Tips for Nailing a Job Interview at a Japanese Company

In Japan, the most important part of job-hunting is arguably the interview (mensetsu). In this article, we’ll discuss the entire process, from uniquely Japanese interview rules and etiquette to what you should be mindful of when talking to a potential employer, as well as things to prepare beforehand.

What to Bring to a Job Interview?

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An interview is your primary chance to make yourself look appealing to a potential employer. You’ll of course have to do things such as practice your answers for certain questions and get ready for the interview environment, but there are also some items that you should prepare to bring with you. Forgetting them could cause panic on your part and leave a bad impression on the interviewer. Here we will now list all the things you should bring with you to a Japanese job interview, so be sure to read through thoroughly and add them to your checklist!

Residence Card

You are going to need a piece of ID (most often your zairyu card/residence card) that confirms not only your address but also your period of stay, residence status, the validity of your residency, and permission to engage in activities including ones other than those permitted by the status of residence previously granted.

Certificate of Authorized Employment

This confirms not just your employment qualifications but also specifies what activities you’re permitted to engage in.

A Document Verifying Your Japanese Language Skills, Such as a JLPT Certificate

Japanese-Language Proficiency Test results are a great way to show to a potential employer that you have the Japanese communication skills they desire. You’ll of course have a chance to show off your Japanese during the interview, but a JLPT certificate also shows how well you are able to understand written Japanese, and is one of the best ways to document your language skills.

Be sure to check which documents are applicable to you (in many cases all of them), and have them with you together with anything else a potential employer might tell you to bring to an interview. You should also bring your passport or another form of ID along with a copy of your CV (or an original if you haven’t submitted one before.)

Additionally, you may be asked to fill out a survey during the interview or be invited to a second-stage interview, so make sure you also have a notebook and something to write with. If you forget to bring something with you, it can stop the interview in its tracks and you’ll have wasted an opportunity that you’ve undoubtedly spent a lot of time preparing for, so make sure you have everything in order before going to a job interview.

Frequently-Asked Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Applicants waiting for interview
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Every company is different, from what they emphasize to how they conduct interviews, their interview stages, and what questions they ask. For example, some industries like to conduct group interviews, but we won’t be bothering with that for now. Instead, we’ll go over some basic questions you’re bound to be asked during a typical Japanese job interview where you are asked about yourself personally, and look at how best to answer them.

1) “Tell us a little about yourself.”

While introducing yourself, be sure to look the interviewer in the eye, speak with a clear voice, and pay attention to your Japanese. That way, you’ll surely leave a positive impression. Also, keep your self-introduction short (about 2-3 minutes) and easy to follow. It’s a good idea to memorize it beforehand.

2) “What made you apply for this position?”

If you get asked this, keep it simple. Talk about why the company interests you, your experience, and how your skills are just what they company is looking for. You will be able to answer this question even better if you thoroughly research the company prior to the job interview.

3) “What were your duties at your previous job?”

Talk about your position at your previous job, the results of your work, and your specific career accomplishments.

4) “What’s your biggest accomplishment to date?”

Don’t answer this with just your biggest accomplishment. Talk about the solutions and effort it took to accomplish that goal as well. It’s important to get across that you’re not afraid of hard work to accomplish a task, and also to establish your ability to take the initiative while dealing with all sorts of different issues.

5) “What would you say was your biggest professional failure?”

Again, don’t just talk about your biggest failure. Tell the interviewer how you tried to handle the problem and what you’ve learned from the whole episode. Additionally, you should try to convey how you can take everything you’ve learned from your failure and use it for the benefit of the company you’re applying to. This will portray you as an ambitious and perceptive problem-solver.

6) “Why did you come to Japan/how long are you planning to stay in Japan?”

Go with something simple that portrays the message that you’re very interested in Japan, you want to live in Japan, you want to work in Japan etc. You should also get across that you want to make a career for yourself here, which will signal to the company that you’ll stay with them for a long time. Companies tend to want long-term employees, so this will make them want to hire you more.

7) “Do you have any questions?”

This is something that gets asked a lot at Japanese job interviews. It’s where the interviewee is expected to ask a question of their own. Companies use this to gauge a person’s ambition, communication skills, and whether they’ve researched the company and the position prior to the interview, so you should definitely prepare some questions beforehand. Try not to ask about anything that can be quickly learned from the company website or the job posting. It will seem like you haven’t researched anything in advance, which will work to your disadvantage. Also, if you ask about something that was already covered during the interview, it will seem like you haven’t been listening or can’t concentrate, so try to avoid those kinds of questions as well.
You should try to come up with questions that convey your enthusiasm and motivation for the job. It will make you appear a stronger candidate in the eyes of the interviewer.

When foreigners are interviewed for jobs in Japan, it’s inevitable that their Japanese communication skills will also be judged. Because the interviews are conducted in a language that may be second or third to you, it is possible to get tongue-tied and have difficulty getting the words out. That’s why it is imperative to practice your answers beforehand, try to relax, and sell yourself as best as you can.

How to Answer Interview Questions

Smiling job applicants waiting for interview
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If you want to leave a good impression, then follow these tips for the best ways to answer job interview questions.

Make Sure to Only Use Keigo (Proper, Honorific Japanese)!

Japanese companies value Japanese communication skills as much as talent and expertise. Your Japanese doesn’t need to be perfect, but an interviewer will pay close attention to whether you speak the language correctly or not, so make sure to use polite and honorific forms. Also, don’t stretch the endings of words and don’t use fillers like etto or ano (the Japanese equivalents of “umm” etc.) They’re not pleasant to hear and will leave a bad impression on the interviewer.
Try practicing keigo on a daily basis so that you can get used to speaking it naturally!

Remember to Speak Clearly and Slowly and to Smile!

If you get too nervous, your expression may sour, and you may forget to look at the interviewer or not speak clearly enough. If this happens, you won’t score high on your communication skills. So remember to look the interviewer in the eye, smile, and to speak clearly and slowly so that they can easily understand you.

Keep Your Answers Simple and to the Point!

When answering interview questions, remember to keep it short, otherwise the interviewer will have trouble understanding what you want to say or may think that you have trouble organizing your thoughts or that you can’t focus. Keep it clear and simple.

When we asked the foreign staff at tsunagu Local about the most difficult part of interviewing at a Japanese company, the majority of them said that it was using keigo. Even those who generally have no trouble with reading, writing, and everyday conversations would get nervous and struggle with correct, polite expressions. A lot of people are self-conscious about their ability to use honorific Japanese, but that can be remedied by incorporating it into your everyday life until you get used to it.

We mentioned before that you should prepare for an interview by practicing with some hypothetical questions. While doing that, you should also practice answering them using keigo.

What Are Some Uniquely Japanese Job Interview Rules?

Japanese job interview
PIXTA

There are unique rules and practices when it comes to job interviews at Japanese companies. We’ll now look at some of the most common ones.

Unless Otherwise Specified, Wear a Black Suit

In the west, it’s often acceptable to show up to a job interview in business casual clothes. However, in Japan, you should wear a black or navy suit unless otherwise specified. The suit must be clean and neat, which is often interpreted as “conveying a sense of honesty.” If the interview permits clothes other than a suit, make sure that they’re also clean and neat, and don’t forget to set your hair.

Additionally, it’s generally expected to put on a little makeup, but be careful not to overdo it. If it’s too thick or you wear too much perfume/cologne, it can leave a bad impression on the interviewer. Try to go for a natural look.

Don’t Be Late to the Interview

Punctuality is one of the cornerstones of Japanese society, so try to arrive at the interview location at least ten minutes before the scheduled time. Excuses such as “I didn’t know where the station exit was” or “it took longer than I expected” will not be accepted. You’re supposed to research the station nearest to the interview and the way there beforehand, especially in Tokyo where it’s easy to get lost among the jungle of office buildings, so please be careful to not be tardy.

If you’re worried about making it on time, do a test run and walk from the nearest station to the office once before the interview. If you know you won’t make it in time because of unavoidable traffic conditions, make sure to call the office and explain how much longer it will take you.

Knock Three Times Before Entering a Room

Before entering, make sure to knock on the door so the interviewers know to prepare for you. Once you hear an answer from the other side, say “Shitsurei shimasu” (pardon me) and then enter. Remember to stay calm and don’t fidget. When closing the door, make sure to face it and to do it quietly.

Don’t Forget to Do the Proper Greeting When Entering a Room

After you enter the interview room, stand next to the chair and in a clear voice say, “Honjitsu wa ojikan wo itadaki, arigato gozaimasu. [Your name] to moshimasu. Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” (Thank you for making time for me today. My name is [your name]. It is a pleasure to meet you), then bow. If the interviewer isn’t in the room, sit down and wait for them, but stand up and greet them when they enter.

Do Not Sit Down Until the Interviewer Gives You the Go-Ahead

Only sit after the interviewer signals for you to. When sitting down, straighten your back and have it firmly against the back of the chair. Place your hands on your knees and keep your feet straight. For men, leave an opening between your legs about the size of a fist. Do not cross your arms or legs, as that is considered rude in Japan.

Don’t Forget to Do the Proper Greeting When Exiting a Room

Once the job interview is over, remember to say “Honjitsu wa ojikan wo itadaki, arigato gozaimashita” (Thank you for making time for me today). After that, pack up all of your stationery and documents etc. into your bag, stand up, say “Shitsurei shimasu” (pardon me), bow, and exit the room. Do not forget to turn around and bow as you’re passing through the door!

In Japan, the job interview is the most important step in the job-hunting process, but is full of uniquely Japanese rules that can confuse and stress out foreigners who are not used to it. It’s hard to put your best foot forward in those circumstances, but if you prepare properly beforehand, you’ll breeze through the whole interview and make yourself look appealing to your potential employers. The most important thing to keep in mind is to give the interviewer the correct impression of yourself, and we certainly hope that this article will help you do just that. Good luck in your next job interview!

Title image: baranq / Shutterstock.com

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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