What is Shuukatsu (就活)? Job Hunting in Japan for International Students


Japan’s job hunting culture is unique and different from the rest of the world. Job hunting, or shuukatsu (就活), in Japan is characterised by mass recruitment and hiring of fresh graduates, the same hiring schedule annually, potentiality-based hiring, recruitment examinations, and the start of work in April the next year. As an international student in Japan, navigating the job hunting culture in Japan is important to helping you successfully land a job. 

First Published: 2022/06/30
Updated: 2024/04/25

Table of Contents

  1. What is Shuukatsu (就活)?
  2. Understanding Shuukatsu, Japan’s Job Hunting Culture for Fresh Graduates
  3. Job Hunting in Japan Step-by-Step Guide
    1. Preparing for Job Hunting in Japan
    2. Job Hunting in Japan (entry sheets, tests, interviews)
    3. Getting a Nainaitei (preliminary job offer)
    4. Starting Work in April
  4. Can international students work in Japan after graduation?
    1. Graduated with a Job Offer - Work Visa
    2. Continue Job Hunting - Designated Activity Visa
  5. Changes to Shuukatsu Culture Because of Pandemic
  6. Other Ways to Job Hunt in Japan

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What is Shuukatsu (就活)?

what is shuukatsu?

 就活 (shuukatsu) means “job hunting”, derived from 就活活動 (shuukatsu katsudou) meaning “job hunting activities”. In Japan, Shuukatsu refers quite specifically to job hunting for fresh graduates. 

In English, “job hunting” is the general term for any type of job hunting - whether for fresh entry jobs or mid-career career changes. However, in Japan, there are specific terms for “job hunting” depending on what stage of life you are at. 

  • 就活 (shuukatsu) / 就活活動 (shuukatsu katsudou) : job hunting for fresh graduates to look for the first job in their lives
  • 転職 (tenshoku) / 転職活動 (tenshoku katsudou) : mid-career job change, anybody else who is not a fresh graduate looking for a first job 

Note that if there is a large time gap from after your graduation, and you do not have a good reason for it, then it may negatively impact your chances of applying for a fresh graduate job.

Understanding Shuukatsu, Japan’s Job Hunting Culture for Fresh Graduates

Understanding Shuukatsu, Japan’s Job Hunting Culture for Fresh Graduates

In other countries, job hunting for fresh graduates and mid-career jobs is not so different. However, in Japan, 就活 (shuukatsu) and 転職 (tenshoku) are very different, the latter being very similar to job hunting in other countries. 

For more about How to Change Jobs in Japan, read our dedicated article here

So, what’s so unique about Japanese Shuukatsu Culture? Below are the characteristics of job hunting culture in Japan: 

Mass Recruitment and Hiring of Fresh Graduates

新卒採用 (shinsotsu saiyo) means “graduate recruitment” or “employment of new graduates”. This is the keyword used by companies on posters and websites when “shuukatsu season” approaches and final year students start job hunting. Career fairs and job information sessions are held where companies set up booths to pitch to potential employees. A large company may hire hundreds of students to be new employees in the next year. 

The Same Annual Job Hunting Schedule 

This is what we mean by “Shuukatsu Season”, aka “Job Hunting Season”. In Japan, job hunting for fresh graduates follows a pretty fixed schedule that many companies follow. For higher-level education students in Japan, the job hunting season starts in March on the year before graduation year, for example:

  • Undergraduate Course : job hunting starts in the third year
  • Master’s Course : job hunting starts in the first year 
  • PhD Course : job hunting starts in the second year

If all goes well with the job hunt, students will receive a preliminary job offer sometime in July~September, join an orientation for prospective employees and receive an official job offer in October~November, and join the company in April the next year. 

Joining Company in April 

Most Japanese companies follow a fiscal year that runs from April 1 to March 31 of the following year. This is the reason why new employees join the company and start work in April despite being confirmed a placement in the company in the previous year. Another reason is that school years in Japan typically run from April to March as well. Therefore, for a smooth transition process, students that graduate in March will start work the next month in April with minimum time wasted. 

Potential-based Hiring 

In Japan, fresh graduate employees are hired based on their future potential rather than how work-ready they are. Fresh graduates are expected to have basic knowledge but not expected to know how to practically use this knowledge, with most companies having a proper system to train new employees. 

So, how is “potential” evaluated? 

According to the Japan Business Federation’s “Survey on New Graduate Recruitment 2018” available in JASSO’s Job Hunting Guide for International Students 2024, the 5 most sought for characteristics in a potential employee are communication skills, individuality, challenging spirit, cooperativeness, and integrity

Brief Stop Here >>> What about job hunting in Japan for international students?

job hunting in japan for international students

As an international student, you are surely concerned about whether your evaluation for potential is different from that of local Japanese students. 

According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s “Survey on Career and Retention for International Students 2015” available in JASSO’s Job Hunting Guide for International Students 2024, the top 3 reasons Japanese companies are hiring international students are to secure excellent human resources regardless of nationality, to improve diversity in the workplace, and to cultivate and expand their business overseas by hiring people who can serve as a bridge

Additionally, and as expectedly, companies will also be looking at international students’ Japanese language skills. This is the biggest point of consideration for companies. In the same survey, over 90% of Japanese companies expect JLPT N1 level proficiency from international students without any English skills. Though few in number, there are companies that accept JLPT N2 from international students with English skills. 

Note: It is worth mentioning that though these are the latest survey results, they are from 8 years ago and may not truly portray the current state in Japan. We will update when a new survey is available.

Step-by-Step Job Hunting in Japan

job hunting in japan for international students shuukatsu timeline

Job hunting in Japan for fresh graduates can be complex. In this part, we explain step-by-step how to navigate 就職活動 (shuushoku katsudou) and find your dream job in Japan. 

Preparing for Job Hunting in Japan

Although the job hunting season in Japan starts in March of the year prior to the final year, preparations should start well before that. In the case of undergraduate university students, they will need to start preparations at the latest in the summer of their 3rd year (mid 3rd year) sometime in June

Doing Self-Analysis (自己分析 jiko bunseki)

自己分析 jiko bunseki - Self-Analaysis or Self-Evaluation is what many teachers and career advisors consider the first step in preparing for job hunting. The main objective is to identify what type of job you want to do and what job you are suited for. By analysing your own personality, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, etc. it will also help you figure out how to appeal to yourself on your resume and at your job interview. 

Tips for Jiko Bunseki (自己分析) : 

  • Looking at your future, think about short-term and long-term goals for your future. Ask yourself questions like, “How do you see yourself 5 years in the future?” 
  • Looking at both strengths and weaknesses, so not just the good things, but the bad things too. Think back to the past, writing down specific episodes and things that happened will help you highlight your growth
  • Looking at who you are now, as an international student in Japan, “Why did you come to Japan to study?”, “Have you achieved what you came here to do?”, “Why do you want to work in Japan?” 

Just because it says “self-analysis” doesn’t mean you need to do it all by yourself. There’s a lot you can come to learn about yourself by asking friends, family, and even your teachers. 

Researching Industries and Companies 

After finishing with your self-analysis, you would have narrowed down your choice of industry and the type of job you are looking for. The next step now is to research companies you’ll be applying for. Understanding the company’s vision and mission is important to determine your compatibility with the company. 

Make sure your research is thorough. Check the news, forums/social media for previous or existing employees comments, etc. With due diligence, you can uncover many things about a company including average salary range, benefits, employee satisfaction, corporate social responsibility, scandals, and more. 

You can also discover what talent the company is looking for which is helpful for preparing for your interview and resume. When hiring foreign nationals, companies usually seek special talents or skills that they cannot find in local Japanese. So keep that in mind and highlight your strengths. 

Joining Summer Internships (インターンシップ)

japan summer internships

Despite Japan’s high employment rate, there are still students who face pressure to find a good job at a well-known company. These students will schedule summer internships as part of their shuukatsu plans. Just like job hunting, internships require submitting a resume, dressing up in a suit, attending interviews, and going to a workplace. It can be said to be a rehearsal for an actual job. 

To get a better understanding of how Japanese internships work, read this article

Visiting Alumni

OB is an acronym for “old boy” that is used in Japan to mean alumni or former employee. Meeting with a former employee is a great way to hear first hand experience of a company’s atmosphere and workload. Especially information that would be omitted at a company’s information session or interview. Even if it’s not about the company, meeting an alumni of an industry also gives you insight on how the industry works and whether it matches your expectations. 

Learning Japanese Business Manners and Communication

Japanese business manners include how to dress, how to greet, how to answer the phone, how to write a business email, etc. You don’t need to have mastered everything at this point, but it is good to have some basic knowledge. Especially when it comes to dressing and how to greet which is relevant for job hunting interviews.

Here are 12 Japanese Business Etiquette to keep in mind. 

Preparing a Japanese Resume (履歴書 rirekisho)

japanese resume rirekisho

A 履歴書 (rirekisho) is not the same as an エントリーシート (entry sheet). An entry sheet is an application form provided by the company for you to fill out. It is typically in a simpler format than a rirekisho, containing less details to fill in. Some companies require submitting both a rirekisho and an entry sheet. It is recommended to prepare a rirekisho because you can refer to it when writing the entry sheet. A rirekisho follows a preordained format, so it is very important that you learn how to write a rirekisho.

Job Hunting in Japan (entry sheets, tests, interviews)

Shuukatsu Season starts in March of the year prior to the graduating year. By this time, you should have completed your preparations. 

Attending Job Fairs and Company Information Sessions

Job fairs, company information sessions, company introduction visits, and other related events and activities will be happening around this time. Those interested should attend, especially if a company you are interested in will be there. You may also encounter a company you did not know before, and become interested in them. 

Submitting Entry Sheets and Resume 

As explained above, an entry sheet is an application document that is similar to a resume (rirekisho). Companies that are open for entries may be passing out entry sheets for you to fill in, while some will urge interested people to apply online. Deadlines for submission vary so check carefully and submit by then. Certain companies may request for a rirekisho as well. 

Testing Applicants with Written Examinations and Aptitude Tests

Companies planning to bulk hire will usually require applicants to complete an aptitude or written test - an effective method for selecting candidates. These tests are used not just to ascertain whether an applicant is knowledgeable enough, but also whether they are a right fit for the company. Not passing one does not reflect badly on you, so do not worry about it too much. 

Attending Interviews (面接 mensetsu) 

If you have passed the first round of evaluation with your entry sheet submission and/or test, then you will be contacted for an interview. Note that in some cases, on-the-spot interviews may be conducted. The format of interviews vary depending on the company - it can be a one-on-one interview, group interview, or even presentation type. 

Multiple rounds of interviews is fairly common, typically 3. This is so various members of the company’s staff can fairly evaluate the candidate’s suitability for the company. Generally, the 3 stages will consist of an interview with the hiring team, an interview with team leader and an interview with a higher up (president or director). 

Here’s a guide to Japanese interviews with example questions and answers to help you. 

As an international student, it is highly likely you will be asked questions about your Japanese proficiency, your expected period of stay in Japan, and even more personal questions about why you are here in Japan, why you don’t want to go back to your home country, and what you like most about Japan. 

Getting a Nainaitei (preliminary job offer)

naitei is letter of employment

Sometime in July to September, hiring companies will send out preliminary job offers, called 内々定 (nainaitei) to potential employees. A 内々定 (Nainaitei) is a preliminary job offer showing the company’s intention to employ you. This will usually be done by a phone call, followed by a letter. You can either accept or reject the offer, but definitely reply. 

Getting an Official Letter of Employment (内定 naitei)

In October ~ November, provided you have voiced your acceptance of the Nainaitei, you should receive an official letter of employment in the form of a 内定 (naitei). Depending on the company, you may instead be invited to a 内定式 (naiteishiki) - an informal ceremony for potential employees to receive their naitei. At this ceremony, you may be required to give a self-introduction. 

Starting Work in April 

After that, all that is left is to prepare yourself for your first day of work. Most companies will hold a 入社式 (nyuushashiki) - company entrance ceremony to welcome new employees. 

Can international students work in Japan after graduating?

shuukatsu success, change status of residence

Yes, international students are allowed to work in Japan after graduating provided the required immigration procedures have been done.

The relevant immigration procedure is called “Application for Change of Status of Residence”, aka 「在留資格変更許可申請 (zairyuu-shikaku henkou kyoka shinsei)」. What status of residence to change to depends on whether you have graduated with a job offer, or are going to continue / start job hunting after graduation. 

① Graduated with a Job Offer - Work Visa

入社式 (nyuusha-shiki), in the first week of April, is when new employees join the company. By this time, you need to have completed the procedure to change your status of residence from “留学 (ryuugaku; study abroad)” for international students to a work visa that matches your upcoming position and responsibilities in the company. 

The immigration procedure to change your status of residence will take 1~2 months. If the procedure cannot be completed on time, promptly inform your hiring company. You are not allowed to work until the change is completed and you have received your new residence card. 

How to Change Student Visa to Working Visa

An “Application for Change of Status of Residence” can be submitted in-person or online to the Immigration Services Agency. With the Online Residence Application system, you can submit anywhere and anytime provided you have a My Number Card. 

The required documents depends on the type of working visa you are applying for. Below, are the required documents for “Engineering / Specialist in Humanities / International Services (技術・人文知識・国際業務)”, which is the most commonly held type of work visa by foreign nationals in Japan, separated into 3 categories based on who needs to prepare the documents. 

From yourself
  • Application for permission to change status of residence (applicant part)
  • Passport
  • Residence card
  • Photograph (4x3cm) with name written on the back
  • Resume
  • Reason for application (optional)
  • 4,000 yen (if application approved)
From hiring company

Note that required documents may differ depending on the company. 

  • Application for permission to change status of residence (organisation part)
  • Copy of employment contract
  • Copy of certified copy of registered information
  • Copy of financial statement
  • Company pamphlet
  • Reason for hiring (optional)
From school 
  • Original certificate of graduation (or certificate of expected graduation)
  • Results transcript
※ Immigration Services Agency of Japan, “在留資格変更許可申請

② Job Hunting After Graduating - Designated Activities Visa 

If you did not manage to find a job before graduating, and want to stay in Japan to continue job hunting, you can do so by changing your status of residence to “Designated Activity (Continue Job Hunting) 「特定活動 (継続就職活動) 」”. 

[IMPORTANT] Even if there are several months left of validity period on your student visa, once you graduate, all activities under the status of residence “study abroad (留学)” expires including working part time as allowed by “permission to engage in other activities”. All that is left for you to do is to prepare to leave the country, usually within 1 month of your graduation. Therefore, you MUST CHANGE your status of residence to resume job hunting and apply again for “permission to engage in other activities” if you want to work part time while job hunting. 

For more about the “designated activities (continue job-hunting)” visa and how to apply for it, check here

Changes to Shuukatsu Culture Because of Pandemic 

online interview in japan

It is worth noting that the face of Shuukatsu culture in Japan has changed greatly in recent years. This change was brought about by the pandemic that made it impossible to hold in-person large-scale job fairs and company introduction events. Many Japanese companies resorted to adopting online methods such as online company briefing sessions, online internships, and online interviews.

Now that the pandemic has settled down, job fairs and events are returning, but there are still companies that choose to maintain the online methods because it saves time and resources. 

However, companies aren’t the only ones who experienced changes during the pandemic season. Unable to attend job hunting events, students have also turned to other sources, namely the online job market, which leads us to explaining other ways to job hunt in Japan. 

Other Ways to Job Hunt in Japan for Foreigners and International Students

Honestly speaking, the Japanese shuukatsu culture may be disadvantageous to international students who are unfamiliar with the culture and language. Fortunately, there are other ways for foreign nationals and international students to job hunt in Japan. 


One such service we recommend is WeXpats

find jobs in japan with wexpats

WeXpats operates a service for foreign nationals who want to work in Japan. There are jobs in a variety of industries including specific industries for SSW visa-holders. There are 2 services available on WeXpats - WeXpats Agent for full time jobs and WeXpats Jobs for part time jobs. 

Looking for a Full Time Position? Leave it to WeXpats Agent!

WeXpats Agent is a career support service that specialises in employment for foreign nationals living in Japan. 

Recruitment agencies in Japan are a service where dedicated career advisors will assist you with your job hunt for free. In addition to introducing open positions, we also provide support to help you create your Japanese resume and practice for interviews. Worried about job hunting in Japanese? We are here for you. 

Features of WeXpats Agent

  1. We have many job openings that are a good fit for foreign nationals to work in, such as translation, interpretation, inbound, etc. jobs that make use of your language skills, as well as engineering etc. jobs that do not require Japanese skills.

  2. Our career advisors support and help you prepare your resume and practice job interviews with you. Clearly communicate your strengths to the hiring company.

  3. We will handle communication with companies on your behalf, such as arranging interview dates and negotiating conditions. And thereby reducing your stress and time spent. 


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