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What To Expect During an Interview With Japanese Employer (And How To Crush It!)  

When you are preparing for an interview with a Japanese employer, you may be curious about what to expect. You may even worry that it may be startlingly different from the interviews you are used to in the United States. Fortunately, I have prepared this comprehensive guide detailing everything you need to know about Japanese interviews.

What Is A Japanese Interview Like?

If you have attended a job interview with an American employer, you may be accustomed to a particular process. Depending on the type of job you are interviewing for, one employer may interview you, and that employer or a board of employers may review your application. Conversely, when you have an interview with a Japanese employer, you will typically always be interviewed in a group setting.

When you arrive at the company, you will most likely be escorted by a receptionist to the interviewing room. Once there, you will knock to indicate your presence and pardon your interruption. As soon as someone mentions it you can enter the room, bow, introduce yourself, and find your seat.

In most cases, the interview will begin with an interviewer asking several personal questions. Whereas some of these questions may be considered private in the United States, such as age or family status, it is the norm in Japan. In general, you should attempt to answer these questions as clearly and concisely as possible.

After this stage, the interviewer may go through your resume (CV) one part at a time. You may or may not have experienced this in an American interview. In this portion, you may be expected to indicate how your academic accomplishments or work history can contribute to the unique company culture, company values, and corporate mission.

If you have not been asked already, the interviewer may end the session by asking about your career ambitions. They may also ask what you plan to achieve at the company.

How to Prepare for an Interview with a Japanese Employer

One of the most important factors in carrying out an interview with a Japanese employer successfully is to prepare adequately. You may have heard this sage advice before an American interview, yet, it is even more imperative in an environment where you may not feel relaxed or natural.

I experimented with making Japanese tea and even bought some beautifully made chopsticks to help me integrate the culture and prepare myself mentally for the interview.

It can be a significant advantage to research Japanese business culture prior to applying for an interview with a Japanese employer. It will be beneficial in portraying your professionalism and candidacy. It will also cut down on any anxiety you may feel during the interview. A few of the keys to success include:

Speaking Japanese

If you are fluent in Japanese, you are certain to impress your potential employers. However, there are certain jobs or certain companies that may employ you for your English-speaking skills. In this case, it is best to learn at least a few Japanese phrases to show dedication.

Researching the Company

During your interview, you will be asked questions directly concerning the company. For instance, your interviewer may ask how you can contribute to the company or how your experiences can help the company. It is here that you can display your knowledge of the company and your excitement to help in the best way you can. Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, echoed this sentiment in his interview with the president of Joshin Denki years ago. He states “I told him, I have very little money, very little business experience. I have no product, nothing. What I do have is the greatest enthusiasm, the greatest desire to succeed.”

Dressing Appropriately

You may only be accustomed to dressing formally for high-ranking job interviews in the United States. In Japan, it is the norm to be conservative. Typically, men wear dark blue suits with a white shirt and dark tie for business. If you are a woman, a business-formal dress, or skirt and blouse are most appropriate although a well-tailored pantsuit is accepted.

Treating Business Cards with Care

Business cards are very important in Japanese business culture. You should create and carry your own sophisticated business cards complete with your name, address, and contact details. You should also treat any business cards that are given to you with care and respect.

Arriving Early

If you are on time or late, you will be considered rude. While you may be a shining potential candidate in all other ways, this can seriously impact your chances of earning the job position. It is better to plan transportation in advance and arrive early.

Bowing

Bowing is a traditional greeting and show of deep respect. It is customary to bow slightly when meeting the Japanese interviewer. Typically, you will bow lower because you are most likely the youngest. The longer you hold a bow, the more respect you show.

Knowing Where to Sit

According to Japanese etiquette, there may be a seating arrangement and you may be expected to know where to sit. Typically, the most important individual or the oldest person in the business will sit in the center seat. As a guest, you may sit in a seat farthest from the entrance unless otherwise indicated. Whereas you should find your seat right away, you should not sit until you have been directed to do so.

Minding Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are very important in Japanese culture, as they display the true meaning behind what someone is saying. Likewise, you should be prepared that your interviewers may have blank facial expressions.

What Should You Not Do in Your Interview?

In Japan, it is equally important to not do certain actions or behaviors during your interview. In particular, you should avoid:

Don’t Be Intimidated

As a foreigner, you may be nervous about applying for a position with a Japanese employer. However, there are several records that indicate Japan is very interested in hiring foreigners. In fact, in 2019, 20% of foreigners in Japan were staying on a working visa.

Don’t Make Eye Contact

In the United States, not making eye contact with your potential employer may be considered a sign of district. In Japan, it is the opposite if you are interacting with higher-ranking people such as an interviewer. You should look at their neck or shoulder while they are speaking with you.

Don’t Express Negative Emotions

It is a good idea not to express anger, frustration, sadness, or stress during your interview with a Japanese employer. They are indicative of immaturity and it will reflect on your character and personality negatively. Likewise, it is best not to confront, challenge, or say no to your interviewer. It displays that you are trying to make your interviewer lose face, which is a grave error.

Don’t Embellish Your Accomplishments

A core concept in Japanese culture is humility or modesty. This stands in stark contrast with American culture, which praises independence, personal excellence, and displays of ego. Instead, when you are detailing your accomplishments or goals, maintain a decent level of humility. As Jeff Musser, CEO of Expeditors International of Washington, states, “Humility is a strength. It’s really having confidence in yourself so you don’t have to put on a façade.”

Don’t Talk Too Much

If you talk too much when agitated, you should plan and practice the majority of your answers and questions. It is important that you speak succinctly when answering questions. Additionally, it is key to not interrupt any speakers at any point of the interview.

Don’t Rush the Interview

If you are used to the speed of Corporate America, leave it behind in the United States. In Japan, you should prepare for your interview to last an appropriate amount of time and you should expect the employer’s deliberation process to be lengthy. Japanese people want to make sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward with business. As such, discussions take time.

Don’t Decline Social Invitations

If you are invited to socialize after your interview or during your employment, you should not decline. Interpersonal relationships are incredibly important in Japanese culture. Invitations to drink, dine, or have further discussions are opportunities to create and build strong connections. You can try sake and Japanese foods before the interview if you want to feel up to this challenge.

What Are the Expected Interview Questions?

If you are curious about questions asked during an interview with a Japanese employer, you may consider the following list as a good starting place. Much like American interviews, there is no standard template, only generalized similarities. Accordingly, you may experience questions outside of this list:

Talking About Yourself

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children? Do you want to have children?
  • Why did you come to Japan?
  • Why do you want to work in Japan?
  • Why did you apply to this company?
  • What are your career ambitions or goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years?

Talking About Your Skills

  • Do you speak Japanese fluently?
  • How will your experiences help you with the position?
  • How do you solve problems at work? How do you solve disagreements?
  • What kind of person do you get along with? What kind of person do you not get along with?
  • What is your education, training, or job experience?

Talking About the Company

  • How did you find out about the company?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • Why did you apply?
  • What will you achieve in this job?
  • Did you apply to other companies?
  • How do you fit in with our company’s mission or values?

For a deeper understanding of Japanese culture, consider reading, “Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette: Kata as the Key to Understanding the Japanese.” I tried a few Japanese restaurants near me and even learned to cook a few basic dishes on my own to build up my familiarity and confidence!

Practicing the questions and knowing what to expect may help you stay relaxed and land the job. Plus, I believe Japanese culture is worth learning about for its own sake!

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