As far as things not to say in an interview go, you’d think it’d be pretty high up on the list. But the young Japanese university student, rejected by all the other companies he’d applied to, was prepared to take the risk. “This company is the only option I have left,” he pleaded with the interviewer. “I’ll do anything!” An unusual strategy, certainly. But he got the job.
Japanese site Niconico News reports that the man is now entering his ninth year of employment with the company, so it seems the gamble paid off. But is the company’s positive reaction so unusual? Some Japanese employability experts are arguing that, for many companies, the ideal graduate recruit is a “hakushi” – a blank page that the company can do what they want with. When companies train new recruits extensively, an across-the-board willingness to learn is valued more than previous experience.
The process of job hunting that the vast majority of Japanese university students take part in is known as “shūkatsu” (from “shūshoku katsudou” 就職活動). Unlike many other countries where students wait until their final year or after graduating to look for work, Japanese students take part in a rigidly-scheduled process which begins in their third year of university with a programme of internships, applications, and interviews. By the beginning or middle of fourth year, most students have already been hired for the job they will take up on April 1 the following year.
▼ A company information session for student job-hunters.
Students are under an enormous amount of pressure to succeed in entering a company. With companies preferring new graduates, those who fail to find work during the set shūkatsu period can find it increasingly difficult to be hired as a “previous graduate”. Finding a job out of university is no longer the guarantee of employment for life it once was, but this pressure to secure a position as soon as you graduate is the desperation that leads some students to feel that any job, any company, any field is fine, so long as it’s a job. Having a specialised area of interest, therefore, can actually be seen as inflexibility.
Yoku Date, a businessman and academic who writes on employability, says that compared to an applicant who talks about their experience and skills up to now in specific terms, one who simply shows a willingness to accept and learn the company’s way of doing things will provide the blank slate which employers are looking for. To succeed in job-hunting, he argues, students must draw a line under their university experience and be accommodating to the challenges of the world of work.
▼ Another unorthodox, and probably less effective, method.
But while some employers welcome the enthusiasm of those with an “I’ll do anything” attitude, others feel that it goes too far. Nobuhiro Kawaharasaki, CEO of web start-up logmi, blogged on June 15 that these kind of utterances show a lack of substance:
“When an applicant says ‘I’ll do anything!’ or ‘I’d give anything!’, just entering the company has become their only goal.”
Instead, he looks for a candidate who can work to take the company in new directions after they are hired. Their focus, he argues, should be one what they will do after they join the company, not only on the objective of finding a job. This approach is particularly relevent for startups, whose success will depend on innovation and intelligent risk-taking.
Of Japanese students who graduated this spring, 93.9 percent went straight into employment, taking up a position on April 1. That figure, however, doesn’t include students who went on to do master’s courses or who are repeating their final year (both common choices for students who haven’t received any job offers). When those students are factored in, the rate drops to 66 percent. The stress of the shūkatsu process, meanwhile, takes its toll on students, but the system doesn’t show any signs of changing any time soon.