Gaijin Recruit

For job hunting foreigners in Japan

The Japanese Job Interview

If you managed to land an interview, congratulations!
If you found a company that does the interview in English, then the company culture may reflect the foreign element as well and you may be able to follow foreign standards. However, if the interview needs to be done in Japanese, extra preparation may be advisable. Below you will find a few tips to make sure you will not get stuck in cultural limbo.
In this article, we are assuming you speak quite a bit of Japanese already, at least around JLPT N2 or business level, as it will be quite hard to nail a Japanese interview if you do not.


Introduction

The word “job interview” may sound horrible in any language, and adding “Japanese” to it, may not make it sound any better. There are many things to take in consideration. For instance, as an over generalization, there are two types of interviews:
  1. the group interview
  2. the private interview

The group interview

A group interview may be conducted in the preliminary stages of candidate selection that occur connected to the job hunting activities (shuushoku katsudo) and are less common to non-existent if you reply directly to a vacancy or try and arrange an appointment with a company directly. Usually groups consist of around three or four people. During the group interview, the company representative will explain the company details before asking all the groups participants one by one to introduce themselves, tell why they want to work at the company and what they think they can add to the company.

The private interviews

The private interview is conducted when the company is seriously considering you as a future employee. While the group interview should be taken just as seriously as the private interview, the private interview is a step up.

The information in this article focusses on the private interview, but is applicable to both the private as well as the group interview.

As a few general tips in advance:

  • Remember to use keigo (警護). If you have trouble with proper kenjougo (謙譲語) and sonkeigo (尊敬語), just stick to teineigo (丁寧語) to prevent improper language use.
  • Remain humble and do not exaggerate. Even if you are the best person for the job, only hint at it, but never say it downright or boast.
  • Remember that people will not notice when you use the correct etiquette, but the will notice when you mess up. Stick to the safe side and be consistently correct, rather than trying to impress with actions or language you are most likely to use incorrectly.
  • Always wear business attire and look “presentable”.
  • Do not bring unrelated items into the interview room. Ever. You can use a station locker for any bags that are not your “office/interview” suitcase.

We will go into more detail below. Some points are repeated, but that is merely to stress their importance.

Appearance

The proper appearance is number one. It is about the same as for the picture on your resume; clean and professional. You can follow the checklist below:

  • Clothes:
    • Wear a clean, ironed suit. While you may get away with a deep navy blue, the color of preference is black.
      Women are allowed to wear either pants or a knee-length dress skirt with plain stockings underneath.
    • Wear a clean and ironed, white dress shirt or blouse. Do not wear anything with frills or puffy collars.
    • For men it is strongly advised to wear a necktie (with maybe the exception of the cool-biz period in summer. However, not all companies use this policy).
    • Wear matching (black) shoes, polished as new. Boots are not allowed.
    • It may happen that you are requested to NOT wear a suit but wear private clothing, especially for clothing or apparel stores. While you should still keep a clean and professional appearance, you should also be aware that the recruiter wants to know how you coordinate your dress. If you are asked to wear your private clothes, be prepared to be able to explain your dress choice.
  • Grooming:
    • Over shoulder-length hair should be bound in a single ponytail.
    • Long fringes should be swept out of your face and set with a bobby pin.
    • Beards and mustaches should be trimmed neatly or, preferably, shorn off completely.
    • Smell and look clean and showered and do not excessively use perfume or cologne.
    • Look well rested.
    • For women, keep your make-up natural. Both make-up-less as well as thick layers are absolutely not allowed.
  • Accessories:
    • Keep jewelry to a bare minimum. Take out piercings and take off big rings. A fine necklace is acceptable if it is not “overly present”.
    • It is preferable to not wear any form of (neck-)scarf.

Preparation

With preparation, we mean all the steps taken before you set a foot inside the building where the interview will be held. Being well prepared and, more importantly, giving off the impression you are well prepared, will get you extra points in the books of the interviewers.

  • Check the company's website (if you already did, check it again). Be fully aware of the company's policy and the words from the CEO as these may be very useful to connect your personal goals to the company's goals.
  • Prepare what you want to say during the talk. Make sure you know what you wrote in the letter and your resume.
  • Make sure you have your (preferably black) suit cleaned, ironed and laid out on the evening before.
  • Make sure your (preferably black) business shoes are polished.
  • Print out another copy of your resume and place it in your bag together with a plain writing pad and plain pen. Do not use anything with cool or cute patterns, as it will come across as unprofessional.
  • Put a handkerchief or tissues in your bag or pocket in case you need to sneeze during the interview.
  • Get a good night's sleep to prevent you from looking tired or yawning during the interview.

The big day

Double check if you have everything with you that you need to bring. At times, a recruiter will ask you per phone or mail to bring something in particular with you. Make sure you have it.
However, also make sure that you do not bring anything that strictly should not be present at a job interview. For instance, do not go shopping before going on an interview, unless you can store the items in a locker somewhere (this will usually cost around 300 yen).
Also, do not eat something strong smelling beforehand. If you do, make sure to chew a piece of gum or take a breath mint beforehand and make sure your mouth is empty when you enter the building.

Before entering the room

Always arrive early, if possible by about 10 minutes at least. If it as much as seems you will be late, call in advance and explain that there is a possibility you will be late. Even if you end up being on time, it is better to be safe than sorry.
During winter, take of your coat before entering the building (you can fold it over your arm).
Announce yourself at the reception with your full name, and explain you are to meet a recruiter for a job interview. You should have been told the name of the recruiter as well as the time of meeting, so mention them both. You should be directed to where you can wait.

Entering the room and taking your seat

While it may sound strict, there is a correct procedure to follow or you might make a bad impression.

  • Wait until you are allowed in.
  • If the door is not open, knock THREE times and announce yourself with "shitsurei itashimasu"(失礼致します).
  • Wait until you get permission to enter (usually you will hear "douzo" (どうぞ).)
  • Enter the room and say "shitsurei itashimasu" (失礼致します) again, after which you make a clean bow (not a nod of the head, bow between 30 and 45 degrees).
  • Close the door and walk to the interview chair. Stand next to it, say "honjitsu wa yoroshiku onegai itashimasu" (本日はよろしくお願いいたします) bow again and wait until you are told to sit down (usually "osuwari kudasai" (お座りください)).
  • Sit down, place your bag next to you on the floor (not on your lap or on a nearby chair) and wait for the interviewer to talk.

The interview

Passing the first test of "entering the room", you now need to show the proper conduct during the interview.

  • Sit up straight, and look attentive at all times. (Actually listening attentively is advisable as well).
  • Speak in a (slightly) louder and clearer voice than usual.
  • Keep on a smile or the hint of a smile at all times (unless it makes things seem awkward)
  • Do not cross your arms or legs at any time.
  • Do not lie and do not boast. Japanese like modesty.
  • If you do not understand a question or cannot answer the question, be honest and say so. Trying to lie your way through and make your answer longer than needed will not be appreciated.

Wrapping things up

When you are done with the interview itself, your last trial will start.

  • Swiftly and skillfully pack everything into your bag (you should only have a pen and a note block out at most as your resume will usually be accepted by the company).
  • Stand up from you seat, say "honjitsu wa arigatou gozaimashita" (本日はありがとうございました) and bow.
  • Walk to the door, turn around before opening it, say "shitsurei itashimasu" (失礼致します) and bow again.
  • Exit the room and be glad the interview is over.

Hire or Rejection

After the interview, it is waiting to be invited for a second interview, waiting to be hired, or waiting for a rejection.
The company will always let you know if you are hired or not. If two weeks have passed, you can call them to ask for the results.