Like the Eskimos and their many words for snow, there are quite a few words to describe job-hunting in Japan. Shokusagashi 職探し and kyuushoku 求職 have the same meaning as "job-hunting" in English, referring to the general act of looking for employment. Tenshoku katsudou 転職活動 refers to looking for a change of occupation. Shuushoku katsudo 就職活動, aka "shuukatsu" for short, refers to the job-hunting process of fresh high-school and college graduates.
The reason for all of these different "job-hunting" rules is thanks to the unique hiring practices of the Japanese. The biggest and uniquest of these has to be the shinsotsu ikkatsu saiyou 新卒一括採用, where many companies simultaneously hire students in bulk. Before 1997 there was an official date where companies could start their recruitments. If you started before this date it was called aotagari 青田刈り, which literally means "harvesting rice while still green." After 1997 the new guidelines suggested that companies should announce recruitments on December 1 (for third year students) and start screening applicants on April 1 (for fourth year students). Just recently, the Abe Cabinet requested these dates get pushed back further so that students could focus on their studies. 2016 graduates will now wait until March 1 for recruitment to begin and August 1 for the screening to start.
Because companies hire all at once, they compete first for the students of the better schools because they tend to have "better" students. This puts more pressure on high school students, because if you can get into a good university you're more likely to get a good job, even if you don't do much studying once you get there. This system also makes university students join companies earlier. If you wait too long, there are fewer of these finite jobs left remaining. To put it bluntly, students really feel like they need to get a job during this shinsotsu-ikkatsu-saiyou period. If they don't, they'll find it very difficult to find ideal work. They even lose their advantage for the next year, because companies focus on fresh graduates, not one-year-old meat.
The Unwritten Rules Of Job-Hunting In Japan
Already, you can see there is a lot of pressure on students to get a job, with a lot of rules and order to go along with it. It doesn't stop there, though. A huge list of "unwritten rules" exists for these students too. If you don't do these things, it's more unlikely that you'll be able to get a job. Just in terms of your looks there's a huge list you need to follow.
- Should be short enough for the ears to show and be combed neatly (men).
- The ears should show and be combed or tied neatly (women).
- It has to be clean.
- It shouldn't be dyed.
Mustache / Beard
- You should wear a typical dark suit appropriate for a job interview.
- A single suit with two buttons is better than a double suit.
- The top button must be fastened.
- The shirt must be white.
- The necktie should be simple.
- There should be a neat crease in the trousers.
- The color of socks should be a similar color to the suit.
- They must be simple and the color should be black or brown.
- They must be polished well.
- It should be simple and not flashy.
- It's better not to use perfume.
- Nails must be cut nicely.
- It's better not to put on nail polish.
- It's better not to wear them.
- Must be simple and not flashy.
- It should be a typical dark suit appropriate for a job interview.
- Black, dark blue, or gray is safe.
- If it's a skirt, it must not be too short.
- A white shirt is safe.
- The pantyhose must not have a run.
- They must be a simple pair of pumps.
- Their color should match the color of the suit.
- The heels shouldn't be too high.
- They must be polished well.
Despite being "unwritten rules", a lot of people think they are very important (and many of these people are on the hiring end of the table). If you don't do all these things you're less likely to get hired, and with lifetime employment still "a thing" in Japan, you want to get the best job that you can as early as you can. That or risk living at home in your parent's shrine playing Pokémon cards for the rest of your life.
The Japanese Job Hunting Suit
I'd like to focus on one part of this list though, and that is suits. Recently there has been some controversy about this and a lot of raging has occurred on the Japanese internets.
It all started with an article in the "Weekly Toyo Keizai" titled "Choose a black suit for shuukatsu job hunting! – Do not try to stand out with clothes". This was published on October 28, 2014. According to the article, 90% of recruits wear black suits so it suggests that other applicants should follow the majority to be safe. As an example, they compared the reactions of what an interviewer might think if you wore a "unique" striped suit versus a normal black one:
What would an interviewer think if you wore a stripe designed suit for an interview? The reaction of the interviewer will be one of three types.
They'll evaluate it as a positive, as in "a striped suit is better because it's different from others."
They are not interested in a graduate's clothes, so they don't take it for a positive or a negative.
They evaluate it as a negative, as in "he/she doesn't know manners, wearing a striped suit for a job interview is too flashy to make a good impression."
We don't know which reaction is likely because we haven't researched it, but let's assume that each case has equal possibility – a three in one chance. In that case, if you wear a black simple suit to an interview, the interviewer wouldn't react in any particular way since most applicants wear a black plain suit anyways. It's neither positive or negative, but neutral, so it can be said there is no risk if you choose a black suit.
However, if you wear a striped suit to an interview, an interviewer could get a negative impression of you one-third of the time. It's quite a big difference, isn't it? You don't need to take any risks intentionally. Instead of standing out by appearance, you should try standing out by who you are and impress the interviewers with what you say.
In response to this article, Kenichiro Mogi, a Japanese brain scientist who is a senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories and a visiting processor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, brought forward a counterargument. He tweeted:
What's the point of this article? A country where recruits wear "uniforms". I deliberately want to say that this is a worthless and pointless article. It's stupid. Adults who do or say such things are just idiots (regarding "choose black suits for shuukatsu job hunting!"). – @kenichiromogi
Many people agreed with his views and replied to his tweet.
There are a lot of meaningless rules for appearances in Japan – @ys1dream (Twitter account now deactivated)
This article is really stupid, isn't it? Is it saying not to demonstrate personality? When I was job-hunting, it took me a while to get a job offer. I ended up hating both the look and wear of my suit and went to an interview in jeans and a jacket with a pair of sneakers in the end… then I got an offer. Wearing casual clothes makes you relaxed, so I recommend it." - @mii_sang3791
I think it's correct not to join a company which decides who to hire only by the color of their suits. - @mizutamabeat
For example, imagine if there was a child who doesn't want to use a satchel and his/her parents persuaded/begged/commanded/encouraged the child to use it. In that case, I respect parents who can tell their child not "you won't be bullied if you use the satchel" but "this country doesn't allow diversity, but hopefully it will change when you will become adult." I never ever want to be a person who confidently tells a child "when you graduate from university, you will have to wear a recruit suit, which is a satchel for adults, or else you won't be accepted. It's all for your benefit." Instead, I want to be someone who can talk about my true feelings about the recruit suit – containing opinions about both those who agree with the black suit and those who are not comfortable with it. That would be a steady step, though it's a small step, to reduce this country's stuffiness and light a fire of hope. I think an adult who can do such things is a wonderful adult. - @KOKAMIShoji
Of course, there were counterarguments to the counterarguments. Things are really getting heated! All just for the color of a suit!
Freelance writer Tomohiro Akagi wrote a blog post with his opinion. Aft first he took it for granted that there are people who feel uncomfortable or question if using black suits is the right thing to do after reading Toyo Keizai's original article. He said that if a recruit asked him what was best to wear for a job interview, he would tell them to choose a black suit because the purpose of job-hunting is not to wear a colorful suit but to obtain a job offer. If there is a risk in wearing a unique colored suit, then the best advice certainly would be to follow the majority. After making these introductory remarks, he took up the main subject, which is "where do Mr. Mogi and the others' angers come from?"
Akagi assumed that they got upset with the fact that an individual person with their own personality is treated in a uniform manner because they grew up in the period when people made a strong appeal not to wear school uniforms but to wear whatever they like in their school days. He concluded that their opinion comes from believing that accepting a variety of clothes equals accepting a variety of personalities.
Then he pointed out that graduates who were currently job-hunting were very used to wearing school uniforms so they know how to take advantage of it. Especially "high school girls", who have become a sort of icon, which means they benefit from a consumer society, which equals having their value recognized by society. Because of that, they don't have any doubts about wearing the same black suit like everybody else. This means that the "worthlessness" or "stuffiness" that Mr. Mogi and the others insist on only exists in their own generation and there is a high possibility that such ideas don't exist at all among the current recruits.
In that way, it clears up why I doubted their anger. I guess whoever feels worthless or stuffy from the sight of all applicants wearing black suits are only Mr. Mogi or Mr. Kokami. Therefore, I think the truth of their anger is that they are using recruits as chessmen in a proxy war to fulfill their self-respect.
Sick burn, bro.
In the end, though, why are these people fighting about this? Isn't the most important thing for recruits to think for themselves? If they want to be safe and do what everyone else does, then they can wear a black suit and follow the unwritten rules list. Plus, a simple black suit can be used in many other situations as well. This is an extreme example, but if someone somehow found a great reason to wear a golden suit that can be explained logically, then I think that's fine too. The interviewer would probably ask you why you chose that suit, and then hopefully you can explain a reasonable answer, using logic, that impresses him or her.
The worst part is that both sides are making groundless claims against the other. Everything is purely opinion. The recruits and the interviewers had hardly any say at all. Even the original article that sparked all of this controversy said that they wrote their thoughts without doing any proper research. Akagi's response against the individualist side is just as bad. He's just speculating about how Mr. Mogi and friends think, which doesn't help anybody.
It's too bad that we can't do a study on job-hunting suits this year. I wonder if these articles and arguments even moved the needle in either direction. How many people will wear simple, black suits? How many will try something a little more wild, like gasp pinstripes? I hope that on December 1 you think about all the people in Japan searching for a job. And then, I hope they find an occupation that makes them happy and allows them to wear whatever is comfortable for them.