Interviewing in Japan 101 

Job interviews in Japan are a very intricate procedure. Depending on how well it goes, it can make or break your chances of landing that job.
As someone who has struggled with job interviews in Japan and who is now in recruiting, I can see from both a foreigner’s perspective and a Japanese company’s. There are still quite a lot of companies in Japan that has never hired people from abroad, and the reason why a lot of foreigners are having a hard time landing jobs here is because Japanese HRs are worried that foreigners will not be able to adapt to the culture. The best way to combat this way of thinking is to leave a really good impression on your interviews. Of course, bringing out your own personality is important but the goal is to make them understand that you can also be respectful of their culture.

1. It’s all about timing

Where I am from, the best time to arrive at an interview is about 10-15 minutes early. In Japan, arriving that early is considered rude. You might be cutting of the interviewer’s lunch break or meeting. However, coming at exactly the time of the interview isn’t exactly the best impression you want to give them either. I’m sure this applies to interviews in most countries as well, but coming to the venue 5-7 minutes early is considered the most appropriate.

2. Off with your coats!!

This is something I learned the hard way. I attended my very first interview in Japan without knowing that I needed to take my coat off. The receptionist snapped at me for it and it probably already left a very bad impression of me. In Japan, in any formal setting, it is common decency that you take your coat off before entering the other parties’ office/building. This goes the same with interviews. If the location of your interview is up a building, the best time to take your coat off would be before riding the elevator. If the interview is held in a normal first floor office, then you’ll need to brave the cold for a bit and take it off outside.

3. The proper etiquette

Once in the building, the first thing you will have to do is inform a receptionist, or call the person you will be meeting through an intercom. From there the receptionist will come and greet you at the entrance and walk you to the room where your interview will be held. Although sometimes the interviewers would not be around yet, do not walk directly to the chair and sit. You can only do so when the receptionist asks you to. When they don’t and they leave the room, you can choose to sit– but personally I would remain standing. Reason being, once the interviewers enter the room, you will need to get back up again and wait until they invite you to take a seat. In the scenario in which the interviewers are already inside, knock before entering and give them a bow before proceeding towards the chair. Like the first scenario, don’t sit until they tell you to. When the interview is over, wait for the interviewer/s to stand before getting up to gather your belongings. Do not wear your coat yet! You can only wear your coat once they are out of sight.

4. Important phrases
As you are doing #3 of this list, you will be mainly using 2 important phrases along them that will surely impress your interviewers, especially if you are a foreigner.
宜しくお願い致します(Yoroshiku onegaiitashimasu)
This is one of the most important and overused phrases in Japan. It doesn’t have a direct translation in English but is often translated as “I’ll be in your care”, and can be used in any situation.
1. As soon as you meet your interviewers.
2. After introducing yourself.
3. After the interview is done.
This phrase is handy because it lets interviewers know when you are done with your self-introductions.

In English it can be taken as “Excuse me”, but in Japan, there are several other uses for it.
During an interview, it is used with the following:
1. As soon as you enter the interview area.
2. As you take your seat
3. Before you leave the interview room
4. before you exit their office.
It might feel really redundant at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. After a ton of interviews in Japan, it just feels right now.

5. 自己紹介 (Jiko shoukai)
Almost 90% of interviewers in Japan will ask you to introduce yourself. Now “introducing”, is not just limited to saying your name and where you are from. This is them basically asking for a preview of what kind of person you are. During Jiko Shoukai, although content is very important, your personality AND Japanese ability will already be evaluated. I cannot stress enough the importance of preparing a good Jiko Shoukai. I can assure you that candidates whose Japanese level isn’t as good but has a really polished Jiko Shokai has a higher chance of getting hired than that of people who are actually good but screwed up on their introductions.

6. During the interview
Out of nervousness, bad habits might unconsciously appear. Be it playing with your pen, looking at your nails, leg shaking, hair fixing– these are all NG. Be conscious of how you present yourself to them. What I would usually do is, if there is a table, I would hide my hands under the it and focus all of my nervousness there where they can’t see. That way I was also able to avoid making unnecessary movements.

7. Do you have any other questions?
Based on my experience, it is always better to ask. It will show your interest in the job and the company. However, I would refrain from asking about money matters and days off off the bat. This will reflect on what your priorities are, and companies want people who are genuinely interested in them.

And that’s about it! As long as you keep these tips in mind, the rest will depend on how well you researched about the company and practiced for the actual interview.
Don’t forget, some HRs like to hire based on potential. Keep a positive attitude while maintaining eye contact, and you can land a job you might not even be very qualified for!

Good luck with job hunting!

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