For many young people in Japan, August means summer vacation, festivals and free time. For fourth-year university students however, it means time to start interviewing for jobs. The job-hunting process in Japan is long, grueling and very systematic, culminating in interview after interview for the jobless, soon-to-graduate, young adults.
Interviews can be nerve-wracking for even the most experienced candidates, but Japanese companies don’t always ask the most predictable questions. In fact, some of their questions can be downright weird. Many of these oddball interview questions, however, may not actually be legal.
Governmental labor departments around the country have been amending labor equality laws in an effort to level the playing ground for all candidates and decrease discrimination.
▼ Have you ever been asked “How many times a week do you eat out?” during a job interview?
Questions about a thing such as dining habits may seem harmless, but they give the employer a pretty good look into your out-of-work lifestyle and standard of living. The Federation of Economic Organizations thinks that such questions can be discriminatory and should not be asked to potential employees.
Starting this August, employers are no longer allowed to ask questions which don’t relate to applicants’ aptitude for the work or professional duties.
Some of the questions that are now considered “NG” (no good), include:
1. “Where is your parents’ house? Is it north or south of the station?”/“Where is your permanent residence?”
This one was used a lot in the Osaka area until the labor department helped companies make some changes and took it out. It may seem like just a pretty silly question, but it has roots in discrimination against burakumin. Burakumin is an old term for the people on the bottom rung of the social hierarchy, dating back to the feudal days. This group was made up of people who did “impure” jobs, especially those dealing with death, such as executioners, undertakers, butchers, etc. The families of these workers were rejected by the rest of society, heavily discriminated against and often lived in segregated ghettos. With this in mind, job seekers are also advised to not write their family’s background information on personal history documents, such as CVs and resumés. Knowing where someone’s family is from could be a hint to lineage and influence an interviewers opinion of the candidate.
2. “Where does your father work?” / “What level of education did your parents receive?”
While these could also be related to burakumin discrimination, labor board consider these unfair because, regardless of the how educated or uneducated the candidate’s family members are, the candidate themselves holds no responsibility for what others have done, thus it should not overshadow their own abilities and achievements.
▼ Wouldn’t it suck if you couldn’t get hired because your parents don’t have a good education?
3. “How many times a month do you eat out?”
As mentioned above, questions such as these show insight to a person or family’s economic status and/or lifestyle standards. The candidate’s economic status is not related to their abilities at work.
4. “What political party do you support?” / “What’s your favorite book?”
Many times questions such as these are used in small-talk to break the ice and make the interviewees a little more relaxed, but an individual’s beliefs and preferences are personal freedoms that should not affect their opportunities in the workforce.
▼ “Really, that’s your favorite book? You’re so not hired.”
5. “Are you planning on having any kids soon?”
This question targets only women. Many women do indeed quit their jobs once they get married or start having kids, and it’s kind of understandable that companies would prefer to hire someone they know will be around until retirement, in the traditional Japanese salaryman way. However, such questions break gender equality laws, discriminating against young women who might want a family someday. (Not to mention how creepy it would be for the interviewer to ask a young woman if she is single or not!)
▼ “Oh, Ms. Gorilla, you’re trying to get pregnant? Sorry, we’re not hiring right now…”
The funny thing about this whole inappropriate interview question business, is that many of these questions have actually been banned since 1999, with many more amendments being added since 2013. Only now are departments of labor really cracking down on companies to perform fair interviews to all employees. Here’s to a big step in equal opportunity for all in the job hunt in Japan!