On the surface, Japanese job interviews are a lot like Western ones, and the interviewers ask you the regular questions about where you worked before, your strengths and weaknesses, and the reason you applied for the job. But there are also a good number of questions that you’d probably never hear in other countries. When I changed jobs recently, I noticed that a lot of the questions I got asked dealt with how I felt about living and working in Japan, rather than focusing on my qualifications for the job. When Japanese companies hire a non-Japanese staff member, they’re often worried about whether the person will fit in with their coworkers, so there tend to be a lot of “Do-you-like-Japan?” type questions that are a really important part of their decision.
I think that there are two main things employers are worried about in Japan: 1) Is the person going to get along with his/her Japanese coworkers and not cause friction? and 2) Is the person going to stick around? When they ask you about what you like about Japan, what you think about working at a Japanese company, etc. they want to hear how much you know about Japanese business culture and make sure that you’re not going to head back to your home country in six months. Foreigners who have alienated all their Japanese coworkers, and people disappearing back to their home countries are huge problems, so it’s really important to convince a potential employer that you’re going to be able to get along with people and that you’re going to be around long enough to make it worth their while hiring and training you.
When I was helping do interviews at my old company, I sometimes heard people saying they came to Japan because they wanted to date Japanese women or that something to keep in mind when working at a Japanese company is that Japanese people are uncreative. Obviously, this kind of answer isn’t going to make a good impression on a potential employer.
Below are some questions that often get asked at Japanese job interviews, sample answers, and important points to remember when answering. I don’t know if the answers are great or not, but I got a job in quite a competitive situation recently, so I hope they’re at least worth reading.
Q. What do you think is important for foreigners to keep in mind when working at a Japanese company?
A: I think that it’s very important to have strong personal relationships with your coworkers, and in order to do this, it’s important to be aware of Japanese customs. For example, instead of saying your opinion directly to someone, sometimes it can be very useful to communicate through an intermediary or to ask someone who is senior to you for advice about how to deal with difficult situations. I am always very careful to avoid confrontations and keep in mind that my coworkers may not say their true feelings about something directly, so I have to read between the lines and put myself in the other person’s shoes.
-Show awareness of differences between Japanese and Western culture
-Never sound even the faintest bit negative about Japan
Q. What would you do if you had a problem with a Japanese coworker?
A. I think that in Japan, solving a personal problem always begins with an apology, even if you don’t think you are wrong. In most cases, I would apologize to the person, and not only find a good way to resolve the problem, but after that I would try to reestablish my good relationship with the person.
-Show that you’re a cooperative, flexible person who will make a real effort to learn about cultural differences and take them into account when dealing with your co-workers.
Q. What do you like most about Japan?
A. I really admire how Japanese people put other people’s needs before their own. At work, I’m always impressed by how people think a lot about how their actions will affect their coworkers. For example, I think that Japanese people are a lot more considerate about taking vacations and volunteering to help their coworkers than Westerners are.
-They don’t want to hear about how much you like anime or Japanese pop music. Try to say something that will make you sound like a loyal, dedicated employee, or at least someone who understands Japan.
Q. Please give us a self-promotional speech.
I do everything with enthusiasm and passion (nesshin ni). Even if I am not interested in a project in the beginning, when I start to work on it, I always get very interested in it and want to do a really good job on it. For example, at my current company, I always find that when I start researching something for a book or article, I find myself thinking a lot about it outside my working hours, and I often talk about it with my friends and coworkers. I think that you can tell whether a person really put their heart into something when you see the finished product, so it’s very important to do so. I think that when people read things that I wrote, they will be able to tell that I made a great effort to research it very carefully, to make sure the grammar and spelling are perfect, and that it’s easy and enjoyable to read.
-I guess this is like “Why should we hire you?” but the phrasing of it (Jiko PR o oneigaishimasu) always struck me as really odd for a country that values modesty as highly as Japan does. After hearing Japanese people’s jiko PR speeches, though, they never seem to say things about their abilities directly. It’s more about their efforts and attitudes and how they lead to results.
Q. Why did you come to Japan?
A. I’ve been interested in Japanese culture ever since I was young. I read a lot of books about Japan, I was really interested in Japanese aesthetics, and I had some Japanese friends in college, so I always wanted to visit. After college I came to Japan on a working holiday visa and started working as an English teacher. I was only planning to stay a year, but I really like the people, the food, and the lifestyle, so I decided to stay for a second year, and then another, and another…and now I’ve been here for 17 years and have a wife and child.
-Try to show that you are “serious” about Japan. Some companies have an impression that people who came here to study martial arts will always put their martial art first, or people who like anime will be less serious as employees, so it might be better to downplay this kind of thing.
Q. How long do you plan to stay in Japan?
A. Well, my wife is Japanese, and we have a baby now, so we are probably going to stay here forever. Actually, we’re looking to buy a condominium soon, so we’ve decided we are going to be living here permanently.
-Of course everyone has a different answer to this, but a key point is to convince your prospective employer that you are going to be here for a long time because you have some sort of reason to stay in Japan. If you have a fiance, spouse, child, or relative in Japan, emphasize it because you will seem a lot more stable.
Editor’s note: this post was originally published in June 2011 and has been updated.
Photo credit: http://reader.roodo.com/masaki70/archives/31757167.html