bow to the interviewers with a "shitsurei shimasu." Then at the door, turn and face the interviewers, bow, "shitsurei shimasu" and back out of the door. 

A word of warning:
Japanese companies are not interested in what you can do. They couldn't care less if you graduated first in your class from Harvard or whether or not you scraped by at a state university. If you are applying in a highly specialized field, this is different, of course.
They are not interested in what you can do for the company. They are interested in whether or not you will do as you are told, whether or not you will fit in with the company and as a foreigner, whether or not you will fit in with Japanese work life. The pay at Japanese companies is low, lower than the US, and in most cases there is a lot of unpaid overtime. 
A computer programmer here makes about 1,500 yen an hour, or $15 an hour...as an example. 

That's interviewing in a nutshell. If you have any questions, post them to the comments section!

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