My Japanese Job Hunting Experience: An Unorthodox Path to Employment
Xuan Wang wasn’t afraid of job hunting in Japan. Originally from China, she’ll graduate from Kyoto University of the Arts with a major in information design next April, when she’ll begin work at her new company, an advertising agency in Kyoto. Most Japanese students begin their job hunt long in advance, and many international students have to follow the same steps. (Study Kyoto has a number of articles about job hunting in Japan for international students! Take a look here: https://www.studykyoto.jp/en/magazine/magazinetag/job-hunting-en/)
But Xuan Wang used her background and skills to take a somewhat unusual approach to the job hunt, and find work in Kyoto.
What first brought you to Japan?
“It actually wasn’t because I had such a strong passion for Japan. I just really wanted to experience living in another country, in another culture. Living on my own and being independent was another big draw for me. Those were my major reasons. Out of the options I considered, though, Japan was my favorite, and I liked Japanese pop culture, too, so I decided to study here. Before I entered university, I studied Japanese for a year at the Academy of Kansai Language School in Kyoto and then continued my studies at Kyoto University of the Arts.”
“I had some experiences with culture shock when I first arrived, but now I’m used to living in Japan.”
Were you planning to look for a job in Japan one day from the beginning?
“In the beginning I wasn’t really thinking about working here. I just came as an international student. But the more time I spend here, the more I feel accustomed to living here, and after all this time, I feel like even my way of thinking has become Japanese. So I decided I’d just have to work here. (laughs)”
“Most of my Chinese friends here just studied Japanese for a year or so to experience life here, and then went on to grad school in China. We were both looking for work at the same time, but I was the only one job hunting in Japan.”
How did you start your job search in Japan?
“In the first year of my master’s program, I started gathering information while I was doing a few internships where I could use my design skills. I participated in several, including Study Kyoto’s own internship program for international students, where I put out show and product design ideas for GEAR, a non-verbal theater production. But I didn’t start my actual job hunt until July of my second year in grad school, when I began looking through job listing sites, like my university’s job search website, and Indeed.”
“After studying here, I knew I wanted to work in Kyoto, so I made sure to search for positions related to my skills in design and advertising here. I wasn’t interested in large companies, so I tried to tailor my search for mid-sized ones. I figured I would have more chances for growth, and I would be able to advance faster at a smaller company.”
It isn’t typical for students in Japan to find employment through job listing websites like Xuan did, as openings are typically divided into “new graduate hiring” and “mid-career hiring.” New graduate hiring typically works on a fairly strict schedule. Read more about it here: Job-Hunting in Japan 101.
“I had to do some research about the particular ways to write my Japanese resume and other documents for job hunting, but I was able to find what I needed online. That part wasn’t particularly difficult: you just follow the format. When it came to writing the “self promotion” (jiko PR, a kind of cover letter explaining an applicant’s skills and suitability), I didn’t want to look much at the formats or examples. That part I’m able to write on my own, and honestly present myself.”
“On sites like Indeed, most of the listings were mid-career positions, but I applied anyway. That’s actually how I came to get my job! It took about two months to be hired since I started looking. At this company, interviews are done not by an HR department, but with the staff you’ll be working with in future, so I did my first and second interviews with the company president. They asked about my skills and career goals, and I really felt that the interview process was different than that of big corporations.”
What do you think are the differences between job hunting in Japan vs job hunting in China?
“From what I’ve heard from my friends in China, I think job hunting in China is a lot more strict. In China, applicants will have to take a logic test no matter their specialization, and no matter the company. There is a lot of competition, and I think nearly half the applicants get eliminated in this phase. Once you pass the logic test, you’ll need to take another test, where you’ll be given a challenge related to the company–maybe designing a poster, for example, if it’s an advertising agency. If you pass this stage, you’ll move on to multiple interviews. The process is the same for companies of all sizes in China.”
“The steps are similar for large companies in Japan, with the SPI test and so on, but they don’t really apply to small- and mid-sized companies here.”
What do you think are the benefits of working in Japan?
“For me personally, I like that I can make use of my Japanese language skills. I also enjoy being around different values, and I really feel I can gain new knowledge living and working in Japan. I’m sure I’m also going to learn more about Japan’s very particular business manners, which are quite different from those in China. I’ve studied here for a long time, so I have some idea about manners in Japan, but since I’ll be working for the first time, I hope I’ll be able to learn more about manners in Japanese society outside of school.”