Japan is a country with a rich history and growing economy. In certain industries, like the tech sector, booms are starting to happen. Japan is quickly turning into a hub for foreigners looking for their next adventure. One article notes that there are two job openings per applicant in Tokyo, which means that even foreigners have a decent chance at landing a job interview there.
But the working culture is unique, and it’s likely that certain aspects of it will be unfamiliar to you. There are rules about language, dress, comportment, and even the order in which you enter or exit a room. Japanese applicants are immersed in the idiosyncrasies of the working culture from a young age, so you’ll have some catching up to do to even the playing field.
If you’re interested in finding a job in Japan, use this guide to help guide you through the interview process. From the cultural etiquette and customs, you’ll learn how to follow the protocols which are very important to the Japanese.
As for any job interview in any country, do some research prior to your interview. You don’t want go into the interview until you’re familiar with the company’s history, mission, structure, and culture. Then, you should go more in-depth to discover unique information about the role for which you’re interviewing.
Japanese work culture involves commitment to the principle of group harmony, or wa. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure that you give the impression of being a team player who is organised and considerate. The process of nemawashi, or consensus-building, means that workers join in groups to hash out ideas before presenting them to senior managers or clients. The group is the nucleus of Japanese work culture.
Your body language should also show respect. When you hand over papers or documents, use both hands to give them to your interviewer. This is a sign that you recognise the importance of the transaction. Certain physical behaviours are to be entirely avoided, like:
- Fidgeting or wiggling with an item
- Sitting cross-legged
- Putting your hands in your pockets
- Resting your chin on your hands or arms
- Sitting in any type of relaxed posture - it’s never considered appropriate
- Speaking in a hushed tone of voice so that your interviewer has to strain to hear you
If you aren’t in Japan yet, companies might opt to offer you a Skype interview before a more formal in-person interview. You should prepare for the Skype interview by learning the basics about the company and the role. Use formal language and look presentable, but you won't have to worry about the physical etiquette that you'd encounter with an in-person interview. You should test your internet connection, headset and microphone ahead of time to ensure the interview goes smoothly.
Your Japanese interviewer will likely ask you to first introduce yourself and then ask about where you studied. You should also expect to be asked about your knowledge of the company and your employment background. Common questions that are asked in a Japanese interview include:
- Why do you want to work at this company?
- What do you know about the company already? (This is a test to see if you’ve done your research)
- Why did you come to Japan / Why do you want to come to Japan?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What kind of work have you done until now?
- How well do you speak Japanese?
- What is your hobby?
- How would you solve a problem at work, or what would you do if you couldn’t meet a deadline?
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
You should keep your answers as succinct as possible and only give information about what was asked. Don’t feel that you can give loose answers and bring up tangential commentary. Also, don’t say anything negative about your current or past employers - it’s taken as a sign of disrespect and will almost guarantee that you don’t move forward in the interview process.
Also, when asked about your current job, don’t speak about work in general. Give an actual, technical rundown of what you do in your role, including the skills you employ and the tasks for which you’re responsible. You want to portray the value you bring to your current employer, and also display how what you do can map to the role for which you’re interviewing.
You should come to the interview prepared to ask several questions. This demonstrates your interest in the position. These are some appropriate questions to ask during the interview:
What’s a typical day like for someone in this position?
Who does this job report to?
What are the key responsibilities?
What’s the team dynamic like for this role?
What type of person would perform best in this role?
Note that it’s not rude to ask about working hours or business travel. However, you should avoid asking about salary and benefits during the interview. It’s seen as presumptuous before you’ve been given an offer. Use polite language at all times when you’re asking questions.
Plan to arrive at your interview with ten minutes to spare. In Japanese culture, early is on time, and on time is considered late. By no means should you ever be late. If you’re offered a coffee or water, accept it. Once you’re seated, you should put your hands on your knees and sit up straight. Plan to stay in that position for the duration of the interview. Try to present a calm and patient countenance.
You should also plan to leave your cell phone off before, during, and after your interview. Some recruitment agencies warn that employees could be watching you from the moment you leave the train station to get to your interview, until the moment you get back on your train to go home. They expect that you won’t be idling on your phone at any point during that time.
Japanese interviews are a very formal process. You should always address your interviewer with the formal vocabulary and etiquette. If you don't speak Japanese fluently you should learn the key phrases ahead of time so that you don’t offend your interviewer.
With respect to language, locals will say different words depending on who they're speaking to. If you don’t use polite terms, you'll portray disrespect and come across as too casual, like you’re chit-chatting with your friends in a restaurant. For example, you’ll use different words for ‘I’ and ‘to do’ when you’re speaking formally.
You should also make sure that you wait until your interviewer is finished speaking before you answer his or her questions. Japan doesn’t have a culture where it’s okay to interrupt someone or speak over them - this is a definite faux pas. Your questions should be answered clearly and concisely - don’t feel the need to ‘chit-chat’ or bring up personal stories.
In Japan you’ll also need to prepare for the many formalities that come along with the interview process. Entering an office is a formalised procedure. Here are the steps you should follow for entering an office:
- Knock thrice - a double-knock is considered rude, because it’s usually reserved for checking if a toilet stall is occupied
- Your interviewer will say ‘Please’, or douzo, and you can enter the room
- Turn and shut the door as quietly as possible, making sure that you aren’t facing forward
- Say ‘excuse me’ -Shitsurei shimasu
- Bow and walk to the left side of the chair you’re designated to sit in
- Say your name and your university or a fact about you. For example, you might say something like, ‘I am Susie Mayweather from a city that's celebrated for its porcelain pottery in the Netherlands. I have been to Japan four times, and I studied abroad in Okinawa.’
- Bow again
- Stand and wait to sit down until you're asked
You should also note that it’s not illegal to smoke in a Japanese office. Offices are open very open-plan, so they can be loud and more collaborative than you’re used to. Don’t comment or act surprised if you enter into a smoky, loud atmosphere.
The way you dress is more emphasised and more streamlined in Japan than you’re probably used to. Don’t feel the need to be creative with your interview outfit. It’s most common in Japan for people to interview in a plain black suit and white shirt. This is known as the ‘recruit suit.’ It can be accompanied by a formal black bag or black shoes.
Be clean shaven and ensure your hair is a natural color. Avoid flashy jewelery, makeup and accessories. If you have tattoos, don’t flaunt them. It’s extremely important that you take off your coat and hat before you enter the building. Inside and outside the office, removing your coat is a sign of respect in Japan.
Salary negotiations in Japan are culturally sensitive. Some Japanese firms don’t leave room to negotiate salaries. Many new employees will receive the same salary as other employees at their same level. However, some larger global firms may offer you the opportunity to negotiate your salary. You should do some research ahead of time of what’s a fair range for the role you’re interviewing for in Japan. Japanese salaries might be different than what you’re used to in your home country.
Once you accept the job, the next step is to get your finances in order for your move overseas. The first step may be opening up a bank account in Japan. However, you may want to consider a borderless multi currency account with TransferWise, which allows you to send money to 50 different countries and manage and exchange money in 28 different currencies, including the Japanese Yen. TransferWise also offers international money transfer services that are cheaper and fairer than traditional banks, which often have hidden fees and use high exchange rates.
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You’ll likely need a visa to work in Japan. There are several forms of work visas, but most of them require a job offer first. It’s likely that your new employer will sponsor you or at least advise you on the steps to obtaining a visa, but you can also check the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more information.
At the end of the interview you should also perform the expected steps, similar to when you entered the room. They are:
- Thanking your interviewer very much - doumo arigatou gozaimashita
- Bow, first while seated
- Stand, and bow again, this time to a 45-degree angle
- Return your chair to its original position - people have been cut from the interview process for forgetting this step
- Excuse yourself
- Bow once more when you’re in the doorway
- Close the door behind you
Act like you’re still in the interview until the moment you leave the building. Don’t put on your coat or check your phone until you're far away or ideally, on the train home.
Also, if you’re walking out of a room, Japanese professionals will tend to exit based on their seniority. Don’t fall back on the Western ‘ladies’ first’ custom, which might lead to some awkward doorway collisions. Instead, wait until everyone else has left the room, and then you can leave.
Thanks to all the cultural formalities, interviewing in Japan can be tricky. But if you prepare yourself ahead of time and use this guide, you can impress your interviewers and be on your way to landing your dream job in Japan.