I used to think I would work for a traditional Japanese company in Japan. After six months of job hunting, my fiancé (Japanese) got an excellent job with a high-end pharmaceutical company.
Not only is the pay pretty good, but the benefits are, well, beneficial enough to easily support two people. Most companies in Japan still operate under the “Lifetime Employment” idea (even though in recent years it has been changing).
After supporting him through thick and thin, through moving onto the next stage of interviews and flat out rejection, I was excited about the prospect of starting my own job hunting. I had watched my friends slowly “figure it out,” and then share that little nugget of knowledge that makes all the difference in job hunting.
The Tokyo Career Forum was supposed to be my saving grace. The Tokyo Career Forum is a bilingual career forum in Tokyo that specifically caters to companies who want to hire graduates who speak English and Japanese.
Companies will list their language requirements on the website. Each language has four options: Conversational, limited working, business, native. With English native abilities and limited working Japanese abilities, I was somewhat confident I would walk away with a job.
But I didn’t.
Instead I walked away with the realization I never wanted to work for a traditional Japanese company – at least not through the typical post-graduation job hunting.
Let me explain. In Japan, most companies choose to hire recent graduates over older, more experienced candidates. Most (but not all) will travel to different colleges, give a sort of “lecture” of sorts, and then recruit students. The lucky students will get a promise of employment a year or so before they even graduate in March. The less fortunate people (like my fiancé) who go to a college with a June graduation have to seek employment that hires them from the following April (and just wait 10 months until the start working).
I graduate in December; with the Tokyo Career Forum, I could start work the following April (or October).
So I printed out my resume, threw on my fiancé’s sister’s job hunting suit, grabbed a job hunting bag, and headed off to the Tokyo Career Forum, ready to score a job.
A lot happened at the Tokyo Career Forum. There were a couple turning points.
Japanese Job Hunting has less to do with individuality and more to do with how well you can play the system.
Rather than the American system of a ‘hundred people dropping resumes off at a booth, and maybe twenty of them get interviews’ – Japan is more like ‘fifty people stop by the booth, all sign up for interviews, listen to the company presentation, go to their interview, and hear back from the company later.’
While the Japanese system favors people who don’t necessarily have a mountain of job experience (or any), it can also be a huge waste of time. At the Tokyo Career Forum, on multiple occasions, I was pressured or scheduled for an interview (either that day or a week in the future) before I had any information about the company.
I found it immensely frustrating.
Other people found it very liberating – if you play your cards right, you can get a job after both days of the Tokyo Career Forum.
[Edit – my fiance eventually turned into my husband. Which is awesome. He did a wonderful job of playing his cards right and securing what was – by most standards – an excellent job here in Tokyo. He also absolutely hated it. Which was not awesome. So he quit. Now we’re both self-employed, living here in Japan. We like it much better]
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