Job interviews can sometimes be the deciding factor in getting into your dream company, and Japan has a different take and set of expectations as compared to a western setting. Learn what questions you may be asked, and other tips that may just improve your chances of nailing that interview.
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Looking for a job in Japan requires knowing how interviews are conducted according to Japanese culture and norms; hence, it brings great advantage for an applicant to know the company and what it is all about and how they do things, in general.
The Japanese consider an interview as an important and integral step in getting to know a prospective employee who will become a vital part of an organization that strives for excellence and productivity. What is essential, apart from knowing the company itself, is to expect what one will be asked and how one must carry himself or herself. The overall impression one will convey in an interview will determine one’s chances to get the job and do it well. Perfecting one’s skills in preparing for an interview, therefore, is the key to selling oneself to a company and convincing the interviewer that the applicant deserves the position.
In many cases, applying to work in Japan requires knowing enough Japanese beyond casual phrases, especially if you are going to work in a Japanese company. One must also learn to understand words and phrases that interviewers might use, as well as how one must answer in a simple, direct, and respectful manner. There are online language tools that can help interviewees refine their conversational skills as well as formal speak in Japanese. Even videos on YouTube can help viewers improve speaking and listening.
And even if your interview is in English, unless the job is at a foreign-based company, the chance of the company still following Japanese business culture is quite high. You may be working with other Japanese employees who expect that you know the “rules” and therefore these tips will still be important to you.
Start with the basics
Print a clean copy of your resume and have your picture at the top. Keep this in a clear file.
Review commonly asked interview questions and then prepare and practice your answers. Some of the basic questions will revolve around your personal and career goals, and what your background is and how your qualifications and experiences can directly benefit or serve the objectives of the company. Preparing and giving honest and concise answers can give the interviewer a clear and spot-on picture of an applicant and allows the interviewer to try to derive a more comprehensive assessment of an individual and his or her skills, interests, potentials, as well as limitations and weaknesses.
What to wear
Now that one has prepared how to answer and behave courteously, going to the interview in proper attire will provide the exterior package of a person. The Japanese, in general, prefer applicants to wear formal attire as in suits, with a white dress shirt and solid-colored tie, ironed and creased pants, short, well-groomed hair (for men) and neatly tucked back or tied up (if long) hair (for women), dark or neutral colored pants or skirt, and matching black or dark formal shoes. One’s attire need not be expensive or flashy but appropriate for the occasion.
Your hair color should be natural, your nails should be groomed and plain (as in no nail polish) and jewelry should be kept to a minimum or not worn at all.
For part-time job interviews, one doesn’t necessarily need to wear a suit but a plain button down shirt with slacks for men, and a simple but nice blouse with pants or a knee-length plain skirt for women is best. Even for a part-time job, jeans should be avoided.
Decorum is a must
Being punctual in Japan means being at the place 10 minutes before, with no exception. Well, that is if one wants to follow the way the Japanese conduct business and deal with people. It shows respect for the time that other people spend in working with others. The culture inherently puts great value to one’s contribution to the overall effort of an organization, as well as helps to establish respect among all persons involved in a common task.
Another important thing to remember during an interview is to forget one’s phone the whole time by turning it off or putting it into airplane mode. Just as being late is a waste on other people’s time, using your phone or having it go off during an interview is a terrible impression.
Knocking on doors is another way to show respect in Japan. It allows other people to respond properly at their convenience to a person’s presence, instead of being suddenly interrupted or surprised by someone who opens a door without being invited in first. Depending on the situation, you may need to knock before entering the room. Knocking twice is the usual. Again, this is Japanese culture at work. Being mindful of such small but valued things can make a big difference during an interview.
Certain hand or body gestures are often culturally unique among all nations. For example, bowing among many Asians, particularly the Japanese, for greeting rather than shaking hands. If one knows these gestures and cultural signs, one can relate accordingly in context. A bow when you greet the interviewer and before you leave is important.
Being polite is a given, not only in demeanor but also in words. Learn the proper phrases for asking and answering politely, as well as greetings, ending conversations or saying goodbye. For instance, enter the room saying “Shitsureishimasu” (Excuse me) when you enter the room, and say “Arigatou gozaimashita” (thank you) at the end of the interview with a bow.
If you’re up for a challenge, the following phrases are commonly said at the end of Japanese interviews.
Honjitsu wa kichou na ojikan wo itadaki, arigatou gozaimashita.
Thank you for taking your precious time to interview me today.
Nanisotsu yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.
(Literal translation) I continue to be in your favor during this process.
(The equivalent of) Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you.
Pay attention to details
For interviews in Japan, there is an accepted pattern of doing things, and here are some of them;
Hand your resume with both hands, the same for receiving items,
Avoid crossing your legs and instead keep both feet planted on the ground and
The ideal way is to sit with your knees together as much as possible while placing hands on your thighs or knees.
Interviews in Japan can sometimes last up to an hour. This may vary, but be prepared for a long interview. They will use this time to thoroughly review your resume, asking you questions about the information step by step starting with your education and going down to your most recent employer before talking about your relevant experience for this particular position you are interviewing for.
Think twice and answer once
We all know how going through an interview can be harrowing, especially if it is our first time or the job is really that important to us. More so when one is asked a question from out of nowhere or is so unexpected in terms of its lack of direct connection to the work concerned. Take a deep breath and, perhaps, ask the interviewer to kindly repeat the question, to make sure you get the question right while you grope for a proper answer. Like, if one is asked: If you were lost in a forest, what would you do? Such a question and others of that kind are meant to test a person’s presence of mind or ability to be resourceful. Having a fixed answer or two ready beforehand, that which can be adaptable to any situation, will come in handy.
When given the chance to ask questions, one may be tempted to ask questions that pertain to sensitive matters, such as benefits or commissions, as well as other incentives. Although it might be a natural thing in most cases in other nations, it is always better not to ask a Japanese interviewer. When given the chance, it would be fine to ask about the key responsibilities of the job, or other similar details as this does show interest towards the prospective job, as long as everything is done politely.
For though some companies can be understanding and may allow it, negotiating for a salary is often not practiced in Japan. It is the same way when the interviewer asks what makes the applicant choose the company, one must not say because it offers high salaries and benefits. Being more creative and culturally-attuned in one’s answer will be the preferable approach in the long-run.
With this basic info and cues in mind as to how interviews in Japan can differ from the common format a foreigner is accustomed to, one need not worry or fear at all if one simply follows the simple steps and practicable customs as if they were one’s own. As long as one behaves with sincerity and in a natural or unpretentious manner, convincing a Japanese interviewer of one’s genuine desire to live and work in Japan on a long-term basis will assure a win-win situation for both the applicant and the company in the end.