Updated February 16, 2023
Job Hunting in Japan: How to Score Your Dream Job
Job hunting in Japan is changing.
Most companies used to hire employees for life. People were more concerned with stability and job security than career advancement. But that was the past.
In modern Japanese society, more and more people want to get ahead by changing jobs.
While that might sound a bit negative, it certainly isn’t so. These days, people want job satisfaction. The concept of work-life balance isn’t just a myth but an important factor for most employees.
As foreign tech companies in Japan evolve, the gap between traditional Japanese companies and foreign ones is closing.
However, this means that the landscape of job hunting in Japan is also changing rapidly. In today’s article, I’d like to talk about this change, as well as what the job-hunting process in Japan is like for both new graduates and experienced employees.
I'll share advice on the job hunting process here, but be sure to also check out How to find a job as a software developer in Japan for more tips.
Finding Jobs in Japan: Your Career Options
Before we get into the specifics of looking for a job in Japan, I first need to explain the employment systems in Japan. When I say employment systems, I don’t mean full-time and part-time employment, which I explained in detail in another post about seishain (full-time employment).
What I mean by employment systems has to do more with the description of what employment entails. Historically, things have been different than the rest of the world when it comes to employment in Japan. Here’s what I mean.
Japanese Employment Systems Explained: Membership vs. Job-Type Employment
The ‘60s and ‘70s were a time of rapid economic growth for Japan. New businesses quickly began populating the scene, and the existing ones were expanding rapidly. This period set the scene for the development of the so-called “Japanese management system” that’s known today.
In the ’80s, the products that were made in Japan were all the rage all over the world, and the reason was the membership-type employment system, which was a big component of the Japanese management system.
Membership-Type Employment System
According to this membership-type employment, employees are seen as a part of a family that is the company. The employment contracts are pretty much blank, as the boundaries of the employee’s duties are not clearly defined.
What’s more, the roles of employees frequently change with a rotation system in place, which helps direct the workforce to the departments that need it the most.
Since the employees are all “members” of a company, they simply do whatever needs to be done regardless of their specialty, which is pretty much non-existent. The membership/family aspect creates a sense of embracement which also motivates employees to keep each other “in line.”
This employment system also granted the employees a promise of lifetime employment, which was — and still is — a hot commodity in Japanese work culture. However, this system resulted in a generalized employee type that would fall short in modern industries where specialization was needed.
In recent years, as tech industries became the leading forces in the business world and more and more foreign companies joined the Japanese business scene, a new employment system began gaining popularity in Japan.
Job-Type Employment System
The job-type system differs from the membership system greatly. For one, it involves specialization and a detailed job description. This means that the employees are now hired for their skills and experience in a specific field.
No more employment based on the potential of loyalty and dedication to work, and no lifetime employment guarantee, which means that everyone is now replaceable. It’s only a matter of finding another skilled candidate. In short, it has much more in common with employment systems in the USA or the EU.
In return, this fuels the motivation of the employees to maintain their personal development. It makes sense, too. The membership employment system eventually demotivates employees and creates no incentive to move forward. This is why things had to change in the first place.
Nowadays, while many traditional Japanese companies are still using a membership system, many modern tech companies are working based on job-type employment. The companies you’ll see on the Japan Dev company list are all great examples of this.
Having explained both types of employment systems, let’s now talk a bit about starting your career from scratch and changing jobs in Japan.
New Graduate vs. Mid-Career Recruitment
Historically, Japanese students have spent their last year of college job hunting, and companies wanted to hire these graduates right out of college. This is a system called “Shūkatsu” (Job hunting). Since college graduations in Japan happen during a specific time of the year — the month of February — most companies do most of their hiring around this time (with new employees joining in April).
This helps in cutting recruitment costs down, and it also makes it easy to train new hires all at once. Some companies only hire during the months of February-April, and this hiring system is problematic for two reasons.
Firstly, students who graduate mid-semester have a harder time finding a job. Secondly, professionals with some experience under their belts have a disadvantage in the face of new graduates who are ready to be trained and molded.
Luckily, this isn’t necessarily the case anymore. While this hiring schedule worked better with the membership-type employment I explained above, it’s not really serving the job-type employment system well.
This is why, nowadays, you can find plenty of listings for professionals with specific sets of skills because the requirements can’t possibly be met by new graduates. Finding a job in tech as a mid-career candidate is almost no different than finding a job as a new graduate, and this is expected to be the case for all industries in the near future.
How to Start Your Job Hunt in Japan
Now that I’ve got you up to speed with the state of employment in Japan, let’s get down to business. Here’s all you need to know to start your job hunt in Japan.
Online Job Databases and Other Resources
Traditionally, the shūkatsu process involved companies going to universities and hunting down suitable candidates, but that’s not really the case anymore.
Online job platforms have taken over the recruitment process almost completely, and these platforms focus on matching the candidates’ skills to specific roles. Here are a few popular websites in Japan that’ll help you in your job search process.
While these websites are great for a more generalized job search, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you know exactly what you’re looking for.
This is why I recommend more focused options like Japan Dev. We specifically feature tech companies on our website, and mostly share software developer jobs in Japan. This helps us provide a more tailored experience and an easier process for people who seek jobs in tech.
Additionally, the Japanese government also has a job agency called Hello Work. While it’s not really a great first option, it can certainly come in handy as a backup plan. I talked about Hello Work extensively in my post on unemployment in Japan, which can be an interesting related read.
Lastly, if all else fails, you also have the option to enlist a recruiter agency to find you a job. These companies work as a bridge between you and companies, and they look for a job on your behalf based on the information you provide to them. Companies like Pasona, Enworld, and RGF are all great and reliable resources in this context.
Networking in Japan
Networking is another great option for finding a job in Japan, and it can even be more effective than a job-seeking platform.
Networking in nature is industry-specific. After all, there’s not much of a point in going to a finance meetup if you’re looking for an engineering job. If you know the industry you want to get into, going to meetups for specific industries/jobs can really make a difference.
That being said, you never know what type of connections you’ll make, so checking out generalized meetup platforms like Meetup can also provide you with tons of unexpected networking opportunities. In general, socializing and going to clubs/meetups for people who share the same hobbies/interests as you is a great way to network.
Speaking of which, I have a post on the best tech meetups in Tokyo you may find useful. It’s a pretty comprehensive list, as I cover almost every meetup in Tokyo, and I’m sure it’ll be a great resource if you’re looking for tech-related jobs.
Preparing Your Resume
A resume is what the company you apply for sees first, and it should create an accurate but charming impression that’ll make companies want to meet you in person.
You might already have a good resume template at hand, but keep in mind that traditional Japanese companies will require a Japanese-style resume. It’s a fairly specific format, and you can find examples of it all over the internet. Basically, it has the following sections.
Academic and work history,
Qualifications, certificates, and licenses,
Special skills, commute time, dependants
Yes, the Japanese-style resume also includes a space for your special requests from the company, but it’s not really recommended to write something here. You can write something along the lines of “I’m happy to comply with the company’s standards,” but that’s it.
These are all important points of discussion that’ll lead the conversation during the interview, so make sure to fill these out if the company requests it. But recently, the government has updated their guidance on what to include in a resume to be less strict. So you may want to keep that in mind.
Of course, if you’re not living in Japan yet and are applying from abroad, you can obviously leave the commute section blank.
While this is what the traditional Japanese companies will want, if you’re applying for a job at more modern companies like the ones on Japan Dev, your regular CV will work just fine. Make sure to prepare a good cover letter alongside your CV, and you’re golden.
If you don’t have a specific cover letter format, you can check out my post, where I talk about preparing a good cover letter. I also share some good cover letter samples there, so make sure to check it out.
Also, if you don’t have a resume prepared, you can check out our detailed guides for Japanese resume types: Rirekisho and Shokumu-keirekisho. Our English developer resume for Japan guide might also be useful, including templates you can download and easily fill out.
Dress Code for Job Interviews
Now that you’ve gathered your resources, applied to job listings, and lined up your interviews, it’s time to decide on what to wear.
When it comes to interview attire in Japan, there are some specific rules you need to follow. I talked about these rules extensively in my post on what to wear to a job interview in Japan. You can read up on it if you’re not familiar with the topic.
Essentially, for traditional Japanese companies, you want to go for a modest and professional look. This means wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a simple tie for men and a skirt or pantsuit with a blouse or a button-up shirt for women.
I don’t recommend wearing sporty shoes or high heels, as it might look like you’re not taking the interview seriously. Also, bringing a briefcase with you is a must if you want to complete your professional look.
However, if you’re applying for a tech job or interviewing at a foreign company, you don’t really need to follow these strict rules. Still, you’ll want to wear something that’ll represent you well. Even if you don’t wear a suit and tie, looking well-groomed can go a long way.
Job Interview Tips and Tricks
Japanese job interviews can be tough.
In Japan, there’s a very defined and linear progression when it comes to education and career. Therefore, be prepared for any gaps in your resume or anything out of the ordinary to be questioned and scrutinized.
Don’t worry, though. Remember that you can simply explain away anything that seems out of the ordinary by stating your reasons or by saying that it’s normal where you came from.
Therefore, preparing answers for specific things on your resume that may pique the interviewer’s interest beforehand is a good idea, especially if you’re the type of person who gets nervous during interviews.
Also, get ready for your personal life to be questioned and scrutinized as well. In Japan, it’s normal to get questions about your parents or what you want to do with your life in the future.
Questions about your parents’ occupations or even your relationship status are all fair game here, so don’t get offended if you’re ever asked something personal. If you don’t want to give too much detail, that’s fine. You can simply say yes/no, smile, and move on if you feel too uncomfortable.
Manners Mean Quite a Lot, If Not Everything
Another point to consider before you start going to interviews is manners. Manners are a big part of the culture in Japan, and they’re even more important in professional settings.
For instance, when you arrive at an interview, make sure to knock on the door and say something like “pardon my interruption” (Shitsurei Shimasu) before you enter.
Also, don’t barge in immediately and wait for the interviewer to ask you to come in. Make sure to repeat that you’re sorry for the interruption before you’re asked to sit down.
As you sit down, remind yourself that you’re at a job interview in Japan and sit in a respectful manner. This involves not crossing or spreading your legs, of course.
If you want more tips regarding job interviews, you can also read my post on top interview questions in Japan. It’s a detailed guide that includes the most popular interview questions and the best way to answer them as well as my tips for acing your interviews.
Less Known Tips for Job Hunting in Japan
After reading all the explanations, the tips, and the warnings, you’d think that you’d be ready for your first interview in Japan, but hear me out first. There are still a couple of things I’d like to mention from my experience that you may not get to hear anywhere else.
Go for Non-Traditional, Modern Companies
I know that I’ve mentioned traditional Japanese companies a number of times throughout this article and given tips. However, as a foreigner, you still might want to apply primarily to foreign companies or companies that are more modern.
The reason why I’m saying this is simple. Japan is still a somewhat unique country. This means that if you’re a foreigner and didn’t grow up in Japan, it can be hard to forget that you’re a foreigner.
This may sound fun at first, but you’ll come to realize that sticking out in the crowd can get frustrating. You may even feel like you don’t belong, and trying too hard to fit in may take a toll on your mental state, even though it’s not your fault.
On the off-chance that you do get hired at a traditional Japanese company, don’t be surprised if the culture isn’t what you would have hoped.
Some traditional trade companies that do business internationally may hire foreign candidates solely because they speak English. If you don’t want to work as a glorified translator, I recommend specifically avoiding these companies.
The work culture at these companies can also be brutal, and even though things have been getting easier, it may still be jarring if you’re from Europe or the United States.
I mentioned “Karoshi,” which means “death from overworking,” and other issues related to the work culture in Japan in another post. You can check that one out if you want to learn more.
Overall, you’ll have much better luck at a startup or a tech company like the ones that are featured in the Japan Dev company list as a foreigner. These companies are all personally vetted by our team and are proven to have the best work conditions and benefits.
Interview Your Potential Employer
If your job search gets more and more desperate, you might forget the fact that you’ll be working at the job you find every day.
This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget that once you get the job, you’ll be working under the conditions your company imposes on you, which directly affects your happiness and job satisfaction.
This brings us to the importance of you “interviewing” the company you’ll work for before you accept any job offers.
You need to consider everything that may be a dealbreaker for you and clear those issues up first. Also, don’t put up with any type of behavior that you don’t think is respectful and appropriate. If they treat you badly during your interview, there’s a good chance that things will be even worse once you’re hired.
Moreover, since overtime practices can get pretty rough in Japan, you also want to find out whether it’s likely that you’ll be overworked or not. Visiting a company around the official time when the work day ends can be a good idea to see if anyone’s really leaving on time.
I talked about this in my post on overtime in Japan, but not everything is done by the books in some companies here. You may end up being forced to do unpaid overwork under false premises like “seminars” or “personal-development time” frequently.
These companies are called “black companies,” and you want to stay away from them as much as possible. I explained what black companies in Japan are in more detail in another post you can check out.
You’ve Got a Job Offer: Now What?
As I conclude this guide, I’d like to briefly talk about what happens once you get the job offer and what you’ll need to do.
Here’s what the process will be like step-by-step:
Signing the offer letter: You’re generally expected to sign and send the offer back within a week.
Prepare the documents requested by your new company: these include medical records, insurance forms, tax certificates, etc.
Go through the onboarding process: Arrive earlier than usual on the first day, and be prepared for an orientation program or an office tour.
Other than these steps, if you were already working at another company in Japan, make sure to start your resignation/retirement procedure as soon as possible. Try to give at least a month of notice to have everything sorted out in time.
Lastly, as you start your new life, you’ll want to deal with the visa procedures as soon as possible. If you were employed in Japan and are just changing jobs, make sure that your field of work doesn’t change. If you switch professions, you’ll have to apply for a visa change as well.
Similarly, if you’re changing your status from student to employee, make sure to change your student visa to a work visa that fits your field of work. It’s very simple, and all you need is your resume and application form, along with your passport and residence card.
If you’re curious about the visa situation, you can read my post about getting an engineering visa in Japan, where I talk about the work visa in more detail.
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