Exploring the cultural differences of a job interview in Japan

Exploring the cultural differences of a job interview in Japan

Exploring the cultural differences of a job interview in Japan

Every would-be expat hoping to land a job in Japan knows the cultural differences are huge, but may not realise job interviews bear no resemblance to those in the West.

For many would-be expats, Japan has always held a fascination over and above the usual interest in living and working overseas. Obviously, employers in this unique corner of Asia want the brightest and best expat professionals, but the method used during interviews is totally different from its Western equivalent and takes far, far longer!

In Europe, the UK and America, job interviews nowadays are usually short, succinct and to the point, but those in Japan last for an average of an hour. If an interview ends sooner, it’s a very strong hint that you’re still unemployed, but if you’ve been grilled for over an hour, you’ve got a good chance of being successful. The reason behind this is that Japanese employers don’t use their spontaneous instincts during the decision-making process as is usual in the West.

Applicants for jobs in Western countries are used to sending in their resumes and having them read before the actual interview, but the opposite is the norm in Japan, as resumes are often read during the interview, or even discounted in favour of relying on a long interview to get the measure of the applicant. ‘Personality’ is an important aspect for Japanese employers, with applicants being asked about their personal lives, hobbies and suchlike, again something which rarely happens in the West.

In Japan, it’s normal for employers to ask applicants what they think about the company itself, a question which could lead to superficial answers. However, many job seekers take this to indicate whether they can stay calm when an awkward question is asked. Again, the format of Japanese resumes is totally different than those in the West, with a stricter format and questions such as marital status, age, gender and other personal questions. Also, experience isn’t as important as it is in the home country, as Japanese employers rate gaining experience and skills at a single company as the way forward for a lifetime of employment with the same company.

In addition to these diverse requirements, it’s normal for an interviewer to have a laptop on the desk, even if nothing is actually recorded. Overall, the ambience in the room is far more serious, with the feeling that you’re being judged and checked causing tension and a feeling of pressure. Perhaps the worst aspect of being interviewed for a job in Japan is that the entire process follows a strict routine based on Japanese etiquette. Not sitting down until you’re told to, knocking three times on the door and even taking a class in how to attend a job interviews as do Japanese candidates can terrify a new expat arrival in the country, but if the job is offered it’s usually for life!

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