Are you ready to work in Japan? All about Job Hunting

  • HOW TO
  • Let’s face it, if you are reading this, you probably once considered applying for a job in Japan. Or at least thought about how it would be to do so.
    Working in Japan… Something like a lifetime dream for some, a challenge or dreadful experience for some.

    The Europe based Japanese learners have probably heard of the book/movie Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb. The story is about a Belgian young woman(Nothomb’s character) who spent her whole childhood in Japan but left before becoming a teenager and then came back to work. From the culture shock to the impossibility to fit in a society (read company) she thought she belonged to, from the language barrier to the discrimination and the fear that she won’t be able to survive the one year of her contract in Japan.

    This book and the movie completely marked my decision making process as far as finding a job in Japan was concerned. I thought it over and over again until I felt like I took the right path and I definitely don’t regret it.

    Now, let’s see what do you need in order to get a job in Japan.

    Are you ready?


    No, I mean are you ready to work in Japan?
    Of course it depends on what kind of job you want to do. If nature endowed you with good looks, you can just go ahead and become the new sensation in Japanese magazines and ads. If you have a special talent (see Asa Ekstrom the Swedish girl who fascinated a whole world with her mangas) then you can try your luck on that path. Who knows in a few years you can even become a タレント (talento)!

    Now, what about those of us who just want to try average office work in Japan? For that, you definitely need more than looks, a certain talent and just being a gaijin. And that’s exactly what I found exciting about job hunting in Japan. As in, what if I tried to find a job that matches my abilities…? But over there!

    Most of my friends thought I was nuts. After 3 years of studying in Japan, they still thought I was nuts. Like haven’t you seen all those karoushi deaths and the way Japanese people don’t have a life etc?
    I thought there must be a way to be yourself in any company all over the globe and if you are really passionate about what you are doing, some overtime shouldn’t be a problem (as if there’s no such thing in Europe or the US).

    Criteria to work in Japan

    First of all most Japanese companies require a certain level of Japanese(equivalent to N1 or N2, very few just N3). Also, most require applicants to have a perfect command of English (native preferred but native level is also appreciated – I am not a native English speaker either, at least not by my passport).
    If you match these two criteria, then you’ll have to consider the job you are applying for.

    If you are a new graduate 新卒, you can literally apply to ANY job you want.
    Well unless the company or the job itself (like system engineer for instance) requires you have a science (理系) background. Even so, most companies would choose a person willing to learn and work, with a positive and productive attitude, but with a linguistic background over any science graduate who doesn’t fit this personality profile.

    If you already have work experience and you are looking for a change, things get complicated.
    First, because Japanese companies are looking for experts. That is, people extremely good at something, highly specialized and with a great deal of experience behind them. Of course they should be able to speak Japanese and English but the more “expert” they are, the Japanese proficiency condition loses importance.

    Second, because intermediate positions are quite scarce compared to the amount for new graduates. No wonder since Japan is known for the 終身雇用 or lifetime employment, which technically entails that changing your job 転職 is virtually not happening.

    Yet, as we know, things are evolving everywhere and Japan witnesses the rise of small/medium size companies, looking for talented staff with experience and focused on results but also on quality employment. Also, multinationals are gaining ground and their feuds over “stealing” each other’s clients involves massive personnel movements from one to another.

    To cut it short, before you start searching for a job in Japan, this is what you need:

    • Near native English skills
    • Good control of Japanese or at least willingness to learn
    • A positive attitude showing a wish to work and become something great along with the company
    • A special skill (preferably) like marketing, public relations, sales etc, anything to stand out of the mass of applicants
    • Also, a real wish to work irrespective of overtime, lost nights at the office, few weekends, no Christmas etc.

    Sounds harsh but Japan is a land of commitment and that’s all it is.

    Are you already in Japan?

    Ok, so you’re ready. Next question is: are you already in Japan? If so, you are in luck because this makes it 200% easier to get a job.
    Whether you are in Japan because you are/were a student, or because you already have/had a full/part time job, if you have a visa (or can apply for a working visa) there is practically not much between you and the job you want.
    Well except for a few interviews. And tests. And screening processes.
    But where do you start looking if you live in Japan?

    First of all, if you are a student make sure you don’t miss the seminars held at your university for shuushokukatsudou shien (就職活動支援). Most companies visit each important university and exhibit their jobs and programs, in order to acquire applicants. Students should just fill in some papers, hand in their resumes and voila! The successful ones will get selected and will go to the next stage, the interviews.
    If you got to that stage you can consider yourself lucky. Only 20% of the applicants are short listed for the 1st interview. Once there you need to have two items clear both on your resume and in your head: the motivation part and the personal skills part (志望動機&自己PR). Note that the first interview is crucial, as you only have 10 minutes tops to let the other party see that you deserve to go to the next stage.

    You need to know exactly what qualifies you for the job, what your strengths are and what you can do with them for the sake of the company/clients. You also need to do some research about the company, grasp the essence of their activities and sum up why you would like to work for them.

    Let me tell you one painful truth. You cannot lie.

    You cannot pretend you did research a lot about the company when you didn’t. You cannot pretend you love what they do when you don’t even know what that is exactly. And you cannot pretend you are good for something you don’t really want to do.

    And this brings us back to question no 1: are you ready? If you struggle to write a soulful and persuasive motivation letter, if you ask yourself why you want to have this job, and the main answer is you know, because I wanna stay in Japan and I love it here and… Then you are not ready and any interviewer will know it.
    Because in Japan, more than any other country, “I just came here for money” never applies.

    Well, if you passed the first interview, it’s better to make an introspection of what went good and what went bad (yes, some things can go bad but you can save the interview just in time, think about it, the passing score is always around 50% not 100). Try to improve the bad parts and keep the good ones and show confidence all the way. Note: confidence will get you far!

    These tips seem to apply to any job hunting process, but most of them are the result of working closely in HR surrounded by Japanese staff, so take it as inside knowledge, and use it well:)

    Applying from abroad huh?

    If you’re not in Japan at the moment of application things get rough. And that is because not all companies can offer visa sponsorship and to get one by yourself is technically impossible from abroad.
    But don’t despair. There are still some ways to get here and they are all worth trying.
    Here are some sites you should try:

    • Gaijinpot. This is the Mecca of Japanese speakers looking for jobs in Japan. They even have a special section: overseas application, and another one “no Japanese”, so with a bit of luck(and skill) anyone can apply to a job through their site. Wait, it gets better. You can build up to 5 resumes (English, Japanese etc) on your profile and also save each and every single cover letter if you consider reusing it in the future. Want more? Well, they even have “Apartments” and “Education” sections, that is if you got the job and you’re looking for a place to stay, or if you didn’t and reconsidered taking up some studies in Japan instead.
    • Daijob. This one is a real miracle fountain. The amount of jobs posted (both English and Japanese), the fact that the resume you create on their site is easily accepted at any interview, and the accuracy of the information (it will mention if the job requires a visa, if overseas applicants are not welcome, or if you need to be a native Japanese speaker) make it one of your most reliable tools in the search for a job. Daijob
    • CFN. Career Forum Network is a goldmine especially for applicants from the US. With annual job fairs in the main cities (LA, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston etc) and applicants for which only US citizens are eligible, this site is perfectly tailored for Americans willing to work in Japan. Although not a US citizen, I myself found a few interesting vacancies, applied to them, and actually was successful most times, so even if you don’t live in the US, trust me it’s a good one. Career Forum Network
    • Indeed, LinkedIn. Even Facebook (see Jobs in Japan page). Social media lends you a hand to find tons of jobs… And select which ones are the best for you. Indeed*Automatic translation
    • Recruiting agencies. Recruit Agent, Hays and many others help you with counseling, job hunting and recommendation services to ease your way to getting a job. Most look for applicants from Japan, but they also contact the ones from overseas. Just try to make your profile as appealing as possible. Also, some companies may actually scout you by sending you a message through the company’s website, so stay alert!
    • Your country’s embassy. Yes, who would have thought of this right? First, your country’s embassy in Tokyo might actually help you with tips and advice about how to actually get a job in Japan. It can also offer you links and addresses where to apply for a job. Or it can actually offer you one! (Happened to 3 friends of mine). Also, you can try the other way round, that is the Japan embassy in your own country. Either way they are one reliable source to get employed in Japan.
    What is it worth?

    Working in Japan might be meant only for workaholics but at a financial level it’s not really disappointing at all.
    A new graduate receives on the first month of payment in an entry level job, somewhere between 1,800-2,200 USD. Most companies also offer a shataku or company housing wherein they cover 80% of the rent. Also, transportation fees are fully covered in most cases. Therefore a person until the age of 30, will only spend around 150-200 USD a month on rent, and that’s all. Add up electricity fees, internet, phone, cable TV etc, you will also spend another 200 USD a month. This leaves you with about 1400-1800 USD to spend on whatever you like.
    Living costs in Japan might seem expensive but they are about equal to the standard in Europe (but probably lower than in America).

    Is it worth it then? Well in 6 months over there I managed to make a great deal of savings without restricting myself in any way. So financially speaking it definitely is. And consider we are speaking about entry-level jobs. With middle management and upwards the monthly income is something around 5,000 USD a month.

    On the other hand, hard work can also be extremely fulfilling. Most companies have “incentives”, bonuses for the employees with best results. Also, in young companies the possibility to get a promotion after only 2-3 years is very high. And if it doesn’t happen in your company, you can always find another job in which you can use the knowledge acquired during all this time.

    What are the odds of getting a job in Japan as a foreigner?

    Remember Prime minister Aso’s target of getting at least 30k foreigners to study or work in Japan? That was 7 years ago, and the quota was not achieved, not even at a 50% level.
    Also, Japan is confronted with a lack of a young workforce. With the declining birthrate, and young Japanese seeking a better future (or a change in foreign countries) Japan will be soon left with a huge number of 40-60 year old employees. And that will become a main concern in the next few decades.

    So basically, Japanese companies seek out foreign specialists, experts or even young people who love Japan, its language and its culture, to fill in the gap left by that will soon appear in their employment system.
    In other words, there is a high chance to get hired by a Japanese company if only you know how to sell yourself. After all, as with any other country, the processes of head hunting/ job hunting are quite similar to other countries. The companies need the best product, and you just have to prove them that you are THE ONE.

    Good luck!

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    “Japanese Job Hunting”, strange and unique.
    Understanding Japanese Working Culture and Environment
    Save Japan’s Economy: Increase the Female Workforce!