Foreigner Job Hunting Problems in Japan: Lessons I learned from the Tokyo Career Forum

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).

foreigner interviewing texan Tokyo Japan

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.

Japanese job hunting Tokyo Career Forum 2013 suits

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.

Job Hunting white foreigner Japan Tokyo

A lot happened at the Tokyo Career Forum. There were a couple turning points.

Bottom Line:

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.’

The site that greeted me when I got the Tokyo Career Forum, 40 minutes before it opened

The site that greeted me when I got the Tokyo Career Forum, 40 minutes before it opened

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]

Japanese job hunting Tokyo Career Forum 2013 suits

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

5 Comments on Foreigner Job Hunting Problems in Japan: Lessons I learned from the Tokyo Career Forum

  1. The problem with such “games” is that you are only as good as the pieces in the game. Most likely a pawn, if you’re “lucky” a knight or a queen; but still just pieces in a game.

    • I think nearly every college graduate that is job hunting in Japan is a pawn. Internships and foreign language ability only distinguish the candidate so far – the rest is up to entry sheets, online exams, and “group interviews.” I am amazed by people who are able to play the game; I’m not. It’s a little bit degrading (but then again, so is most entry-level job hunting)

  2. Anonymous // 16 July, 2013 at 9:46 am //

    Your observation is right. It’s a game. If you play your cards right, you can win. Many people complain that Japanese job hunting system is not reasonable. However, if you know the rule of the game, it’s fair and easy to win.

    • I think that’s one of the ‘truest’ thing I’ve heard someone say about job hunting.

      I don’t know the rules of job hunting in Japan (I’m learning, but no where close enough), so naturally it’s frustrating. It’s really just a game.

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