It’s been a little over a year since I first left my comfy little home in Hawaii and moved out to the bustling city life in Tokyo to work at a Japanese company. I can honestly say that during this past year, I’ve experienced some extreme highs and lows as I navigate life in this crazy foreign land. The one thing that makes my life easier is knowing I have great friends over here to keep me company and go on other unexpected adventures with me. Surprisingly, I have a decent number of friends from back home who’ve made the trek to start their professional careers in Japan as well! …which is great since we can all get together over beers to lament over our difficulties of working for Japanese companies, haha! That being said, I’m sure there are quite a few people abroad who are interested in living in Japan, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I learned about the job-hunting process here as I’ve been on both the job-hunting and the recruiting side now…and what I wish someone would’ve told be a year ago! Job-hunting can be by far one of most daunting and stressful experiences in one’s life. Whether you’re fresh out of college or thinking about a career change, finding a job can take an incredible amount of effort and time, especially in a foreign country.
In Japan, for college students, job-hunting or shuukatsu marks a huge change in their life. Students face immense pressure to find the “perfect” job before they graduate, since their first job will most likely define and influence their entire professional life. This is because career-changes, although more common in recent decades, are still relatively new to Japan. “Life-time employment”, “company loyalty”, and “promotion based on seniority” are still three very prominent ideologies embedded within Japanese corporate society. For many salarymen, their life revolves around their company, and “work-life balance” or placing oneself before the company’s needs is pretty much unheard of.
Japanese university students take shuukatsu very seriously and start job-hunting in the beginning of their 3rd year of college. They purchase their shuukatsu suits, dye their hair black, attend company seminars, cram for the company entrance exams, and practice their interview questions and their Jiko PR (essentially an introduction aimed at selling yourself and showing your marketable and good talents to the company). Some companies even require prospective candidates to work on a trial as a part of their interview process. As this one of the most crucial points in their life, it’s not uncommon for students to apply to dozens of companies during this period. If students are lucky, they may receive an informal offer at the beginning of their senior year, and then officially receive a formal offer when they graduate.
Now then, what about foreigners? How difficult is it to get a job in Japan as a foreigner, especially if you don’t have a visa? While we do not necessarily have to go through the same arduous process as Japanese students, I have learned that it can be quite difficult for foreigners to establish a professional career in Japan without the proper skill sets. While I may not have all the information regarding job-hunting in Japan, I thought I’d share my musings and observations based off of both my own as well as many of my friends’ experiences.
1.Speaking Japanese will only get you so far, so don’t be too reliant on it. While having Japanese language ability can be incredibly beneficial when working in Japan, it won’t necessarily land you the job… so it may be best to rethink that major in Japanese (a minor or double major will look great on your resume though)! Unless you are applying for a translation job, trying to get a job solely off of your Japanese language skills/bilingual ability can be quite difficult. This is due to the increasing number of Japanese people that can speak English. Most Japanese have a basic understanding of English, and within the past few decades, students are taking their English studies more seriously. Many students choose to go abroad to during their college years to improve their English skills, and most companies test for English ability in their company examinations.
Unless your industry calls specifically for fluent/perfect English speaking ability, most Japanese corporations will be simply satisfied with Japanese workers who can speak business level English, and have no need for foreigners with native English. Thus if your only skill set is Japanese, the company is more likely to choose a Japanese candidate with English skills as opposed to a foreigner with Japanese skills. It’s generally less of a hassle for the company to hire a Japanese national rather than a foreigner. That way the company doesn’t have to worry about visa issues, housing issues, or their foreign employee fitting into Japanese company culture (as it is a rather strict and unforgiving environment). Hiring a Japanese person who can speak English is usually more attractive to the company.
That being said, there are of course some jobs that do not require any Japanese at all, and I will touch on that a bit later in this article❤︎
2. Teaching jobs can be easily obtained. Generally, there are three types of teaching jobs in Japan.
The first is an ALT (or an assistant language teacher). An ALT is an assistant language teacher who teaches in Japanese public schools. This is perhaps the easiest job to get as it doesn’t necessarily require any teaching experience/credentials or require you to be a native English speaker. While the position says “assistant teacher,” please note the ALTs’ role may vary depending on the school they teach at. Some ALTs are expected to run the class entirely by themselves with the Japanese teacher taking a supporting role during class, and some ALTs are expected to just follow the instructions of the Japanese teacher. The ALT position is also generally a low paying position unless you are working for JET. Depending on the city, some ALTs are paid daily, getting no summer vacation, holiday, or winter vacation pay. ALT salaries usually range from ($1,800-$2,500 per month). Please note that many ALT companies do not offer free-housing, health insurance, and expect you to finance your flight to Japan. Also, the competition to secure a full-time position within the Kanto area, especially Tokyo, is very tough and successful candidates will usually have some teaching experience or other credentials.
The second is an english instructor at an Eikaiwa or English conversation school. Eikaiwa teachers generally get paid more than ALTs (with some companies offering subsidized housing/bonuses). That being said, a higher level of English skill is usually required for working at English conversation schools, and most schools only accepting native English speakers. There are generally two different types of schedules Eikaiwa instructors can have. The first is very flexible, where instructors are able to schedule lessons around their availability, and are paid per lesson (usually from $20-40 per lesson). The second one is more unforgiving, where the instructors have a set schedule (the typical 9-hour work day, with one hour lunch break), and are paid per month (around $2,700 or above). While English instructors do tend to receive a higher salary than ALTs, they also have less free time due to longer working hours. English instructors will normally end work usually around 9/10PM, and they may also work weekends, since most of their customers attend school or work during the day.
The third is a teaching job at an international school/university. These jobs tend to be the most coveted jobs as teachers working at international schools receive the highest salaries and the best benefits. International school teachers can earn as much as $100,000 or more per year. However, they also require the most qualifications. As an international school teacher, you probably won’t be teaching English, but rather you’ll be teaching a particular subject in English. Therefore, most schools/universities will require candidates to have a degree in the subject they will be teaching or hold a teaching license in their home country. Of course, extensive teaching experience is one of the usual requirements.
☆Note☆: Having citizenship from America, South Africa, the UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand also up your chances if you are looking to become an ALT. Unless you have some other visa such as a long-term, spousal, or permanent resident visa, the company will have to sponsor an instructor visa for ALTs, and the Japanese Immigration usually can process visas faster if you are from one of the above countries. This does not apply to English instructors at English conversation or private schools as they require a Humanities visa.
3. Gaishikei or foreign companies in Japan tend to recruit more foreigners, so it doesn’t hurt to apply! If you have a specific skill set or a background in finance, accounting, IT, or recruiting, your best bet may be to apply to a foreign company in Japan. Foreign companies in Japan tend to have a good mix of both international and Japanese staff. Japanese language skills may or may not be requirement depending on your skill set. If you have desirable skills and qualifications that the company wants, your Japanese skills may be completely irrelevant, and the company could be willing to hire solely based on your credentials. This was the case for a guy I knew who worked at Google Japan. He had no Japanese language ability, but he had a very strong financial and IT background that landed him the job. This of course is largely dependent on the company as well as your own skill set. Larger companies or companies with a highly internationalized environment such as Google, Goldman Sachs, etc., may not demand a high-level of Japanese ability from their employees if they have the appropriate qualifications. On the other hand, I had another friend who had a strong education in finance with no work experience and was ultimately rejected from Accenture due to his lack of Japanese ability. While my friend could watch the news and read the newspaper, he could not prepare financial statements in Japanese, and without any valuable work experience or skills in finance, the company could not offer him a position.
☆Note☆: Japanese recruiters pay close attention to your alma mater and your certifications. Having brand name schools such Standford, Berkeley, or any of the Ivy League schools on your resume will definitely help get your foot in the door. Having a certification such as a CPA or a higher degree such as an MBA or law degree will also be very attractive to Japanese companies.
4. If you are applying to a Japanese company, know that company’s current climate. This goes without saying, but it’s beneficial to know whether the Japanese companies you will be applying for are looking to hire foreigners. If they are aiming towards global expansion or have already established themselves as an international company, then they will be more willing to recruit foreigners. For example, companies such as Rakuten or Uniqlo have drastically increased the amount of international employees in their company within the past decade due to their rapid internationalization and globalization of the company. Many of my friends who work at Rakuten have little to no Japanese skill, but they do come from strong educational backgrounds; the company actually provides its employees with Japanese lessons. If the company you are applying to is not looking to expand globally or is not as internationalized, please don’t be too surprised if you find that it’s harder for foreigners to be accepted. Essentially, you will be on the same level and competing with all of the other Japanese candidates, thus Japanese skills are a must-have. You will be expected to submit your resume in Japanese, take the company entrance examination in Japanese, and of course interview in Japanese. If your Japanese level is near native, then your English skills will probably work in advantage in this case; however, if you Japanese level is intermediate/beginner, your English skills may not cut it.
5. If you have Japanese language ability, the Boston Career Forum may be right for you! The Career Forum is hosted every year by Disco, a large Japanese recruiting company, and they hold recruiting events in all different parts of the globe such as London, Tokyo, San Francisco, L.A., Sydney, etc. The most notable is the Boston Career Forum, which is usually held in November. Many Japanese and foreign companies attend the Forum to specifically recruit bilingual candidates. I want to note; however, that most companies come to the Career Forum to recruit Japanese nationals who are currently studying abroad or working in the United States, so it isn’t really geared towards foreigners. Many of the companies will have native level Japanese and business level English requirements. There are of course few exceptions to this and there are a handful of companies that require conversational or business level Japanese. Most Japanese people that attend this event are bilingual and have experience living in both America and Japan, so please note that competition is quite fierce.
☆Preparation for Boston Career Forum☆: I recommend applying to companies ahead of time via the career forum website. The Boston Career Forum is only 3-days, so many companies don’t actually accept walk-ins. Companies will usually set up phone/Skype interviews after you submit your application online. The interviews may either be in English, Japanese or both; it depends on your interviewer, and you may also have to take an online test (in Japanese). If you are able to make it pass all of the initial stages, they will usually schedule you for an in person interview at the Boston Career Forum. Depending on the company, you may have anywhere from 2-9 interviews; most of the larger financial institutions have longer interview processes. If they don’t finish your interview process at the Career Forum, they may also reschedule your final interviews over Skype. Most times, however, the hiring process is incredible fast at the Forum. You may interview 2-5 times and then receive a final offer that weekend. In my case, I interviewed on Friday and the interviewer told me right after that I had passed. We scheduled a final interview for Saturday and I received a formal offer right after the interview.
♥︎Another thing to note is that many companies will host dinners at night for those who have passed at least the first round of interviews or are expected to interview. Please try to go and mingle at these dinners if possible. The interviewers are trying to feel you out and see what kind of person you are in a private setting, so it’s best to be friendly and engaging.
6. Job-hunting Academies are also an option (provided you already live in Japan). For those who are currently studying abroad in Japan and speak Japanese, it may be helpful to take lessons specifically centered on job-hunting. There are academies our there that will guide and counsel students through the job-hunting process, whether it be how to interview or how study for a particular company’s entrance examination.
Please note this list is not extensive. There are plenty of other ways to secure a job in Japan, but I just wanted to share the ways that I feel are the most common. If you are starting the job-hunting process, please don’t feel too overwhelmed. Employing foreigners has become more attractive to companies in Japan within the past decade, so try to cease the opportunity! Working in a foreign country definitely has its own special set of pros and cons but the experience can be invaluable~♥︎