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Interviewing tips for getting a job in Japan

You’ve received an email from a potential employer that they’re interested in interviewing you. Fantastic! Now, you just have to survive the interview and you’ve got yourself a job!

Like most things in Japan, interviewing has well-defined set of rules that they expect all the candidates to follow, however before you prepare yourself, you should check to see the company culture or who you will be interviewing with.

If you are going to be going to a foreign company, or interviewing with a native English speaker, then you can expect the interview to be western style and a bit more casual.

If you’re going to be interviewing with a Japanese person, however, you’d better take it seriously! Even if the position itself may not seem so formal, doing a proper-Japanese style interview will make a great impression on the interviewer and for sure they’ll remember your great manners fondly.

If you’re the only candidate that can demonstrate this understanding of Japanese culture, it may give you the edge over everyone else!  Remember that even if the interview will be in English, Japanese people love those who know their customs!

Basic rules

These should be common sense for any kind of interview situation, but make sure you do as follows:

  • Do not be late!
    • Punctuality is everything in Japan and arriving late to an interview will likely disqualify you right away. In Japan, arriving on time means arriving 10 minutes early.
  • Turn off your phone!
    • In a quiet interview room even vibrations on your phone can be heard and will be distracting. The best way to avoid this is to turn your phone off or turn on airplane mode so there are no embarrassing distractions.
  • Dress appropriately.
    • We will go into more details about this below but the basic rule in Japan is you can never be too polite or too well dressed. Dressing sharply will demonstrate your seriousness about the job and is something your potential employers will appreciate.

    Dressing for an interview

    Although it may not be necessary to wear a suit for a part-time position, dressing up has many advantages, especially in Japan where a professional appearance is valued.

    For men

    • Long hair is usually not considered appropriate.  Best to keep it short or make sure it is tidy.
    • Clean shaven is preferred but if you do have facial hair make sure it is well-kept and trimmed.
    • For shirts, a white dress shirt is always correct.
    • If you are going to wear a suit, it is best that it is a solid dark color, such as navy, gray, or black.
    • Choose a solid or striped tie.  Red is the “proper” color for interviews but it’s not a big deal if you use a different color as long as it goes well with the outfit.
    • Pants should be ironed, creased, and have a single-fold helm.
    • Dress shoes should be either black or brown, they should match the color of your belt.  Choose socks that are the same color as your suit.
    • Wear a simple watch if you have one, with a leather band that matches your belt and shoes. Avoid novelty watches, and you should probably stay away from digitals.

    For women

    • If you have long hair, you should pull it back with an elastic band or hairpin.
    • Don’t wear too much makeup and avoid strong perfume.
    • Nails should not be too long and they should be of a simple color, not too flashy.
    • White blouses are always safe, although a shirt in a solid, pale color is also fine.  Avoid bold colors or patterns.
    • Simple earrings are fine, nothing flashy.  It is recommended to remove any large rings.
    • If you wear a suit, it should be a dark solid color, either in navy, gray, or black.
    • If wearing a skirt, the length should cover half of your knees when you are standing.  Pantyhose is a must with a skirt.  Stockings should match your skin tone. If wearing pants, make sure to iron them and make creases.
    • Shoes should be simple.  If wearing pumps, the heels should be from 3 to 5cm.

     

    Again, don’t worry if you don’t yet own a full suit! Just do the best you can with what you have, although you should consider purchasing a suit in the future as it will serve you very well in Japan.

    The steps of an interview

    1. Reception – Be polite and clearly state your name and that you are here for an interview, giving the interviewer’s name if you know who it will be.  Assume that your interview has already started at this point.  Thank the person who shows you where to go, and lightly bow to any company employees you pass.
    2. Waiting room – You may have to wait for some time before the interviewer comes. Put your belongings at your feet, don’t look at your phone.
    3. Entering the interview room – If you will be moving to another room and the interviewer is waiting inside, knock on the door first and when you are told to come in, gently say “excuse me (shitsureishimasu)”, and enter the room. Close the door behind you, bow to the interviewer and walk to the seat they have prepared for you. State your name and say a polite expression such as “yoroshikuonegaishimasu”.  When the interviewer asks you to sit down, say “thank you / arigatogozaimasu” and have a seat.
    4. The interview – Sit with good posture and do not lean back against the chair.  Use polite expressions and answer any questions they may have as clearly as possible, do not talk too much unless the answer requires it.
    5. Leaving the room – When the interview is finished, stand up and thank the interviewer for their time.  Walk to the door, bow to them, and say “goodbye / shitsureitashimasu”.  Quietly close the door when you leave the room unless they tell you to keep it open.

     

    Each step is important!  Failing even basic manners may give them an negative impression, while successfully following them out will surely impress them, especially as a foreigner!

    Common interview questions

    Although the actual questions that the interviewer will ask you are impossible to predict, these are some of the common questions that you should practice answers for.

    Here are some common questions for full-time positions:

    • Why did you decide to study / come to Japan?
    • How long do you plan to stay in Japan?
    • Do you think you are capable of working in a Japanese environment?
    • What are your goals for the future?
    • Why are you interested in our company?
    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • What are your hobbies?

     

    For part-time positions, the questions are usually less intensive, and may be similar to the following:

    • How long have you studied Japanese?
    • How well can you use Japanese?
    • Why do you want to work here?
    • When can you start?
    • What hours can you work?
    • Can you work on weekends and holidays?
    • What is your school schedule?
    • Where do you live?
    • How long does it take for you to come here?

    Interview tips

    • If you do not understand what they are saying, there is no problem in politely asking the interviewer to repeat themselves, or to say that you don’t understand what they mean.  Just don’t get discouraged!
    • Don’t shake your legs or feet nervously, or play with your hands.
    • Don’t make negative comments about other companies, even if the interviewer mentions such things.
    • Don’t give excuses if you’re talking about past negative experiences. Simply own up to the fact that you made a mistake and how you learned from it.
    • Always give the impression that you are a team player. Many times an interview is simply a way to see how a person would fit in an organization and culture and less about their actual skill in the job.
    • If they ask if you would be able to do something at the job, always say “yes” or that you would be willing to learn about it, unless it is something you absolutely cannot do.
    • Take notes after the interview is finished!  Write down all of the questions and answers that you remember, it will be a valuable resource to prepare for future interviews.

     

    Good luck!  Even if you don’t get the job, the interview will be useful experience and you can learn from it and improve in the future.