Job interviews are a complicated matter on their own; add to that experience certain Japanese business etiquettes and you may have a disaster waiting to happen but only if you are not prepared. In this particular instance, understanding the criteria that the interviewers focus on, regardless of the questions, is key in order to convey a strong impression of yourself. This article is aimed at those that are new to job interviews in Japan or those who are tired of hearing the disappointing “zannen nagara” (the polite expression used prior to conveying a negative message).
Please note, the following recommendations are based on my personal experience, feedback from interviews, and coaching sessions.
“Well done! You cleared the first screening phases of your future job. Get ready for the real deal!” Making it to any interview after submitting resumes and examinations is a big deal. So, CONGRATULATE yourself! You deserve it!
Now let’s get ready, it’s time to consider the following points to nail that interview:
- Re-study your resume and application reasons
- Prepare general and specific questions of the company
- Practice entering and leaving the room
- Make your self-introduction sound natural
- Understand your strengths, weaknesses, and potential in the target company
Now that we have a better picture on what to focus on, let me illustrate each point thoroughly.
The logic behind re-studying the resume is to have in the back of your mind what your interviewers are “seeing” about you. In this way, it will be easier to pinpoint what areas of your resume will be asked. Moreover, you can prepare stories from previous experiences that reflect your skills, background, aspirations, etc. and provide reasoning as to why you applied in the first place.
Japanese interviewers will be looking for that connection of your background and the company they represent. In that sense, you will be placing yourself ahead of the game by providing them the answer as to “why they need you”.
One of the main points interviewers actively look for is to know if the applicants are knowledgeable of their company (or group); but above this if they are interested in their business, products, culture and people.
I believe this is one of the main differences from other interviews I’ve experienced in other countries in which applicants are expected to inquire or appeal to a “job”; in Japanese interviews, you should appeal to the group. At least, the first interview should always be about the company.
By preparing company-centered questions, you demonstrate knowledge and interest of belonging to the company. At the same time, you might score some points with your interviewers. I recommend asking about job-centered questions for the following round of interviews, given that division managers are likely to be present there.
For a long time, I thought this point to be a silly one until I understood how rude I looked when entering and leaving an interview room. Remember that through your behavior you also convey an understanding of Japanese business manners.
What you want to practice and get right are the following steps when entering the interview room:
- Knock on the door three times and say “shitsurei shimasu” (excuse me)
- Wait until you get told “douzo” (please, enter)
- Enter the room, close the door behind you, then face the interviewers again saying, “shitsurei shimasu” while bowing.
- Remain standing until you get invited to take a seat, walk your way to the chair but don’t sit yet. Before sitting down be sure to give your name first and end by saying “Douzo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” (pleasure to meet you) while bowing.
- Sit down making sure you keep a straight posture and are not leaning too much to the back of the seat.
Leaving the interview room has its own procedures as well, make sure to get the following right:
- If you took out writing materials to take notes, be sure to pack them back in a calm and orderly fashion.
- Stand up from your seat and place yourself to its side facing the interviewers and say “Doumo arigatou gozaimashita” (thank you very much) while bowing
- Walk towards the door, open the door then turn around to face the interviewers once again and say “shitsurei shimashita” (Thank you, sorry for the trouble) while bowing
- Pass through the door and close the door while bowing one last time.
If you master these procedures, you’ll definitely convey the impression that you understand the complex Japanese business etiquettes and procedures. Practice like a robot until you get it naturally
I can’t stress enough how important this point is: regardless of your Japanese level, interviewers expect you to say this right. The self-introduction is the only part of the interviews that is constant, so be sure to polish your Japanese when “reciting” this.
Be consistent and to the point about yourself. Try to always talk about your latest experiences (educational and professional) and incorporate a brief description of what you did. Also, one other thing you want to consider is to show case skills relevant to the job you are applying to. Lastly, when you talk about your hobbies (and you should talk about them) be sure to showcase the reasons why you like them and what you learned from them.
The main point is to provide some direction to the interviewers on what to focus on about you during the interview. In the end, you need to show that you are a “human being” with a good balance of professional-private life who has likes and aspirations.
Understanding how your strengths and weaknesses fit in the target company is key: if you don’t believe it and visualize this, others won’t. Take some time to review your notes of the prospect company and yourself and come up with the answers to “why do they need me?” and the “this is what I currently can offer you”.
By comprehending your “weaknesses”, try to come up with a realistic way to involve the target company or job. Be sure that at some stage you will be asked this question, so prepare in advance to show case a “win-win” solution to your weak spots.
There is absolutely no “one-perfect-formula” on how to nail interviews in general. However, by preparing in advance and polishing your Japanese business manners you can increase the odds. In my opinion, interviews are a very subjective matter given that they involve charisma, intuition, and first impressions.
In the end, the name of the game is “ganbarimasu, keep trying”; and be prepared to face rejection many times until you find that one job that was waiting for someone like you. For every door that closes, if you followed my advice, you’ll see how your understanding of Japanese interviews grows and grows… And hopefully, you’ll receive that email you’ve been waiting for.
Keep it up, and all the best!