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Job searching in Japan

This entry was posted by on Saturday, 5 November, 2005 at

Well, as I promised in an earlier post, I will try to tell you a little bit about my experiences in searching for work in Japan, and perhaps give a few pointers to anyone who is interested. (Warning: Very long)

Basically, if you’re looking for a professional career in Japan there are a few choices, and also a few things that are pretty much beyond your control. First of all, I will not talk about how to become a traditional “ex-patriate,” i.e. sent out by a company in your home country to Japan for a limited time. Personally I am locally employed and have basically the same type of employment contract as any Japanese. Whereas your choices as a non-native Japanese might be limited, a company will probably be more interested in hiring you on a local basis compared with ex-pat basis due to the lower cost incurred.

How good is your Japanese? If it’s anything but “Very Good” to “Native level” than your choices immediately slim down to English teacher and….yeah… that’s about it, unless you are considering a “career” in being a hostess. Maybe I’m being overly harsh here, but in my experience, the only foreigners in the Japanese society who DON’T know Japanese are either ex-pat contracted personnel, English teachers and hostesses. Everyone else will have to know quite good Japanese for them to be competitive and qualify for “real” jobs. (No offence to all English teachers out there!!)

If you have any way of securing a job *before* going to Japan that is a great plus, since it’s hard to be in Japan with no job. Naturally, having a job before you arrive in Japan can be hard, unless you fall into the ex-pat or English teacher categories (JET programs etc.) so chances are you will be in Japan searching for a job while living officially as a student or something like that. Living costs being as high as they are, naturally this is a process that you’d want to short down to a minimum!

Personally, I have been in a job-searching position twice since I came to Japan in 2003 (before that I was only here on holiday or as a student). When I first arrived, I thought getting a job in Japan with my qualifications would be easy – but I soon found out it was far from a walk in the park! All jobs I found required “fluent” to “native” Japanese level (my Japanese was a bit rusty at the time) and having no prior work experience in Japan also didn’t do my case any good. Thankfully, through my family I knew a lot of people, who got me a few interviews, and finally, after two months I found a job working in a Swedish company. The company was active in an industry I had no interest in or knowledge about, but I couldn’t be picky so I took it.

The second time I was job searching was this summer/fall, when I was still employed – so the need to quickly find a new job was less immediate, but still stressful. This time around I was much better prepared! I prepared a traditional Japanese “work history” document which is often submitted together with a resume, detailing prior job experiences, I contacted two recruitment firms who I let search for jobs for me, and in the meantime I searched the various Japanese job-sites on the Internet. FInally, one of the two placement firms I had been in contact with managed to get me an interview with a highly interesting company, and after a few interviews the job was mine!

So, in summation, if you are going to be looking for a job in Japan, here are a few pointers:

* Study Japanese! In my experience, anything less than fluent (at least speaking) will count as a big negative in interviews. Often your Japanese will be tested by either having the interview in Japanese, or, if the interviewer is foreign, by bringing in a Japanese colleague to have a short conversation.

* If you’re not desperate for full time work, a good place to start is temp agencies. There are many temp agencies that will hire specialists for various tasks, ranging from secretarial work to IT-implementations.

* Use a recruitment company. Many of the good jobs go to professional recruiters only, and going thorugh one of these agencies is the only was to get to them. They will also do the actual job applying for you, so it’s also helpful in that aspect.

* Think twice before applying to a Japanese company. If your Japanese is not excellent, and you possess some unique skills, there is no reason for them to employ a foreigner. And a Japanese company WILL hire a native Japanese over a foreigner everytime unless you have something really special up your sleeve.

* Foreign companies in Japan is usually your best bet – often there will already be foreigners at the company, so they have showed that they are not totally against hiring foreigners. Further, if the official language within the company is anything else than Japanese, it will make your life much easier!

* Proper documents are a must, you should prepare a Japanese resume (履歴書), an English resume, and a Japanese work-history (職務経歴書). The English one can be written basically any way you want, but the Japanese ones follow rather strict guidelines. You can by templates in bookstores, or download Word/Excel ones from the Internet.

OK, I think that’s about it for now. If you have any questions, just leave it in the comment section. I will probably do a follow up post with some useful links in a few days, too.

3 Responses to “Job searching in Japan”

  1. Aegd

    Pretty much what I figured you were going to say. It’s a harsh reality. 🙂

    I’m thinking of taking the Cambridge certificate, and then the CERTYL certicate. Only problem is, I don’t really know if they would be of any help when applying for a teacher job in Japan. Would the Japanese still prefer a “native” speaker over someone with english as a secondary language?

  2. Johan

    Good point, I forgot about the aspect of “native” vs “non-native” as it applies to English teachers.

    Almost every ad you see for English Language Teachers will have “native English speakers only” in it. However, I have never gone that route myself, so I don’t know how strict they are. If you have enough documented knowledge to back up your claims, then I guess you should be OK (maybe not in all cases – some companies will probably reject you flat out if you’re not a native speaker, no matter how good your English is).


  1. Lost in Japan » Blog Archive » Job searching in Japan Part 2