On Job Hunting in Japan

by Laura Melfi, Waseda SILS class of 2010, Fall

The Overlake School, Redmond WA USA


Job Hunting is harder than you can possibly imagine. It was the most unexpectedly stressful experience of my academic life, but ultimately the most rewarding. Although so much of Job Hunting cannot be understood without going through the process for yourself, I do believe that it is helpful to find out about things through the experiences of others. Indeed, the most cathartic moment of Job Hunting for me was when I went out for ice cream with my team after a Group Work exam and we all casually compared notes about what we were doing. I just felt so relieved knowing I was not alone. I hope that this English language account, although basic information, answers some questions and gives some insight into Shūshoku Katsudō.


My Waseda Experience

I began studying the Japanese language in my home country at the age of 12, and entered the SILS SP2 program (Japanese level 3) straight out of high school. I came to Japan specifically with the aspiration of living here after graduation, and a big part of achieving this goal was securing employment. To get my Japanese language ability up to par, I took 32 Japanese language course credits at CJL, with a stress on written language (composition, grammar, kanji).

At SILS I focused on courses in the Social Sciences, History, and Japanese Literature. I am greatly indebted to Prof. Hiroshi Sakurai for granting me the unique opportunity to study and discuss sociology and philosophy in Japanese, giving me the confidence to take Open courses in the greater university. My Graduation Thesis was written in Prof. Adrian Pinningtonfs Zemi, a discussion-based seminar concerning the idea of Japan and its culture.

I did not study abroad, but instead poured my third year into refining my Japanese language skills: obsessively studying kanji on the weekdays, I practiced honorifics on the weekends by working part-time for an Akihabara-based event company. I merged these experiences outside of school with my studies when writing my thesis on Otaku culture.


When do September students start looking for employment?

The Japanese school year begins in the spring. Japanese students typically begin Job Hunting in the second semester of their junior year (in the fall), with job offers normally coming in during the first semester of their senior year (in the spring). Jobs then start a year later, right after college graduation. Most Japanese companies hire new graduates by graduating class, i.e. companies accepting gapplications for 2010h are asking for students who can start work on April 1st, 2010.

In contrast I started college in the fall, graduating September of 2010. Following the logic, if I were to start Job Hunting in my junior year, I would be applying for jobs requiring me to start work before I graduate. This is why September students start Job Hunting in the beginning of their senior year, and finish during their final semester of college. In other words, I am class of 2010, but I was apart of what is referred to as the 2011 Job Hunting process.


The Job Hunting Process, Month by Month

The process started for me with a step called Jiko Bunseki (Self Analysis). The summer before starting Job Hunting, I went to the bookstore and picked up a book by the same name, and began thinking about who I am, what defines my personality, and what stories best exemplify my strengths. Many Jiko Bunseki books come with writing sections. Answering these prompts is not only helpful for figuring out what kind of person you are (and more importantly, how to express that to people in a clear and meaningful way), it is also incredibly useful to have a whole bunch about yourself already written for when you start cranking out Entry Sheets.

In October 2009 I began attending Job Hunting seminars at my school. When companies came to visit campus I made it a point to attend sessions and converse with any company recruiter I could. I registered with the website Rikunabi and began the process of researching and bookmarking companies that interested me. By November I started formulating my idea of what kind of job I wanted to aim for.

By December I was attending job fairs, and had finished gPre-Entryh (what really should be called mailing list registration) for a working list of 15 companies. Might I note that this number is considered to be on the thin side; most students go for 20-40 companies, some go so far as to write out over 100 entry sheets. I worked within my personal limits, but in retrospect I would suggest committing to at least 25 companies from the beginning; in my experience, you really only start to get used to Job Hunting after your tenth company.

In January 2010 I started registering for company Setsumeikai (Information Sessions) and turning in Entry Sheets. February rolled around, I finished my finals and Spring Break started—this is when Job Hunting kicks in for most people. I began travelling back and forth between Kansai and Kantō, attending more seminars, turning in more entry sheetsc I got a callback for my first group interview and got my first taste of failure as I took my first SPI-2 test blind. February was when I first started receiving rejection letters. For every rejection I received I added 2 companies to my list.

March was the most stressful of all months. As I rushed furiously to cram for my standardized tests, rejections kept piling up, and deadlines, too. I remember spending entire days at cafes, developing writersf cramp trying to crank out the perfect handwritten resume, trying to get the wording right on a handwritten thank you letter, then rushing to the post office in Shinjuku that is open until 23:00. I would rush to Kyoto for a week, and rush back to Tokyo the next. Sometimes I could sleep on the midnight highway bus, but sometimes I could not.

School started up again in April and I began juggling school and interviews. Somehow, through what I can only describe as a series of fortunate events, I began having luck with a company, following the process through—school seminar, web entry, personality test, entry sheet, web test, seminar, interview, written test, second interview, curriculum vitae, phone consultation and final interview—to the very end, receiving my job offer on the morning after my final interview, right before Golden Week. I accepted right then and there, and spent the next week catching my breath: it was over.

And none too soon. I had my last semester of college to finish and a thesis to write. While Spring students still have a whole year left of school, Fall students have to deal with a true time crunch after Job Hunting. I count my lucky stars that I found a job before May.

In the blink of an eye school was out, and I was awaiting college graduation in September. My companyfs entry ceremony is October, and I will begin work next year, in April, 2011. I am currently living in Kyoto, acclimating to the climate and culture.

My Job

I landed a job with OMRON, a key Japanese manufacturer located right next to Kyoto station. My company makes everything from blood pressure readers to customized control equipment for factories. I myself will be working at their head office at a part of the General Affairs Division. As a new employee, I get to try my hand at a range of jobs before my placement in a specific department. My goal is become involved with HR, specifically in recruitment. There is nothing quite like living in Tokyo, but I am really looking forward to living in the west, where I first came to Japan on exchange during high school.

            When I started Job Hunting I had no idea I would find employment with my company, but I am pleased to say that I have found a place that matches my personality, wants, and goals better than any other company I applied to. They have an upbeat and progressive atmosphere, a mission statement that resonates with me, I have a job in a division I know I can contribute to, and I am working in a city I have always wanted to live in. I am 120% pleased with my decision.

Advice on Job Hunting

Imagine having to take the JLPT1 in 30 minutes, with two more 30 minute sections on logic and math. Most all companies require you to take standardized tests just like all the other Japanese applicants, and most all companies cut applicants with low test scores.

The tests you have to take will vary from company to company and from field to field. Some are taken on the web, some in-house, some at test centers. Probably the most common is called the SPI-2. As for the level of reading comprehension, JLPT1-level readers should theoretically be able to read everything on the test—the catch is: you will have a fraction of the time to score high marks on a test that was created to be hard for Japanese students to complete. 50 questions in 30 minutes means you have 36 seconds to read and answer each question. Unequivocally, the JLPT1 does not qualify you as ready for the Job Hunting process.

There are companies out there that do not test, there are some that interview before testing, or look at your test results along with your resume/entry sheet before making their decision. While it is important to actively seek out those companies and apply, I can guarantee you that most if not all of your top choices will with test you with unrivalled clinical objectiveness.

This is not to say that you cannot get a job in Japan if you have not passed JLPT1 (as a matter of fact, out of all the interviews I took I was asked about my scores by only one company), rather, you must recognize that most of the big name companies require standardized testing—they send the completed answer booklets to the testing headquarters, and a computer spits back a list of all registration numbers that passed. If youfre not on the list, you donft make it to the next round.

The good news is that there are plenty of guidebooks on these tests available for purchasing online. Especially if you did not grow up reading kanji, do not remember high school algebra (or both, like me), get your hands on a SPI-2 practice test, or even better, sign up for and take a practice test in the Fall to see what you are getting yourself into. I also recommend buying any of the Web Tesuto books put out by SPI No-to no kai to get an idea of what kinds of problems appear on web tests. The book also includes a list of companies and what tests they will be giving for your year.

If there is one piece of advice I could give you, it is that I recommend you study up and practice for these standardized tests at least a semester before you start Job Hunting. It gives you more opportunities to make it through to the interview process.

            If I could give two more pieces of advice, the first would be to keep a tiny journal of your life. First, have a page with four columns, 1) listing every year from the year you were born up until now, 2) the equivalent year-of-the-emperor date, 3) what grade you were in, and 4) what big life events happened that year. Next, have a page for each school year starting from high school, and keep track of major events and achievements, clubs and jobs you participated in for that year. This helps so much when writing Entry Sheets and Curriculum Vitae.

The second piece of advice pertains mostly to interviews, but also in general: keep smiling. Interviewers and recruiters see hundreds of students every day, and most of them have a frown on their face. A smile lights up the room and puts your interviewers into a great mood. As well, people have mixed opinions about this but I am a firm believer that you should be smiling in the photo that you put on your Curriculum Vitae. A smile is not just charming but memorable. Most importantly, I found that smiling keeps you in good spirits. It sounds silly but even when you are exhausted, stressed, and emotionally drained, putting on a smile can really turn your day around.

Advantages of a Liberal Arts education

Although a Liberal Arts education does not give you the skills required for entry-level technical positions in companies, there is great potential for success in the working world for those students who commit themselves to their studies. Specifically, an International Liberal Studies education pairs well with students aspiring to managerial career tracks. Managerial positions above all require leadership, and SILS students make great leaders in the workplace by:

Getting along with everybody—the genuinely international and interdisciplinary SILS experience gives students the ability to comprehend the perspectives of all types of people, spanning all cultural, educational, and occupational backgrounds. They see gthe big picture,h and have the ability to communicate it to their team.

Generating dynamic solutions—coming from a background of multiple disciplines, SILS students can see connections between otherwise seemingly distant fields, and can draw from a bigger well of knowledge in the synthesis of new ideas and solutions. They can both lead and progress a team project.

Incorporating their values into decision making—having the opportunity to study abroad, and take classes in philosophy, history, art, and literature, SILS students have a strong sense of self, and can look to a variety of experiences and mediums in coming to critical decisions. They are solid, dependable thinkers.

A SILS education is steadily becoming a hot commodity in the globalizing Japanese business market. Featured on NHK and having proved themselves in a wide variety of companies both domestic and international, SILS students and alumni are fostering a positive reputation for their department.


Note to SILS students: My ideas on the issue are influenced by a class I took at SILS. I highly recommend registering Prof. Naoshi Takatsufs gCreating Values in Businessh the semester before you start Job Hunting. The class will provide you with a motivating argument for the value of Liberal Arts thinking in the workplace.


This is a very hard time to be looking for employment in Japan. They say that one in five college students will not find a job before graduation, and the odds are stacked higher for foreign students. I cannot stress enough how much dedication and preparation is necessary for the Job Hunting process. Even when you give it your all, you cannot predict what the end result will be. Many students I know continued searching for employment way into the summer, some are still looking, and some switched gears altogether and applied to graduate school. I know one Japanese student who applied to 79 places before being accepted by his 80th company.

The good news is that regardless of the results, the personal growth that you will experience makes Job Hunting in Japan a truly an invaluable experience, and it goes without saying that your Japanese language skills will increase dramatically. For me, Job Hunting gave me the confidence to take on any Japanese language situation, everything that seemed so intimidating to me before now seems so accessible, and for all the stress I can say it was completely worth it. To everyone out there beginning the grand search for employment here in Japan, I wish you all the best of luck! Stay strong!


September 2010