Job hunting in Japan as an international student

SUMMARY

  • Be aware of the fact that the job hunting cycle is entirely different from most other countries in the world.
    • More specifically, job-hunting can start as early as the summer two years before you graduate if you graduate in spring.
    • The situation for students graduating in autumn is more complex.
  • The typical Japanese job-hunting process is also long and complex – search for “shukatsu” (就活) for more information.
    • However, note that there are also increasing numbers of students who find jobs outside of the typical shukatsu process.
  • Conversion from a student visa to a working visa is usually not difficult.
  • There is also a so-called job-hunters visa for those graduating without a job offer.
    • However, it is far more difficult to find a job if one has already graduated.
  • Also don’t forget to take a look at other guide articles explaining available opportunities for more information on for example internships.

Written by: Austin Zeng / Ly Techsrun

Working in Japan after graduation can be rewarding in many aspects – you get to deepen your understanding of Japan, develop your career and of course continue living in Japan. However, for this to happen you have to receive a job offer in the first place. Which brings us to this article – how does one go about job hunting in Japan?

This topic is too long and too deep to write about in full so we can only go through the basics. Mext scholar Techsrun Ly has however, made a comprehensive guide to the process he went through for shukatsu and is attached to this article below.

Job hunting in Japan

First of all, be aware that the job-hunting process calendar is very different from the rest of the world. The earliest the job hunting process can start is the summer of two years before you graduate – that is, if you are for example graduating in the spring of 2020, your job hunting process starts in the summer holidays of 2018.

Of course, this does depend on the types of companies you aim at – the earliest tend to be the internationals while the big Japanese national companies start moving in the winter of the year before graduation. But please be aware to ensure that you are not caught off guard.

Also, if you are planning to graduate in autumn, things are a bit more complex. Some companies will ask you to wait for half a year in order to join the spring batch whereas some will welcome you to join in autumn. There is no clear rule regarding this matter and it differs from company to company.

The job-hunting process

The typical job-hunting process in Japan is long and can involve multiple rounds of interviews, document screenings and standardized testing, which means that you might have to juggle school while job-hunting for a whole semester. Techsrun’s write-up below may give you a more concrete idea of how the standard process works.

However, do note that an increasing number of people are getting hired directly or through ways aside from the typical shukatsu. In particular, internship recruiting is getting more common (see the guide article about internships for more information) and getting job offers from personal contacts etc. is not unheard of either.

Working visa

It is also not difficult to change your student visa to a working visa as long as you have a valid job offer from a valid company. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice suggest that more than 90% of foreign students applying to convert their visas into a working visa are successful.

In case you were unable to get a job offer before graduation, though, you will have the option of changing your visa into a job-hunting visa, which grants you permission to stay in Japan and look for a job period for up to one year.

Try landing a job before you graduate!

However, do note that because of the employment structure in Japan it is far harder for someone to find a job as a graduated student than otherwise – only a small minority of companies open themselves to applications from students who have already graduated.

References:

http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri07_00111.html

Addendum: Shukatsu Experience

Summary (Experiences and recommendations!)

  • Shukatsu can be generally divided into six steps
  • Registering at agencies like Global Leader or TOP CAREER might be helpful
  • CV: Attending events organized by companies for getting a better idea about what those companies were like was useful for writing my CVs
  • Group discussions: I would suggest that you mention that you are not a native speaker and reconfirm with Japanese students in case you could not follow the discussion

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Self introduction and background

Nationality: Cambodia

Scholarship type: College of Tech. -> Undergraduate

Academics: Social sciences, bachelor’s degree

Shukatsu period: 2016-2017

I started looking for a job not having any specific industry in mind.

I was planning on first trying to work and then see what my opportunities are in order to find what I really want to do in the future.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Editor’s note: The following is a detailed explanation of the process that Techsrun followed and which is very typical of a “conventional” shukatsu in Japan.

First, one usually starts by doing a so-called self-analysis (自己分析, SA). In Japan, during interviews you will not only be asked about your skills or your major at university but also about the factors that made you the person you are today, who your best friends are and who has made the biggest impact on you in your life. This is not something you have to submit anywhere, but I personally think that this is a helpful step in order to prepare for possible interview questions.

As for the SA, I think it can generally be divided into two parts.

The first part is about imagining your ideal future. For me, this part was really difficult and what I did was, when considering my life dream, I just researched websites and brochures of the companies that I applied for for their goals and visions. During interviews, I then stated that I had similar dreams.

The second part is about analysing yourself – mainly about your personal strengths and weaknesses. This could be confusing at times because what strengths and weaknesses are considered could differ between your country and Japan. For example, the willingness to work overtime until late at night could be viewed as a strength by Japanese companies. So I suggest that you do careful research about what is considered as a strength or weakness by Japanese companies.

 

The second step is your CV. As an international student looking for a job in Japan, this was the most difficult part for me. One reason is that they require a lot of writing for each company and sometimes many deadlines for CV submissions for different companies overlapped.

As for me, I was very lucky to have a close Japanese friend. I told him what I wanted to write and he helped me translating it into formal Japanese. Sometimes he even suggested me on what I should and should not write in my CVs. Another suggestion is to get help from the job hunting agencies I mentioned in the very beginning of this article.

Another important point is that it is very useful to mention that you are a MEXT scholar. I received a very positive reaction from many companies by doing so. Apparently, many companies regard MEXT scholars as outstanding individuals for them to be able to be granted this scholarship.

 

The third step is to go to company orientation seminars. Although formal seminars start in March one year before your graduation, many informal ones start in the preceding December. These seminars are a good opportunity for you to get to know what kind of business the companies are doing and also are a chance for you to get to know whether you generally like the company or not.

If you register for agencies like Global Leader or TOP CAREER, you will receive emails informing you about company orientation seminars set up specifically for international students. These seminars include in-depth explanations about the organizing companies’ international businesses, and which countries they are aiming to expand their businesses to. Sometimes, foreign staff working at these companies will be present at the seminars too, so that we get to ask questions about their experiences as foreigners working for Japanese companies. However, not many companies organize seminars aimed at international applicants, so you might consider joining their general seminars aimed at Japanese applicants as well.

 

The fourth step is to take aptitude tests. Usually it takes international students longer to study and prepare for tests than it does for Japanese students. Most tests are in Japanese, but there also are a few companies, such as Honda, which allow international students to take the test in English.

 

The fifth step to take part in group discussions. This is the part of the screening process, where companies want to see how you work in a group. Usually, you would be allocated into a group of 4-8 people and assigned a topic to discuss. One problem we might face is that Japanese students speak better Japanese and thus take a leading role in the discussion and international students sometimes cannot follow and get left behind.

One strategy that I used is when I introduced myself at the beginning of the discussion I emphasized that I am not a Japanese native speaker. I also said “I am afraid I did not quite understand what you were saying, would you mind explaining it one more time?” in case I could not follow the discussion. For me, this worked most of the time, so I would suggest we should be brave enough to ask the group members to stop the discussion for a moment in case we lost track or did not understand what was being said.

Another strategy I used is to intentionally use a few English words in my arguments, because this can help by drawing the attention of the other participants and my argument become more persuasive this way. By the way, out of all the companies I applied to, only at NISSAN I was able to join the group discussion in English, possibly due to the company’s flexibility or the large number of international students applying.

 

The sixth and last step is getting interviewed. Personally, I would suggest to inform the interviewer that you are a MEXT scholar when you do your self-introduction. Among all the companies I was interviewed at, only NISSAN offered me the opportunity to do the interview in English.

(Image taken from flickr.com (2017/10/25))

These guide articles are meant to be advice based on the experience of current and previous scholars. Given how situations may change depending on the school, region or year etc., we urge any scholars to approach the relevant authorities in your school if you have any doubts or concerns.


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