"How do I get a job in Japan?"
We get that question in the Tofugu email inbox. All. The. Time. There are more people wanting to live and work in Japan than ever before, at least according to the highly statistically accurate Tofugu's email inboxes measurement.
Unfortunately, job searching in Japan is extra tough—you're dealing with a new country where all the rules you're used to are thrown straight out the window.
What you need is a roadmap to getting hired in Japan. If only there was someone with insider knowledge who could lay out everything you need to know, step-by-step…
Oh, wait! There is. His name is Peter Lackner and we interviewed him on the Tofugu Podcast.
This means he's seen a lot of people like you submit their resumes to Japanese companies, and he knows exactly what works and what doesn't.
To get the full wealth of Peter's Japan job search knowledge, you'll have to listen to the interview. But for a summary of major talking points, keep on reading.
- Requirements for Working in Japan
- Alternative Approaches to Working in Japan
- Your Resume Photo
- Move to Japan Before You Job Search
- Getting an Internship in Japan
- Networking the Japanese Way
- Three Questions Every Japanese Interviewer Asks
- What Level of Japanese Do You Need to Work in Japan?
- Advice on Job Boards, Cover Letters, and Interviews
- How to Ace the Interview
- Online Resume Tips
- You Can Get a Job in Japan!
Requirements for Working in Japan
Japan doesn't accept immigrants like America or some other countries do. There are regulations in place for the regular working visa. You are going to need a university, not college, a university degree, which is four years in the US, or three years in the UK.
Right off the bat, Peter hit us with a bombshell: you can't just jump over to Japan and start working. Japanese Immigration only gives work visas to people with four-year university degrees.
It's the law and there's nothing we can do about it. So stay in school, kids.
That said, there are other options to living and working in Japan that can get around this requirement (but not many).
Alternative Approaches to Working in Japan
It gets you to Japan, and then you'll find out if you like it or not. And then hey, if you like it, go back home and finish your degree. And then come back to Japan and get a proper working visa. Or maybe you stay in Japan for a year, learn Japanese, and then when you go back home, hey! You have Japanese on your resume and some work experience. That's also good for getting a job.
JESP sounds like an interesting opportunity if you're the right kind of person, but it's definitely not for everybody.
If you don't have a university degree and you don't have savings, there are other ways to live and work in Japan. Peter told us about a program called the Japan Employment Success Program (JESP)1, which enables people to work in Japan through a kind of loophole in the system.
If you're a student in Japan (meaning you have a student visa), you're allowed to work twenty-eight hours a week, basically part-time.
JESP brings you over as a Japanese language student (not a university student, mind you) and they pay up to 70% of the tuition (which can be about $20,000 a year). They even provide dorm housing and maybe a bicycle to help you get around.
Here's the catch: you work off the debt at a part-time job chosen by JESP. It's kind of like indentured servitude; maybe not the best situation, but it gets you to Japan. Just make sure you stick it out and work off your debt.
Be aware, if you don't like the dorm housing or the job you're given (working in a restaurant or something like that), then you have to pay back JESP for the money they loaned you.
Think hard about this one before you dive in…
Sounds like an interesting opportunity if you're the right kind of person, but it's definitely not for everybody. Again, stay in school.
Your Resume Photo
For your cover letter or for your resume, be sure to put a photo on that … It's what Japanese people are used to. It's that it puts a personality and an image to your resume, and that makes it harder to throw in the wastebasket.
What if you have a four-year degree and you want to apply to jobs in Japan?
Just like any country, you start with a resume, and Peter told us an interesting difference between Japanese resumes and those in Europe and the US: photos.
It's standard practice in Japan to include a photo of yourself on your resume so a hiring manager can put a face to the list of skills.
He also gave us some helpful tips for the photo:
- Get a professional-looking headshot at a photo kiosk
- No selfies
- No cell phone shots
- No standing next to your car
- No holding a beer
- No giving the peace sign
TL;DR: no casual photos.
Attaching a photo may seem weird to Westerners, but if you send a resume to a Japanese company without one, it'll definitely go in the trash.
Move to Japan Before You Job Search
Most of the companies, if they want to hire a foreigner; there [are] a lot of foreigners already in Japan that they can choose from. And finding somebody from overseas it's almost like—how do you say—a mail-order bride. You want to meet that bride before you make the plunge.
One of the biggest takeaways from our talk was this: getting a job in Japan from outside Japan is really, really difficult.
A failed overseas hire is expensive for a Japanese company. The company has to pay to help you get to Japan, help you get set up, spend time training you, and get you acquainted with Japanese life.
It's a lot of time and effort for both parties.
So if the new hire goes home, the company is back to square one and they have to spend all that time and money again.
But if the candidate is already in Japan, already knows some Japanese, and already functioning in the country, that makes them a safer bet.
So how do you get to Japan in the first place? Peter had only one answer: English teaching.
Getting an English teaching job in Japan is relatively easy and low stress. So it's the perfect way to get set up in the country and start networking.
Getting an Internship in Japan
You're gonna have questions, and you're gonna need like a mentor. So, that's why [you pay for the internship] because they're basically giving you a coach that can help you and be successful instead of saying, "You guys work it out." … That's a recipe for failure.
A Japanese internship is more like a mentorship, in which you get a place to stay and twenty-four hour support.
If you don't want to go the English teaching route and you have a four-year degree, there's always internships.
Here's the twist though: in Japan, paid internships are paid by the intern (about $4,000).
Before giving up on this option, understand a Japanese internship is more like a mentorship, in which you get a place to stay and twenty-four hour support.
Basically, you work in a Japanese company for eight weeks and every step of the way, you're getting coaching, advice, and encouragement that will lead to your full-time job.
It's not for everybody, but it's a great way to bypass English teaching or enhance your resume when searching for jobs in Japan.
Networking the Japanese Way
You're going to need to network. You're gonna get out there, and it's a contact sport. Join some professional groups; try to network as much as possible because most of the jobs people find are not through job boards.
If you've been working as an English teacher for a while and want to make the leap to a Japanese company, networking will be your best bet.
Heck, even getting your second, third, and fourth job in Japan will take networking. So it's better to hit the pavement early.
After-work drinking culture is pretty important in Japan, so naturally going out to bars with professional and industry groups will enable you to meet people, get noticed, and land the job you're looking for. It's a long game but it works.
Peter goes into more detail about this (and how important it is), but if you're in Japan already, this is an easy and essential next step.
Three Questions Every Japanese Interviewer Asks
There's two parts to this: what do people want to do and what is there a market for because that's two totally different things. Maybe everybody wants to be a travel writer. Everybody wants to work in manga. Everybody wants to do all these cool things, but those jobs are few and far between.
A lot of Japanese companies are hiring their "first foreigner," meaning if you're a flexible jack-of-all-trades, a company may hire you to be the "English" face of the company.
Finding a job in Japan can be more difficult than in your home country because maybe the job you're shooting for isn't in demand. Or you have some skills the company is looking for, but not everything they're looking for.
This is a tricky situation with no easy answers, but Peter gives us some solid advice for navigating it.
First, the good news: a lot of Japanese companies are hiring their "first foreigner," meaning if you're a flexible jack-of-all-trades, a company may hire you to be the "English" face of the company. Maybe not the sales or marketing position you wanted, but it's something.
Also, Peter gives us the three questions every Japanese interviewer is trying to answer:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you like the job?
- Do we think we'll like you?
If you can answer these three questions, you'll show the interviewer you're a good fit for the company.
What Level of Japanese Do You Need to Work in Japan?
Without [JLPT Level 2], yeah, I wouldn't even look at somebody for a professional job unless it was in IT where I'm gonna ask about their different IT-related languages more than their Japanese. But if you want to be in marketing or sales or anything like that and you're selling to the Japanese or working with the Japanese, then you'll need … JLPT 2.
Of course, to work in Japan, you're going to need a high-functioning level of Japanese (another reason it's a good idea to start as an English teacher).
But how do you prove that to an employer? Easy. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). This is the standardized test all companies use to judge a foreign candidate's ability level.
The minimum bar you have to pass is Level 2. There are five levels, with Level 1 being the highest. This should give you an idea of the effort you need to put into your Japanese studies to be able to work in Japan.
Advice on Job Boards, Cover Letters, and Interviews
There's too much drama, and so many Americans have this sense of entitlement because in the cover letter, it's just showing them that oh, this person is just out for themselves.
When it comes to general job searching, this might be one of the most helpful sections of the interview. If you want to listen to Peter's general tips on job boards, cover letters, and interviews, skip straight to 31:21.
Here's a few of the quotes from Peter I think are most important for you to hear:
On the job boards and all this, where [people are] going to go wrong first is they're going to start applying to every company. And they're just gonna blanket it… And that's the wrong way to go because you're gonna make a mistake, and you're gonna put on the Berlitz application form: "I look forward to … working at Gaba or something like that."
TL;DR: Put some thought into the places you're applying to and don't spam the apply button. Not only will your resume and cover letter feel generic, you're more likely to make simple mistakes which puts your application straight in the garbage. That's a waste of time you don't need.
And the other [problem] is often in the cover letters; we see so many very selfishly written items. So, I want to get a job there so I can improve my Japanese ability. I want this so I can have this, and it's all centered on "me." … Don't make it selfish and centered on yourself. But look into the company. How can you provide more for the company because that's what they're interested in?
TL;DR: Focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. It's fine to talk about future goals, but not too much. You want to clearly communicate your skills and how you're going to benefit the company. Period.
During a Skype interview, please remember that it is an interview, and you're not talking with your Aunt Marge or anything like that. So, dress the part. And what we've seen a lot for people doing these Skype interviews is they'll just relax in their chair a little bit, and they'll take a big swig of water or can of cola or whatever. And they're acting like it's normal.
TL;DR: Don't let Skype, Hangouts, or FaceTime fool you into thinking you're not doing a real interview. Act, dress, and speak as professionally as you would in a face-to-face interview. Otherwise, you'll come off as lazy, and no company wants a Sloppy Simon on their team.
How to Ace the Interview
The good thing about working at a job board is I get to meet all the employers … And I ask them who makes it and who doesn't, and what's your "thirty seconds to failure?"
Basically, the interviewer is looking for certain mistakes in the first thirty seconds that will fail the candidate right away.
Once we got Peter talking about interviews, he really started spilling a lot of useful advice for job seekers.
Working at Japan job boards for over a decade, Peter has talked with a lot of recruiters who hire foreigners, and he divulged the key things they look for in an interview. He called it their "thirty seconds to failure."
Basically, the interviewer is looking for certain mistakes in the first thirty seconds that will fail the candidate right away. It sounds brutal, but remember: hiring managers have loads of interviews to get through, and this makes the decision-making process more efficient for them.
If you avoid these mistakes in the first thirty seconds, you have a much better chance of passing the interview.
Some of the mistakes that will kill your interview are:
- Guzzling some kind of drink
- Showing up late
- Showing up too early
- Not wearing business clothes
- Mimicking the interviewer to gain favor
- Making too much eye contact
- Not making enough eye contact
- Asking personal questions to the interviewer
There are more things you shouldn't (and should) do in the interview, so start listening at 35:50 to get the full scoop.
If you need even more Japanese interview tips, there's a wealth in our article about the Boston Career Forum, the largest foreign hiring event for Japanese companies.
Online Resume Tips
On each job board, there's thousands of resumes … And if they all say "resume," it's like … they don't know which one to open. Just put something like … "motivated, bilingual, experienced, certified teacher," something like that. Anything that you [have] that could increase the ability of getting your resume opened is gonna help you.
One quick tip Peter gave that I thought was interesting: title your resume filename something eye-catching.
Basically, don't call your resume
resume.pdf. Name it something like
I never thought getting creative with filenames would make a difference, but Peter assured us that when employers check their listings on boards like Jobs In Japan, they see long lists of
resume.pdf over and over.
So if your resume is named
experienced-bilingual-teacher-resume.pdf it'll definitely stand out and be more likely to get selected.
You Can Get a Job in Japan!
Overall Peter gives Japan job seekers a ton of great advice in this episode. If you listen to the interview from start to finish, you'll get a complete guide to employment in Japan. You'll find out what's realistic, what's not, how to position yourself for success, and how to land the job when the opportunity comes your way.
To hear the full interview and get the complete Japan job-seeking roadmap for yourself, listen to full episode here:
You may notice in the interview that Peter talks about two programs, JESP and JWave, almost interchangeably. That's because until recently, JWave partnered with JESP to gather candidates from the United States. But JESP parted ways with JWave and now runs the entire program on its own. If you're interested in this program, visit the JESP website. The old JWave site is still up, but it's unclear to us whether or not it still offers the same service. ↩