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Finding a Job in Japan

Screening and Job Interviews

The Screening Process

Just like the job search itself, the screening process for mid-career candidates is quite simple. You apply to a position by sending your documents, and if the company is interested in you, they will contact you and arrange a job interview.

For fresh graduates, the screening process tends to be longer. Most candidates have to go through/pass the following steps (depending on the company you apply to, some of them may be skipped):

  1. Company seminars
  2. Document screening
  3. Aptitude tests and other “homework”
  4. Job interviews (2-4)

Below, you can find a detailed explanation of each step.

Company Seminars

Company seminars (説明会 setsumeikai) are short events (1-2 hours) where groups of applicants are introduced to the company’s structure, services and products, history, and other points. In addition of giving applications a well-rounded overview of the company, it’s also an opportunity to clear up questions and gauge the attendee’s interest levels.

Seminars are arranged based on individual contacts through a company’s recruitment page, or as a standard part of bigger events (e.g. job fairs).

Usually, these company seminars are open to everyone and attending them doesn’t require much paperwork, if at all. Applicants only hand in their formal application in the form of a CV after the event.

If you’ve already attended a seminar (at a job fair, for example), you might have to attend another one at the company before you can move on to the other steps. Sometimes, there are multiple seminars featuring different speakers or topics, and some of them might be optional. If your interest level in the company is high, you should attend all of them if possible.

Document Screening

After the company seminar, applicants send their CVs to the company. Japanese CVs follow a unique template, being somewhat of a mix of a “western-style” CV and cover letter. You can find the Japan Industrial Standard template here (first item on the list).

A typical Japanese CV contains the following elements:

  • Basic information
    • Name
    • Gender*
    • Age/birthday
    • Address
    • Phone number and other contact info
    • Photograph
    • Family structure (spouse/no spouse, dependents)*
  • Education and work experience
  • Qualifications and permits
  • Additional information
    • Reason for application (志望動機 shibo douki)
    • Strengths (自己PR jiko pr)
    • Hobbies
    • Special abilities (not directly related to work)

*As of July 2020, the Japan Industrial Standard template doesn’t contain these items anymore.

Most of the elements are self-explanatory. Fill in education and work experience in chronological order, starting with the point that’s furthest in the past. Mid-career applicants usually start with the high school they graduated from, whereas fresh university graduates start with their middle school.

The information that makes up the contents of a cover letter outside of Japan is compartmentalized into different sections. When filling these parts in, make sure to not go off topic, and keep your sentences short and precise.

The overall length of the texts for the “reason of application” and “strengths” paragraph should be around 200 to 300 characters. Aside from education and work experience, these two items are the most important part of your Japanese CV, so make sure to think them through and choose your words well.

For hobbies and special abilities (think sign language or being able to speak foreign languages), listing only a few items is sufficient. They don’t have to be directly relevant to the position you’re applying to, as they’re also used as tools to gain insight into the applicant’s personality.

After sending your CV per e-mail or post, the company has a look at the documents. If you pass this stage, they will directly contact you with more information about the next step.

Aptitude Tests and other “Homework”

This step is very common in the screening process for fresh graduates. In most cases, applicants take a general-purpose aptitude test. There are a lot of different test formats – most companies use one from the list below.

  • SPI (Synthetic Personality Inventory)
  • GAB
  • CAB
  • Tamatebako (玉手箱)

While there are small differences between them, all of these tests consist of roughly three sections testing for Japanese skills, basic math/logic, and personality. The tests are timed, falling between one and one and a half hour depending on where you take them (online/at home or at a test center; online test are shorter).

The aptitude tests listed above are all-Japanese, with no English versions available. Thus, for foreign applicants, being able to take these tests in the first place is a considerable hurdle in and of itself.

However, most aptitude tests only function as a guideline for applicant selection. Depending on where you score right, you might still “pass” even if your overall result was bad. For example, a company searching for technical IT staff might overlook bad results in the Japanese section of the test as long as the math/logic and personality sections make the candidate look promising.

Aside from standard aptitude tests, companies sometimes add more steps to this stage of screening. Examples include “homework assignments” (e.g. completing a new portfolio piece), typing tests, tests for technical vocabulary, etc.

For mid-career graduates this stage of screening is often omitted. However, it’s also not completely out of the question. For example, a tech company searching for software developers may ask for coding/development demonstrations.

Job Interviews

In Japan, it’s common for candidates to go through between 2 to 4 rounds of interviews. Being invited to a second or third interview usually means that your chances of being hired are quite high.

Each interview tends to feature a different representative of the company. For example, it’s common for the first interview to be with an HR person, and the last interview with a manager or even the CEO.

Typical questions are mostly the same as in other countries. For fresh graduates without a lot of work experience or skills relevant to the job, interviewers focus on personality and whether the applicant shows the will to make up for their lack of ability with studiousness and hard work.

Questions specifically aimed at non-Japanese nationals include the following:

  • How did you become interested in Japan?
  • Why do you want to work in Japan (instead of your home country)?
  • How long do you plan to stay in Japan?
  • Are you confident that you will be able to adapt to Japanese work and business culture?
  • Are you willing to study Japanese (if the applicant is a beginner or intermediate speaker)?

Just like every other interview question, you should give truthful answers. However, be keep in mind that your answers do influence your chances of being hired. For example, mentioning anime and other (pop) culture as your sole reason for wanting to live in Japan, or saying that you only plan to stay for 2-3 years is likely to raise some red flags.

Group Interviews and Group Discussions

Group interviews and discussions are a subgroup of a typical job interview. As the name implies, multiple applicants are assessed at once (in most cases, there are also multiple company representatives present).

In group interviews, applicants are taken through the typical interview routine, but one after another in a much shorter time span. Keep your answers short and to the point, prevent drifting off, and stay confident even if other candidates seem like they have much higher skills or a better educational background. Don’t compare yourself to others and focus on your skills.

Group discussions come in different shapes and sizes. For example, you might be asked to have a simple discussion, convince others of a position in a debate, or solve a problem. To have the discussion go well, it’s important to:

  • Get fundamental issues out of the way first (ex. define a goal and the exact topic of the discussion)
  • Have a schedule/plan and keep to it
  • Don’t try to take the spotlight all for yourself (assume a role and keep to it; listen to others and use their input for the benefit of the group)

Dress Code for Job Interviews

The standard attire for job interviews in Japan is as following:

  • Men:
    • Simple suit (black, dark gray or navy) with matching pants/trousers
    • Dress shirt (white is most common; light shades of other colors or simple patterns are fine acceptable too)
    • Tie (no garish or eccentric patterns; single colors or simple patters are best)
    • Formal shoes (black or brown)
    • Shaved face (or neatly trimmed beard)
    • Short hair*
  • Women:
    • Simple suit (black, dark gray, navy) with either matching pants/trousers or a skirt covering the knees
    • Shirt (white or light shades of other colors
    • Pumps with heels* (not higher than 5cm)
    • Neat, understated makeup (natural look)
    • Short hair or long hair in a ponytail

*If you have long hair (or a very voluminous beard) as a man or don’t want to wear heels as a woman, it’s best to contact the company in advance and ask about these things.

For fresh graduates, Japanese formalwear retailers sell simple, uniform suits called “recruit suits” (リクルートスーツ). Many Japanese students opt for this standard option to not stick out too much. Also, recruit suits are sometimes specifically listed as dress code requirements for job hunting events.

In most cases, wearing your own suit is fine as long as you stick to the guidelines above. If you’re brought your own clothes from abroad and are unsure about whether it’s OK to wear them, check with the company beforehand.

While suits are the default, they’re not the only option for job hunters. Some companies even request applicants to specifically not show up in suits (typically in the creative, IT and fashion-related industries). Always make sure to carefully check the detailed info the company sends you and ask if necessary.

Other dress code options include:

  • Personal clothes acceptable (私服可 shifuku ka or 普段着可 fudangi ka): The majority of applicants will wear suits, but not wearing a suit is not a big strike against you.
  • Free choice (服装自由 fukusou jiyuu): No suits required. Wear whatever you want, as long as it feels acceptable for the occasion. Business casual is the safest choice.
  • Everyday clothing (普段着 fudangi) or clothing that shows personality (自分らしい服装 jibun-rashii fukusou): Similar to the option above. When a company specifically asks you to wear your own clothing, choosing a recruit suit or other types of “stock attire” can leave a negative impression.