The following is a comprehensive guide I have created to help you understand the nitty-gritty details of job interviews in Japan. It covers details of the all-important handwritten resume, how you should look, as well as the ‘unspoken’ rules of Japanese interviews with regards to manners and expectations.
Please bear in mind that the application process and level of conservatism will differ from company to company. The guide I have written will cater up to the utmost conservative and business-like of Japanese companies.
Japan has a very unique way of recruiting people. Each year, when Japanese companies recruit new graduates, they recruit in bulk. And when I say bulk, I truly mean bulk.
It is normal for Japanese university students in their final year of their undergraduate degree to spend copious amounts of class time, free time and any time they’ve got attending job hunting seminars, reading through job directories, preparing their best keigo for interviews, participating in OB and OG* houmon (visits), attending job fairs and a lot of skipping class.
This is known as the gruelling 就職活動 (shuushoku-katsudou – job hunting/searching) period that comes straight after two to three years of undergraduate paradise. Suddenly everyone transforms from fun-spirited youngsters to totally 真面目な (majime-na – serious) adults of society adorning themselves with equally 真面目な King penguin colour themed business wear.
The metropolis of Tokyo is swamped with stores that specialise in job recruitment attire. Store attendants have the job hunting manual imprinted in their head and can recite to you all the details you need to know about interview attire.
Photo booths – no, not photo sticker (purikura) booths – that shoot out flattering passport photos are also easily accessible around Japan. Almost all train stations will have one just outside or nearby the ticket gates, allowing interviewees with a last-minute mindset (sounds like me) to take glossy passport photos.
Websites, online guides and job hunting forums posts inundate the Japanese Internet as well. Thousands of job seekers turn to the Internet to reaffirm themselves about the process of job hunting with other like-minded job seekers and Internet dwellers.
Landing a job in Japan can be an especially strenuous process that not many seem to enjoy. It can also be a tortuous journey, but at the same time you will undoubtedly learn something along the way.
* Old Boy (OB) or Old Girl (OG): Alumni of the same university as the job seeker who works at a specific company. Job-seekers visit their OBs or OGs. OBs and OGs offer their insights about their companies to the job seeker.
The Rirekisho (履歴書)
First and foremost, it is essential to equip yourself with a Japanese-style resume when applying for a position in a Japanese company. But please note that traditional Japanese resumes are very, very different compared to Western resumes!
In the West, job seekers can digitally format resumes according to their own preferences and tastes. However, Japanese resumes all follow a set standard format. You can actually purchase Japanese-style resume templates from stationery stores. Some supermarkets and convenience stores (if you’re up at 3am) also sell these templates. Many websites provide free resume templates. Just search for something like “履歴書テンプレ” (resume template).
Whilst photographs of the applicant’s face are not required in Western style resumes, it is considered a norm to include a photo of yourself in a Japanese resume. Position a Japanese passport sized photograph (35x45mm printed on photo paper) on the top right of the first page of you resume. In your photo you should be wearing something similar to what you will wear to their interview – formal business attire.
Most people in Japan handwrite their resumes in black pen. So if you’ve applied to ten companies, and have been offered interviews to all ten of these companies, you will need to handwrite ten separate resumes. As a foreigner, a typed resume shouldn’t disadvantage you or hinder your chances. However, a handwritten resume will distinguish you from everyone else – for the better. Your handwriting will give flair to your resume and yourself as a candidate.
A big, big plus is to have neat or neat-ish Japanese handwriting. I can also wholeheartedly guarantee you a foreigner with neat Japanese handwriting will impress the interviewer. In the parts where you have to write paragraphs about your 志望動機 (shibou-douki – motivations for applying) and 自己PR (jiko-PR – self intro/promotion), sentences should be written in polite/desumasu format (丁寧語 teineigo). Also write school names (including Western) in Japanese characters. For example, ‘Asia Options College’ would be written as アジア・オプションズ・カレッジ.
If you rarely handwrite Japanese characters and you are not confident with your skills, I suggest practising. Japanese companies consider handwriting as a highly valuable skill. It can really help boost your Japanese language skills too. Don’t forget to have your completed 履歴書 (rirekisho) checked for grammatical errors and any problems by a native Japanese speaker before submitting it.
A Perfect First Impression – Dress Code and Appearance
第一印象はとても大事だ。This is very, very important. I cannot stress this enough. Japan is, without a doubt, much more conservative and pedantic in terms of interview dress code than other countries. Thus, your appearance could make or break your success in a Japanese interview. You will need to pour effort into making your first impression a perfect first impression. Because again, it can make or break your chances.
When I had an interview for a part-time marketing position at one of Japan’s largest travel companies, my hair colour was a pumpkin orange with 3 centimetres of natural regrowth. The hairdo I was proudly wearing at that time was considered a definite no-no by the rulebooks of my company. During the interview, my interviewers even told me directly that I needed to consider re-dyeing my hair before I could enter the company.
My hair certainly did not align with the philosophy and values of the company. However, in spite of this, my resume impressed those assessing my application. Luckily the company still offered me a job.
Learning from this experience, while depending on the industry and company, I highly recommend that you don’t have whacky, unnatural hair (albeit you could perhaps get away with it like I did) in a Japanese interview.
Below are some appearance guidelines for looking like the perfect candidate in an interview:
- Natural colour is best.
- Don a neat hairdo! Ears should show, and hair should be clean.
- Men: Facial hair is considered uncouth in Japanese interviews 🙁
- Women: Neatly combed and tied back.
- Men: Business suit (single breasted blazer) and low-key tie – black is safest, but dark colours or grey will suffice. White bottom-up shirt tucked into trousers.
- Women: Business suit – blazer + trousers or skirt (with stockings) – again black is safest.
- Men: Formal black leather lace-ups. Try avoiding suede and patent leather styles. For an interview, avoid monk straps, chukka boots and loafers as well.
- Women: Black pumps, heels not too high. Try avoiding suede and patent leather styles.
- Avoid bombing your face with too much makeup, especially foundation that doesn’t match your normal skin tone.
- Keep makeup to a minimum, and try to accentuate that natural glow!
- Avoid using cologne and perfume.
Jewellery, Accessories and Tattoos
- Try to refrain from wearing bling/ostentatious jewellery and accessories.
- Women: It’s best to take out your piercings, including earrings (if not, be sure to have minimalistic ear studs)
- Men: Best to take out any visible piercings.
- Cover up all tattoos.
- Use a simple black, rectangular recruitment bag/case.
- Be sure to keep your documents (including your resume and note book) in an A4 clear plastic file folder.
- Prepare stationery – especially a black pen.
Unspoken Rules – Interview Etiquette
Made a resume, tick. Bought a brand new suit and pair of shoes, tick. Thought about a how to answer a volley of potential job interview questions by the employer…? Touched up your formal *cough* interview Japanese…?
Having already done various other things in preparation for the interview, many people get stumped at this point. And what in the world are these unspoken rules of a Japanese job interview that people keep mentioning?
Be sure to understand the process of an interview conducted by a Japanese company like clockwork. Do you have your keigo down pat? Do you know the names of those who will be in charge of interviewing you? And understand that good manners throughout the whole process is crucial to acing Japanese job interviews!
From the very moment you step into the lobby/reception area of the company’s office, you are being tested. When talking to the receptionist, or dialling a number through the reception phone, prepare your lines, Below is an example of what you could say:
「ほんじつ じゅういちじ から イノベーションじぎょうぶ の さいようめんせつ で おうかがいしました ツナともうします。おそれはいりますが、さいようたんとう の やまもとさま に とりつぎ いただけます でしょうか？」
* Applicable if you are applying for a fresh graduate position in a company with a corporate/office setting
Someone may escort you to another room to wait for your interview, or alternatively you may just have to wait in the lobby area. Regardless of where you wait, try to look as professional as possible. Good upright posture, hands on lap. Do not, PLEASE do not play on your phone or any other electronics while you’re waiting. You also shouldn’t rummage through documents and papers in your bag. Stay still, but not too still like a statue, and showcase how professional you are at being patient!
The Interview Room
Definitely refrain from barging into the interview room without knocking three times or anyone calling you in. Even when entering the room, be reserved and display your modesty by saying “失礼します”.
Never sit down in your seat until you have made your greetings with your interviewer(s). It isn’t very common to handshake in Japan, instead a bow will suffice. If the interviewer does offer his hand for a handshake, by all means make that handshake. Ensure that your posture is perfect with your hands on your lap and not on the table. Look attentive and eager. Smiling is better than looking sad or bored!
We’re in Business…
If your interviewer gives you their business card (名刺 meishi), study their name and position in the company. Once you are done, place the card in front of you on the table. Do not stuff it in your pocket or chuck it in your bag, because that is disrespectful and ignorant.
The interviewers will ask you for a self-introduction – usually they will say, “自己紹介をお願いします・じこしょうかい を おねがいします”. In your self introduction, don’t forget to introduce yourself (basic), your work history, projects, interests and hobbies.
Leaving the Interview
The examination doesn’t finish after your interview finishes with your interviewers. They are still testing you and assessing your body language and behaviour as you leave. As important as first impressions are, the last impression makes an even more significant impact on the people interviewing you. Remember to bow after you step up from the chair and push the chair back under the table.
Honorific Language and Respect
When referring to someone, always add an honorific to their name (e.g. “田中さん” – Tanaka-san). This is to avoid being outright rude and to display respect. If you land the job that person could very well be your boss! You should be polite in your speech and again stick with desumasu form.
After the Interview
After the interview, whether it was good or a complete utter mess, the key is to follow up. It is customary in Japan to send a message/e-mail of gratitude to thank your interviewers for their time. Remember to use business Japanese (honorific language) in your message and properly format the message/e-mail to stay professional.
That’s it! The company may call you in for another or even more interviews depending on the process. Remember to learn from each experience you get. Best of luck job hunting in Japan!
Want more great tips for working, studying and living in Japan? Check out Japan Options before you go!
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