Four Tips to Mastering the Art of Job Hunting
I take a deep breath before knocking on the door—three knocks, no more, no less—and as I wait for a voice from inside to say, "Yes, please come in", I have one last chance to quickly review the Japanese job hunting customs in my head. After all, the last thing I would want is to come across as rude or ignorant while being interviewed by one of the biggest banks in the world.
Hold on, let’s rewind.
What led me here? Is this a glitch in the matrix where everyone is on the same black suit and white shirt production line? Why is the girl next to me practicing her self-introduction every two seconds? How can that guy possibly bow so low—doesn’t his back hurt?
What in the world is happening? Where am I? And more importantly…does my suit smell of sweat?
Such questions have become a part of my everyday life. You see, I am in my last semester at APU—scheduled to graduate in September 2017—which means I am also job hunting.
Every year, many companies in Japan simultaneously hire new university graduates with the intent to have them join the company on the nationally predetermined date of April 1. (For me, this will be April 1, 2018.) As someone graduating from university in September, I assumed that meant I could consider my career options even after I graduated and up until starting work the following April.
But this past February, I soon found out this was not the case—my classmates were already well into job hunting, having already gone to job fairs as early as December last year.
So there I was—a bit behind and rushing to APU’s Career Office to seek support on how to go about the entire process. Finally, after a few hurried consultations, I realized that I wasn’t completely out of luck and still had time before I had to completely switch to panic mode.
Fortunately, many companies only start to accept applications from March 1, 2017 for people hoping to start work April 2018. This means they review applications and conduct interviews well into July.
So guess who had just found himself more time to figure out what to do with his life? Yep, this handsome hunk from India who is writing this while eating discounted chicken nuggets.
So I did it. Submitted countless applications, had tons of interviews. And even landed a few job offers with a number of well-known companies.
Having now experienced the job hunting process, I came up with a few points of advice that I believe can help you when, four years from now, you will be in the same boat as I was. (However, please proceed at your own risk! These are just excerpts from my life, and every person’s experience will vary.)
1. Decide what you want to do with your life.
This may be obvious, but before you even start the whole job hunting process, it is very important to figure out what it is that you want to do for your career.
I included this first because I frequently see people around me apply for any and every company they possibly can—from management consulting to engine manufacturing to marketing and sales. In other words, basically anything available.
I'm not saying that this is wrong, but in my personal opinion, I think it’s better to narrow down your choices to at least one or two industries as your top priority. You’ll have a lot of time during your university life to figure out which industries these are, so use that time to think long-term about a career for yourself rather than focusing on just getting a job.
So, determine your end goal and the steps you need to take along the way to reach it. Ultimately, you need to make sure that you get to do what you actually want to do.
2. Show them who you are—don't be someone else!
As I mentioned in the beginning, Japanese-style job hunting has its share of unspoken rules—always keep your hands on your knees when seated, bow a pre-decided number of times, and do everything as expected. So yes, like it or not, following the rules is essential to succeeding in Japanese society.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but notice many of my friends lose out on opportunities to showcase their unique personalities, because they simply follow the steps without a second thought as to how they can use it to highlight their specific skills and qualities.
These are people who are energetic, smart, and witty that end up getting sucked into the minute details of the shuukatsu (doing job hunting activities) process, and end up portraying themselves as someone completely different and much more generic.
What can result is a skewed first impression that may end up being the deciding factor for the position or department you will be placed in once you enter the company. This is because, in Japan, companies oftentimes don't hire you for what you've studied, but rather for who you are. In other words, a geography major becoming an accountant is not unusual here.
Now of course there are limits when it comes to “being yourself.” For example, it is definitely not the best idea to list off all of your personal weaknesses in the first five minutes of the interview, or talk about your love for Pikachu throughout. And don’t skip important etiquette rules just because you don’t like them.
Be the person that you are, and be confident about what you bring to the table. Preparing vague answers that anyone could use will not be to your benefit, so try to think of ones that are unique to you and you alone, while following the proper Japanese language rules when answering. And if you are like me and forget to bow the right number of times, try making a tasteful joke instead.
3. Treat the interview like a first date.
Remember that time you were about to go on a date with your crush for the first time? How you dressed up and put extra care into your appearance, prepared a few interesting stories, and even went through their social media accounts to see what they might like?
A job interview is no different.
Passing the first round after submitting your application and getting to the interview means that there is interest from both sides. Use this opportunity to show your excitement and passion towards the person on the opposite side of the desk, and get to know more about the company. Who knows, you might just be the knight in shining armor (or employee) they have been looking for!
Just as with a first date, there will be times when the response from the other side isn’t what you expected. In this situation, change your approach, include different stories, and at the end, if there just isn’t a spark, take it as a sign that the company may not be right for you.
Think of it another way: would you be interested in going on a second date with this person? If the answer is yes, congratulations, you may have just found your future employer! But if it's a no, there are always other opportunities out there, so don’t settle for what doesn’t fit.
Either way, relax, enjoy the conversation, and ask great questions. (This is good advice for both dates and interviews.)
4. Does the company feel right?
As someone who has always valued a big brand name over anything else, last month I found myself interviewing with one of Japan's biggest corporations. I was vying for a position with absolutely no prior experience in the field, but I was so star-struck by the company’s name that I didn't even worry about that not-so-minor detail.
When I entered the room, I was met by an interviewer seemingly too busy to even acknowledge my presence. I sat down, ran through the standard pleasantries, and then the questions started—all without the interviewer making eye contact even once.
Unfortunately, over the next thirty minutes, the situation did not improve much. The interview consisted of basic questions taken directly from my application, with head nods given to answers that matched with what I had written. At no point was I asked about anything new or anything that would make it seem like the company was looking to find out more about me.
As someone who loves asking questions, having engaging conversation, and feeling a sense of rapport during an interview, this was a bit of a letdown. With that, I realized it probably wasn’t the right place for me.
Remember, job hunting is a twofold process where it's not only about an organization liking you, but also you choosing to be a part of that organization.--
For many, job hunting is a long yet necessary rite of passage to success beyond graduation, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming—it all depends on how you decide to approach it. So use this time to learn more about yourself and your field of interest, don't stress about all the rules, and don't be afraid of making mistakes while putting these tips to the test!
If after reading this you're curious about your options after graduation, check out APU's Careers Page!
The photo featured at the top of this blog was taken by Phan Quang Nghia (APS, 2019), and former member of the APU Admissions Social Media Unit.