Japan has a fairly unique hiring process, let’s get that out of the way first. Especially if you are fresh out of university and this is your first job in Japan, you can expect to come upon a few systems that might seem a bit alien. In this article, I would like to list a few things that you should keep in mind if you want to apply to and work for a traditional Japanese company.
- Expect the application procedure to take a long time
Japanese people start the job-hunting process while they are still in university, usually in their third year. They submit applications starting in spring, then go to group seminars and interviews, and finally, they will have their final interviews. For a first job, three interviews are fairly standard, some companies will also hold seminars and other events in between. All in all, you can expect the whole application procedure to take up to half a year in some cases. Japanese companies like to think that they hire people for life, so the vetting process can take quite a while.
- In most cases you apply for the company, not the job
This one is mostly true for new graduates again. In Japan, having a bachelor’s degree is often the only requirement to be able to apply for a specific job. Thus, people often end up working in fields that have nothing to do with their major. This can be an advantage, but it also comes with the disadvantage that the company might assign you something which doesn’t suit you. You might have applied as an IT-engineer, but the company currently needs more salespeople, so that’s the job you get.
- Expect job rotation
Somewhat related to the aforementioned point, many bigger, traditional companies have a so-called “job rotation” system. Every few years, you will be transferred to a different department where you have to learn a new routine from scratch again. The idea is that companies want their staff to be knowledgeable about all areas of their business. But unfortunately, you rarely get a say in this and are simply expected to comply. Sometimes this might even mean that you will be transferred to work in a completely different city or area of Japan.
- Expect a low(ish) salary at first
The standard Japanese model is to start on a low salary, that will then slowly rise as you stay with the company and rise through the ranks. This all depends on the company and your qualifications of course, but it is fair to assume that your starting salary will be lower than for an equal job in a different country. This is again to provide incentive to the lifetime employment that many companies envision for their staff.
- Expect a different working culture
While the working culture in Japan varies greatly from company to company, you can almost certainly expect it to be different from the rest of the world. A good analogy would be to think of a company like a school class. You are expected to participate but have little say in how the whole thing is run. If a certain decision is made, even if it directly impacts your career, you will most likely not be asked in advance and the decision will be made over your head.
I realize that these all might come across as a bit negative. Obviously, there are many advantages to working for a Japanese company and working in Japan in general. Think of this as a sort of disclaimer as to what kind of situations you might need to be prepared for.