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6 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Job Hunting In Japan

Summary of Savvy Tokyo Article: You can and should read the whole article here.

Chiara Terzuolo is “Foreign, a Woman, (and was), Looking For Job” and this is a quick summary of her Lessons Learned getting a job in Japan from outside the country, published on the great SAVVY TOKYO.

Despite speaking Japanese (English and Italian also), it took Chiara almost two years to find a job in Japan. She was in grad school in London and searching for jobs in Japan, and thought her Japanese language skills would place her high on the list for Entry level Jobs in Japan, but she found things very difficult even though she tried everything from bilingual job fairs, to her contacts in the Japanese community in London.

1. Being multilingual is not a carte blanche for getting hired
Perhaps outside of Teaching, it is going to be hard to find a company willing to hire you from outside the country and send you to Japan.

Jason: Frankly, I was surprised she actually did find one from outside the country, how long it took not withstanding.

2. “Business-level Japanese” means way more than Konnichiwa
Most companies will ask for JLPT results, with JLPT2 often being considered the minimum and JLPT 1 preferable.
In the vast majority of cases asking for “business level” Japanese, means completely fluent and able to use all day every day in doing your job. Period.

Jason: I would add that hiring bilingual people from outside the country is rare and one thing. Being hired from outside the country in a role that doesn’t require Japanese, save being an English teacher say, is even less likely.

3. Don’t try to blend in—it’s pointless!
Trying to play by the rules and going through the applications and interviews for shinsotsu (new graduates), is a waste of time for non-Japanese applicants. There’s no way you will be treated like a regular applicant (unless you have spent your whole life here, in which case you will be hired instantly to provide “diversity”).
New arrivals or those looking to transition from an English teaching job to another sector may need to look for more unusual companies (such as start-ups, creative industries, and travel-related businesses).

Jason: if you are not truly near-native Japanese, then leverage every difference you have, to get the opportunity to show what your real capabilities are, including your foreignness.

4. Choose your recruiters wisely
There are a few rules for (successfully) working with recruiters; rule 1 is unless you have very specific skills (coding, engineering, design, customer service, etc.), first-time job seekers are unlikely to have much luck with recruiters, as they are rarely asked to fill entry-level positions. Then find an agency that specializes in what you are looking for, which is pretty easy thanks to Google and LinkedIn & a smaller recruitment company with strong connections in your field may have a much clearer idea of what you do and how you match the jobs they are looking to fill.

Jason: would agree completely. Mid-career, contingent Recruitment firms (the vast majority you will ever hear of) are not paid to find people jobs, they are paid by companies to find someone who is doing, or has done the job they need to hire for before, get them to stop doing it there and accept joining their client. That’s it. Additionally, client hiring companies do not pay huge recruitment fees to recruitment firms to go find them people who ‘might be able to do the job’ though they have no experience doing it. You might like to check out this article on the subject too: Will a Headhunter Help You Get a Job in Japan?

5. Potential employers will want to know EVERYTHING about you!
It’s normal or at least not rare to be asked not just for work and college/university history, but that or your high school or earlier, as well as ‘unusual’ to foreigners questions such as your marital status, current or foreseeable children and what your parents think of you being in Japan (even once you are well out of your early 20s)!
In Japan everything is linear and there are no gaps between education and work years for most people, so if your employers see something that doesn’t fit their “life ladder,” like gaps or attending multiple schools, be ready for a lot of explanations.

Jason: be ready for the questions, but just as likely or more, you’ll have been screened out before interview selection or fail the interview and never hear why…

6. Be a critical judge of the company you’re applying for
If a company is treating you like dirt during the interview process, it’s unlikely to get any better after you are hired.
Seek companies that are flexible and open to you in all your foreignness, but beware companies who might be showing interest in you just because you are foreign – they may simply looking for someone to correct their press releases and emails in English.
Also be wary or more traditional shosha (trading companies) or other household name large Japanese companies, because things may well still be very domestic there, very Japan old school (including the morning group exercises).

Jason: great piece of advice I hadn’t heard or thought of before from Chiara here too:

“Also, as much as possible, make sure you visit the office after 8 p.m. to check how many people are still there — you’ll thank yourself later.”

Chiara Terzuolo, Editor in Chief of All About Japan, on Savvy Tokyo

Looking to work in Japan, here in Japan or from outside the country? Check out BIJ Member Peter Lackners’ great job portal. While certainly specializing in English Teaching roles, this isn’t the only type of Job Opportunity you can find at..

“By foreigners for foreigners”
Jobs in Japan has been a key resource for foreigners looking for work in Japan since 1998.

This Summary was written by Jason Ball, a “Fixer” and people Connector, in Tokyo and owner of the Business In Japan | LinkedIn group Founded 2/2008 | 57,000+ members as at 2020, 35%+ in Japan.