Hand cramps and style cramps are both part of job-hunting in Japan.
For foreign students looking for jobs in Japan, there’s more than just the local language to adapt to. Over the years, Japanese companies have developed certain norms in how they handle recruiting, and while they may seem natural to job-hunters who grew up in the culture, they can be startling for those who didn’t come to Japan until starting college.
With summer being the peak of the recruiting period in Japan, a seminar was recently held in Tokyo for students hailing from Southeast Asian nations who’re looking for employment, where some of the attendees spoke out about things they find strange about job-hunting in Japan.
1. Filling out forms by hand
In many countries, a hiring manager’s first instinct would be to toss a hand-written resume straight into the trash can, since adults are generally expected to know how to use a word processor. In Japan, though, taking the time to write your resume by hand conveys your deep respect for the position the company is recruiting for, and the same goes for filling out the official application. Even if you’ve downloaded the application as a PDF, you’re not supposed to type your information, but to grab a pen and carefully write out each word.
Oh, and as a matter of course, the resume shouldn’t just be hand-written, but written with excellent penmanship, once again as proof of how seriously you’ll be taking the job should it be offered to you.
2. A uniform appearance
While anything goes for street fashion in Japan, business attire is another story. Working professionals in Japan tend to dress both more formally and more conservatively than their overseas counterparts, and as an extension of that, job-hunters are expected to wear suits with extremely basic styles. As a matter of fact, plain black suits are so strongly associated with students seeking employment that they’re marketed as “recruit suits” by retailers in Japan.
The “basic black” logic applies to hair as well. Dyed hair will raise eyebrows and lower your chances of getting the job, and styling should be simple and neat, generally meaning short and trimmed for men and tied back in a ponytail for women.
While there’s at least a little bit of Japan’s conformist sentiments at play here, an arguably drab appearance also symbolizes an understanding that college is winding down and it’s time to get to work. After going to middle and high schools with strict dress codes and uniforms, college is considered a brief window in the life of Japanese people where they’re allowed to dress and look pretty much however they want, so a prim and proper appearance at an interview shows an understanding that the applicant is ready to grow up.
3. Group interviews
Large Japanese companies often do their recruiting in large, single batches annually, almost like a school enrolling new students. With so many applicants vying for the same classification of jobs, some companies streamline the process by conducting group interviews in early round of the process.
But even if everyone in a group interview gets asked the same questions, not everyone has an answer. One frustrated foreign student spoke of going to a group interview where applicants were asked to talk about their experience in leadership roles. Some of the applicants proudly told stories of when they’d acted as leaders in school activities or at their part-time jobs, but those without such experiences had nothing to contribute, and so had to sit by silently until the next question.
4. Not knowing what kind of work you’ll be doing
While this isn’t true for every position in Japan, sometimes companies recruit for what’s called sogoshoku, or “comprehensive work.” What that means is that once hired, you’ll periodically assist or be rotated to various departments within the company.
On the plus side, that can help new recruits see how the company works as a whole, and also lets them acquire a wide range of skills and figure out what sort of day-to-day work they have an interest in and aptitude for. At the same time, it can be unnerving to apply for a job without knowing what your exact responsibilities are going to be.
If some of the items on this list don’t sit right with you, there’s something important to keep in mind. Though these are all aspects of how Japanese companies do their ordinary recruiting, things can be very different for positions or divisions with an international focus, and in such cases there’s usually a bit more flexibility in the job-hunting process (especially in the area of hand-written resumes). However, if you’re planning to throw your hat into the general recruiting ring, and compete against Japanese job-hunters for a position, you’ll have the best chance of success if you play by the local rules.
Casey doesn’t write his tweets by hand or wear a suit when sending them, but you can follow him on Twitter anyway.