In a previous article on getting or changing jobs in Japan, I mentioned how important it was to make a good impression at one’s interview. For this article, we’ll consider the important questions your interviewer is almost certain to ask, and to that end, I decided to enlist the help of my good friend, Miyuki-san for her opinion.
- 1 Background
- 2 How well can you understand and use Japanese?
- 3 Why are you applying for this position?
- 4 Have you worked at a Japanese company before?
- 5 What other work skills do you have?
- 6 What kind of visa do you have?
- 7 Do you miss your family?
- 8 What kind of salary are you looking for?
- 9 Do you have any serious health problems?
- 10 What do you do in your free time?
- 11 How much do you want this job?
- 12 A Final Thought
Miyuki-san is the overseas sales director of a medium-sized components manufacturer serving the electronics and automotive industries, and is regularly involved in interviewing candidates for positions on her sales team. Hers is exactly the kind of company that finds it difficult to attract well-motivated native Japanese staff, with or without good English language skills (she argues that shortcomings in the Japanese education system are not restricted to English teaching methodology alone, but have failed to prepare individuals adequately in a general sense for work).
Bearing those points in mind, as well as the inevitable issues stemming from Japan’s rapidly ageing work-force, senior managers, like Miyuki-san, are likely to consider hiring more foreign staff in future. So let’s now look at the kinds questions the foreign worker is likely to face at interview.
How well can you understand and use Japanese?
This was actually fourth on the list that Miyuki-san sent to me, but I think it’s worth giving it pole position because if you’re applying for a job at a Japanese company, your Japanese skill will be important and your interview will be conducted in Japanese.
But whatever certificates you’ve listed on your CV – and Miyuki-san tells me she’d be looking for at least JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level 2 for office work – it will be your ability to communicate effectively, rather than grammatical accuracy, that really counts. Having said that, getting to know a company’s products or services will obviously require good reading comprehension.
Why are you applying for this position?
Unlike most language schools, commercial companies want employees who can commit to them long term. Whether you’re applying for your first job in Japan, or changing jobs, having a good reason for doing so can make all the difference between success and failure.
Perhaps it’s simply a matter of seeking a better salary and job security; or maybe you’re main reason for being in Japan is to study Aikido; then again, you may have a Japanese spouse and responsibilities as a husband or wife. They’re all very good reasons for wanting a job, but one shouldn’t appear too self-motivated; always try to show an interest in the company’s business and the challenges the job may offer, as this will balance with your own needs.
Have you worked at a Japanese company before?
As you might expect, any interviewer will want to quiz you on your work experience, but at Japanese companies the specifics of your past duties are of less importance; your new employer will teach you what your responsibilities will be anyway. What an interviewer really wants to know is how well you understand and can adapt to Japanese working practices and working mentality. That isn’t to say initiative isn’t appreciated, just that it’s not expected until you’ve learned to do things according to instruction.
What other work skills do you have?
You never know what a prospective employer might find useful, so think carefully about other skills you have to offer. A clean international driver’s licence, experience of handling petty cash or wages, competency with computers and spreadsheets, etc., could all be attractive abilities, even where their relevance to the position on offer might seem vague.
What kind of visa do you have?
Again, unlike many English language schools, mid-level commercial companies do not want to go to the trouble of sponsoring foreign workers. Candidates with existing spouse visas or permanent residency, as well as obvious reasons for staying in Japan, will always be viewed as having greater long term potential. Of course, high profile corporations will offer sponsorship when recruiting directly from overseas, and where they are looking for a specific professional skill-set, but it’s rare otherwise.
Do you miss your family?
Naturally, marital status should be something that’s listed on one’s CV, and your interviewer may well engage with you in a general sense about your spouse and any children you have. If you have children going through the Japanese education system, this will add greatly to your long term viability. However, sometimes an interviewer may be concerned about your wider family back in your own country. Of course, it’s not really any of their business, but you should allow a little latitude here; nobody expects you to burn your bridges when you come to work in Japan, but you should try to reassure the interviewer where your priorities currently lie.
What kind of salary are you looking for?
It isn’t necessarily the salary on offer that attracts one to a job, though I doubt many of us would apply for a post without having at least an idea of what it pays. Even so, starting salaries are quite often open to a degree of negotiation in Japan, with seniority, family responsibilities and previous work experience all adding to what might be offered. Certainly, the interviewer will ask you about your current or previous salary and what kind of improvement you are looking for over that. Employers are generally honest about what they can reasonably offer, or how they might make up for any shortfalls in candidates’ expectations with other perks, so be flexible if you can.
Do you have any serious health problems?
If one has any long term (chronic) or short term (acute) health issues, it pays to be honest about them and explain what treatment you are receiving; Japanese employers are generally sensitive and sympathetic to candidates who can assure them their health issues will not impact on their work. Of course, some people choose to conceal illness, but at the risk of sacrificing some of their statutory employment rights should continued absence lead to confrontation. Besides which, Japanese employers are obligated to provide yearly health checks for their workers that are actually quite comprehensive.
What do you do in your free time?
When I was teaching business English interview skills, many years ago, it always surprised me how many Japanese salarymen would jokingly tell me that “sleeping” was how they spent their spare time. Of course, I’d call them on their answer, as I knew their Japanese bosses would; for the truth is, Japanese employers are just as concerned about their employees mental health as their job performance. Working in Japan can be incredibly stressful, so everyone needs a way to unwind, whether it’s doing sports, collecting butterflies, street photography or watching films, etc., so one can afford to be candid about one’s pastimes at a job interview. Just remember, “sleeping” or “drinking myself into a stupor” won’t earn you any favour!
How much do you want this job?
You might think that your commitment to a job, and to the Japanese working environment, would have become apparent when answering questions 2 and 3 above, but you’d be wrong. The interviewer will want to labour the point, right to the end, and for very good reasons; if you can’t demonstrate motivation, an understanding of Japanese working practices, and a willingness to adhere to them, you won’t get the job! Experience has taught employers how easily demoralised some foreign workers can get, possibly even quitting Japan altogether.
A Final Thought
Japanese employers often ask interviewees about their ‘flexibility,’ and English speakers can be forgiven for believing this refers to initiative, or the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. But the Japanese use of the word is somewhat different and has more to do with doing exactly what one is told, when one is told to do it, even if it encroaches on your personal time.
As I’ve said before, work is the number one priority in Japan, for everyone; if one can’t commit to that idea, then one has no business coming to work here in the first place!
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By Bill Ambler
Read more TalentHub blogs: https://talenthub.jp/blog/?lang=en