Applying for a job is always stressful.
We’ve all been there. No matter what industry you’re in, bringing your A-game to an interview is paramount. And preparing for a meeting where you’re expected to prove yourself isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of fun.
Now, imagine that you’re in a completely different country and culture. While basics are the same, cultural differences can affect how potential employers see you.
Luckily, knowing how to answer some classic questions can help you out.
In this post, I’ll give tips on answering some of the most frequently asked questions in Japanese job interviews. I’ll also explain some things you should be careful about in a job interview.
Tips for Interviewing in Japan
Let’s start by covering some basic topics, and then I'll get on with the most frequently asked interview questions. Let’s start with your attire.
In Japan, job interviews can feel quite formal, especially if you’re working in an industry where you’re not used to dress codes. However, you should always err on the side of dressing nicely. And that goes for every industry.
But the right attire depends on the type of company and the position.
For international tech companies and modern Japanese startups like Mercari or SmartNews, you probably won’t need to wear a suit. It’s not necessarily a problem if you do, but you may feel a bit out of place.
This is especially true if you’re interviewing for a software engineer, product manager, or other tech-focused role. No one in these roles wears suits. So for these types of companies (like most of the ones listed on Japan Dev) you’ll want to wear a business casual outfit such as a collared shirt and nice slacks.
However, things may be different for customer-facing positions like sales. You may want to do research for the specific company where you’re applying, but often a business suit will be a better bet for them, even at international companies.
Outside of this segment of modern companies, Japanese people are conservative when it comes to work attire. It may sound a bit dated, but it’s not appropriate to dress “too flashy”.
Honestly, this just means wearing something that looks simple and boring. For more traditional Japanese companies, you can’t go wrong with a simple gray or navy suit.
That goes for all genders. If you don’t want negative attention, show up in a nice suit, with a shaved face, and tidy hair.
Also, keep in mind that there’s pretty much no chance of “positive attention” when it comes to what you wear. There’s only doing what’s right. From there, you’ll have to impress with your skills, education, and brains.
Oh, and your manners.
Manners help you avoid being unintentionally rude in a job interview.
This also depends on the type of company: international companies like the ones on Japan Dev won’t be as strict. But it’s still helpful to know the cultural norms so you avoid making the wrong impression.
At some companies in Japan, people care a great deal about manners, so you should try your best to come off as polite and conscious. When you arrive at an interview, introduce yourself to the receptionist and wait until you’re told to enter.
When you knock on the door to enter the room, if the interview is in Japanese you’re expected to say 失礼します (Shitsurei shimasu) which means “Please excuse the interruption.”
But don’t just knock and barge right in. You need to wait for the person to say どうぞ (Douzo) which means “Please, come in.”
Once you’re in, you should apologize for interrupting once more while facing the people in the room and sit down when you’re told to.
Don’t forget that sitting in a relaxed position is considered rude in this context. Try to sit upright, don’t lean back, and hold this position until the interview ends.
Oh, and saying “thank you” is a big thing in Japan. I wrote about all the ways you can say thank you in Japanese in detail in another post. Read up on it to avoid awkward situations.
Commonly Asked Job Interview Questions in Japan
Let’s start with a few classic interview questions. These are pretty much unavoidable, so it’s best to prepare yourself beforehand.
Please Tell Us About Yourself
The most common way this question is asked is “自己紹介をお願いします (Jikoshōkai wo onegai shimasu).”
This will likely be the first question they ask — there’s no way to avoid it. So make sure to have a short introduction ready.
Your introduction should include information regarding your most recent job, relevant education, and maybe your hobbies if you have time (and they’re relevant). Make sure your intro is tailored to the role and that it helps show why you’re a good fit.
The interviewer doesn’t actually want to know about your past. Their actual goal is to find out if your background matches what they’re looking for or not.
Keep in mind that some more traditional companies may ask for a 3-minute introduction. I think it’s best to have a short and long version ready, so you can use whichever is needed. The longer one can also include more information about your personality.
Why Did You Apply For This Job?
Next, you’ll most likely get asked about your motivation for applying to the job “応募動機をおしえてください (Ōbo dōki wo oshiete kudasai).”
Talk about your relevant skills and experience for the job, explaining why you’re a great fit for the role. This is also your chance to show off any details you know about the company that may be relevant to your motivation to apply.
In general, try to show that you made an effort to learn about the company and the position, as it’ll be appreciated.
Why did you choose to work in Japan?
If you’re a foreigner, the company will most likely ask you why you decided to move to Japan.
In this case, what they’re really asking is “are you a flight risk?”. Especially if you came to Japan recently (or are looking to move here), they want to ensure that you’re serious about living here long-term. They don’t want to spend time and money training you just for you to decide you don’t like Japan and go home in 6 months.
So your goal should be to assuage their fears. Explain the connections you have to Japan (friends, family) and plans for the future here. Show that you’re here for the long-haul and you want to build a career here.
What Are Your Strengths/Weaknesses?
A true classic for job interviews everywhere, you may hear this question as “あなたの長所長所/短所を教えてください (Anata no chōsho / tansho wo oshiete kudasai).”
Always have a few strengths memorized that are relevant to the job you’re applying for before your interview. Decide on a few weaknesses as well.
It’s important to be strategic here.You want to list some weaknesses to avoid seeming braggy, but also, go easy on yourself. Maybe try to list a few that can be interpreted as a positive for the position you’re applying for.
Avoid being on the nose, however, as saying that you’re a “workaholic” or that you “care too much about work” can be a little too transparent.
What Are Your Skills?
Another one you’ll often hear is “あなたはどのようなスキルをお持ちですか? (Anata wa dono yō na sukiru wo omochi desu ka?)” which literally means “What kind of skills do you have?”.
This is where any past certificates, awards, and achievements that show off your skills come into play. Mentioning past projects you’ve participated in is also a good idea.
Keep it relevant and avoid mentioning anything that’s too irrelevant to the job you’re applying for.
Try to think specifically about the company you’re interviewing with. The interviewer is trying to confirm that you can join their team and start contributing, so make it clear how your skills will help them achieve their vision.
Questions About Your Education
During a job interview, your education may come under scrutiny. Japanese people care a great deal about education, after all. Be prepared for the questions below.
What Did You Work on the Hardest in College?
It may sound weird, but this is a very common question for job interviews, especially if you’re a recent graduate. You’ll hear it as “学生時代にもっとも打ち込こんだことは何ですか (Gakusei jidai ni mottomo uchikonda koto wa nan desu ka)”
The literal translation is “What did you devote yourself to the most when you were in school?” and it’s an opportunity for you to prove that you’re committed and hardworking.
Pick a project, extracurricular activity, or a thesis you’ve written as an example to show how dedicated you are. Sports achievements work especially well to showcase your dedication and self-discipline.
Can You Tell Us About Your Educational Background?
The question you’ll get asked is “これまでどんなことを勉強してきましたか? (Koremade donna koto wo benkyō shite kimashita ka?),” and it translates to “What have you studied until now?”.
This is a chance for you to show off your education. Have a brief summary of your educational background ready, and be prepared to present it in 60 seconds or less.
A pro tip: If you studied in Japan at all, make sure to mention it, and drop a few nice words about Japan here and there. Most Japanese people like this, and there’s a good chance that the interviewer will favor you.
Questions About Your Past Jobs
It’s not much of a surprise to be asked about your past jobs in a job interview. Still, being a little prepared can’t hurt.
Why Did You Leave Your Previous Job?
This is another staple of job interviews, as you can expect to be questioned about why you left your last job at almost every interview. You’ll hear this question as “前職の退職理由は何ですか (Zenshoku no taishoku riyū wa nandesuka).”
Honestly, they just want to hear that it had nothing to do with you, but they also don’t want to hear you badmouthing your previous employer. Besides, you don’t want to look like someone who blames others.
Instead, take the inspiring route and talk about how you’re looking for a new opportunity to grow and so on. Find a way to frame things as positively as possible without sounding obnoxious.
What Work Experience Do You Have?
If you get asked what kind of jobs you’ve done until now, or 今まで何の仕事しごとをしてきましたか? (Ima made nan no shigoto shi-goto o shite kimashita ka?), try to stick with relevant experiences.
If you’re completely new to the field, don’t worry. You can still mention some of your past jobs and mention the skills you’ve learned that may be useful for your next job.
Also, if you work on side projects or write blog posts, it can be helpful to mention these in addition to your actual work. Companies will usually be impressed by work that you’ve done outside of your previous roles, as they show a lot of passion.
And thinking about articles you’ve written or projects you’ve built is a great way to introduce areas of interest and skills you may have.
Tell Us About Your Work on …
If you get asked, “今まで行なった … 活動について教えてください (Ima made okonatta katsudō ni tsuite oshiete kudasai)” in an interview, they’re simply asking about your career activities in a specific field.
This is another common question you’ll often hear in interviews in Japan. Briefly describe your work in the field, and try not to be boastful or talk about your unrelated experiences.
Questions About the Position
Brace yourself for these questions about the position you’re applying for.
What Is Your Desired Yearly Income?
The question will be “希望の年収はどのくらいでしょうか (Kibō no nenshū wa dono kurai deshou ka)” in Japanese.
This question doesn’t actually decide what you’ll make yearly. The interviewer just wants to know whether you can evaluate yourself.
It’s up to you if you want to tell them this information or not, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, I recommend telling them that you’re still researching market rates and would like to discuss compensation as one part of an offer, should you be fortunate enough to receive one.
It’s awkward, but refusing to tell them a number will avoid an information imbalance that allows the company to offer you a low salary.
And if you do tell them a number, understand that they will likely try to negotiate you down from there. So you may want to give a higher number than what you’d actually accept to give room for negotiation.
How Would You Solve a Problem at Work?
A classic for job interviews is “仕事上問題が発生したら、どう解決しますか (Shigoto jōmondai ga hassei shitara, dō kaiketsu shimasu ka)” and it’s about your approach to solving a problem.
It might be best to have a pre-written answer for this question, as it may be hard to answer correctly on the spot. Essentially, give an answer that shows that it’s important to not let the problem affect the flow of work. Describing how you solved a problem at a previous job should also work.
Questions About Your Personal Life
In Japan, it’s not that rare for interviewers to ask about your personal life. Some questions can even feel jarring, but remind yourself that the culture is just different here.
Be prepared to answer some of these questions, so you’re not caught off-guard.
How Old Are You?
Most modern tech companies won’t ask you this directly, but it is possible that some companies may want to know your age.
And even if your resume clearly states your age, you may still be asked “何歳ですか (Nan-saidesu ka).”
This may seem odd or inappropriate, but the cultural implication of age is much different in Japan than in some other countries. In Japan, age is simply an indicator of how experienced you are.
Try not to get offended if you are asked about your age or whether you feel qualified despite your age. Briefly explain how your past experiences and acquired skills have prepared you for the job.
How Do You Spend Your Free Time?
The question you’ll probably hear is 週末はどのように過ごしていますか (Shūmatsu wa dono you ni sugoshite imasu ka?).
The most appropriate answer here is that you’re learning new skills and improving yourself in your free time. Avoid mentioning things like going to the movies or playing video games.
Try to find a nice balance. If you say you like reading in your free time, make it more specific by mentioning things you’ve recently read or genres you like. You’ll want to avoid coming off as robotic here.
What Are Your Hobbies?
If you’re asked “趣味は何ですか (Shumi tokugi wa nandesuka),” it’s time to show some dedication in your personal life. The interviewer simply wants to know if you’re doing quality activities in your free time.
Try not to say anything extreme. Pick something that might be interpreted as a positive for the job you’re applying for, and you’re golden.
As I conclude today’s post, I’d like to close out with a recommendation.
Interviews are an important part of the job application process. They can make or break your chances of getting your dream job. Luckily, you’ll be prepared for the most common questions after this post.
However, there are also a few other things that can help you. A good CV and a good cover letter are just as important as crushing an interview. If you want to learn more about writing an effective cover letter, I invite you to read my post, where I shared some great tips.