If you’re wondering how to get a non-teaching job in Japan, this article will help answer any questions you may have. Searching online for jobs in Japan will quickly make you realize that there are two main types of companies hiring foreigners: tech companies and English schools.
Many foreigners who move to Japan start out teaching English. Some leave after a year or two, some move up to managerial positions in their English teaching companies, and others end up switching industries altogether.
If you’re like me and do not have a degree in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), you may feel a bit trapped by the idea of English teaching being your only option.
I enjoy teaching in a one-on-one setting, but most companies usually have multi-student classes only. Although the school I worked for usually tried to keep class sizes between 3 and 14 students, I still had times where I was required to teach the students in front of their parents. After a few months, I realized that professional teaching just wasn’t for me.
Important Things to Ask Yourself
Maybe you’ve already made the jump to Japan and are looking for a career change, or maybe you’re hoping to move to Japan and want to avoid teaching English. Regardless of your situation, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
1. What Are You Priorities Regarding Work/Life Balance?
Is the industry you’re looking at known for burakku kigyou (ブラック企業 – black companies who exploit their workers)? These companies would make finding a good work/life balance very difficult. Or are you ambitious enough to commit to at least three years in an overtime-heavy industry? While black companies push the limits of their employees’ sanity (and health), companies striving for a better balance are becoming more common.
2. What Is Your Japanese Level?
Be honest with yourself and don’t just base it on test scores. Can you carry on a professional conversation with your coworkers? Do you have issues in daily life when you need support from a coworker or friend? Can you respond to emails and messages in business-level Japanese?
Depending on the job, not all Japanese companies will require high-level language skills. However, being able to hold conversations with your coworkers is a part of “bonding” and is important in Japanese work culture. Without it, you will likely feel “left out” when you’re at the office.
3. What Is Your Area of Specialty?
Do you have a masters or doctorate degree to help you get a job at a Japanese university? Do you have a bachelor’s degree in business or administration? These types of jobs might need a higher level of Japanese, particularly in the business field. On the other hand, if you have a degree in a STEM field, you might be able to get away with only light conversational skills.
I know several computer scientists working in Tokyo. They were hired out of the country, either through ads online or job fairs in the US. Only 1 out of 9 has a high-level (JLPT N1) of Japanese.
4. What is Your Visa Status in Japan?
If you’re already living in Japan, you do need to consider your current visa status. There is a limitation written on your residence card about the type of work you can do. The most flexible (and common) visa status is called “Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services.” Visas in the “Instructor” category looking to switch industries may need to discuss it with their potential employer. For more information, please check this site on the kinds of work you can do on different visas.
Your Resume – Western vs. Japanese?
This section could be a dedicated article on its own, because there’s a huge difference between Western and Japanese resumes. This is especially true for Americans, as we’re taught that our resume should be limited to a single, eye-catching page. Resumes in America should be well-organized for busy HR representatives to glance over, and in today’s world, it should always be typed.
In contrast, the Japanese resume, or rirekisho, is almost always handwritten in black ink. Some companies may accept a typed resume, but Japanese companies often still believe that your handwriting is a good glimpse of your character. There should be no sign of corrections made, meaning you have to rewrite the entire resume if you make a mistake. I advise writing a draft first and copying it once you’ve perfected it.
Another big difference is that Japanese resumes use a standard template. You can view one here. They can be printed or purchased from any store that has a stationary section. I recommend purchasing a pack from the store because the paper is usually thicker and higher quality than printer paper.
A Professional Photo of Yourself
You’ll also have to include a photo of yourself with the resume, usually glued in the top right corner. Don’t use tape to attach your photo to your resume.
There are plenty of professional photo booths in Japan you can use. Make sure you’re wearing appropriate business attire in the photo because it will be your potential employer’s first look at you. Other personal information is also usually included, such as your sex, marital status, and number of dependents.
Certifications and Licenses
There’s also a certification and license section. I recommend listing any certifications you have in this section. I took the TOEIC once because I was thinking about applying to graduate school, so I often include my score. I also include my Japanese driver’s license. I think it shows employers that you’re actively striving to “better” yourself in your free time, even if it isn’t relevant to the industry you’re applying to.
A final thing to note is that Japanese companies often prefer to receive resumes by postal mail. Use an A4 or B5 sized envelope and do not fold your resume.
For more information on writing your resume, check out this tutorial by Daijob.
Where to Find Jobs in Japan
If you’ve been looking for jobs in Japan, I’m sure you’ve come across GaijinPot.
Other English-language job boards to check include:
Most of these websites include a built-in resume system, but I think it’s still good to have a resume already written on hand.
Surprisingly, Craigslist also has some good opportunities listed in their jobs section because it’s free for businesses to post an ad. Proceed with caution though, as quite a few of the offerings are scams or advertise positions forbidden to foreign workers.
Japanese Job Boards
If you’re looking to expand your scope and want to include Japanese language job boards, I recommend visiting:
Recruit is also an option. Because they host a variety of different services based on your need, I’m just going to link a page with a list of their employment services.
HelloWork is the Japanese government’s employment service center, so it’s probably the most comprehensive job board in Japan. Unfortunately, the website is a bit unwieldy because it’s old and hasn’t been properly updated in at least a decade.
LinkedIn has mixed employment opportunities, and you’ll find listings in both English and Japanese. The downside is that you’ll need a comprehensive profile and a network before you can start searching successfully.
Knowing Your Rights
It is also important to remember that the current job market in Japan favors the job seeker. This means that there are more job listings than the number of job seekers, which encourages companies to offer more competitive job packages. However, there have been reports about employers who will post attractive offerings only to change these benefits at, or after, the contract signing.
If this happens to you, I think you should remind the company about benefits originally discussed. If they refuse to grant what they offered, I’d walk away – or at least threaten to as a negotiation tactic. This is especially true if the employer does not grant benefits you’re legally entitled to, such as a least one day off a week and your ten days of paid vacation.
Preparing for the Interview – Western vs. Japanese?
In my experience, there aren’t any huge differences between interviewing in Japan vs in the West. In general, I recommend reading up about the company’s work culture and maybe looking for specific interview tips, just like you would for a Western company. But there are some things I think Japan takes more seriously than the West.
Japanese companies take punctuality to the next level. Try to be at least 10 minutes early. If you think there’s even the smallest possibility that you’ll be late, contact them as soon as possible. They probably won’t be thrilled, but being late with no contact will likely get you passed over for the position. On the other hand, being on time even with a delayed train might show extra determination.
Dress the Part
Dress to impress – a.k.a. wear appropriate business attire. This means a suit jacket, blouse, matching dress shoes, and a skirt or slacks if you’re a woman. If you’re a man, you’ll need a suit jacket, dress shirt, tie, matching dress shoes, and slacks. Black is the best color for both, although you can get away with some more liberal colors like tan or navy if you’re older than 25. Wear clean (preferably new) dress socks as well, in case you’re asked to wear slippers.
*Note: For men, DO NOT wear a black tie. Black ties are only worn for funerals in Japan.
That said, casual interviews do exist. Some newer companies don’t mind their employees wearing t-shirts and jeans in the office. If you’re interviewing at a company like this, I still recommend dressing smart. A collared shirt and a nice pair of black pants should do the trick. However, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Prepare for Everything and Anything
Bring everything you need with you. In the West, this usually means bringing a copy of your resume to discuss. In Japan, you’ll also probably need your passport and residence card. If you’ve been asked to prepare a demonstration, bring all the necessary materials for it. I recommend having printouts, even if the demo is tech-related, to keep things running smoothly if there’s an IT failure.
Interview Tips: How to Prepare
If your interview is in English, you should follow typical English interview rules. Be truthful, but not “too” honest. If they want to know the reason why you quit your last job, don’t say “because I had issues with management.” Say something more along the lines of, “I feel like your company is a much better fit for my goals.”
It’s also important to always be able to go into more detail. An interviewer might ask you for more concrete information on your goals or ask if you had any issues at your last company. Again, don’t outright lie, but try to answer the question while dodging the less savory aspects.
One big difference is the discussion of salary and contract terms during the interview. It is something of a taboo topic in Japan, especially if the salary for the position has been posted in the advertisement. If the salary hasn’t been posted, do your research on what the average salary for that position is and discuss it after your interviewer brings it up.
If your interview is in Japanese, it is imperative that you try to be as polite as possible. Most Japanese interviewers will not expect a foreigner to be a master of keigo, or honorific language, but try your best to at least use teinei-go, or polite speech. This means using –masu/desu forms and not casual verb forms. But if you do mess up, just say “失礼しました” (shitsurei shimashita) and correct yourself before continuing.
Japanese greetings tend to follow a pattern, and interviews aren’t much different. I recommend reading up on them here or here. Even if you don’t execute it perfectly, I think your interviewer will appreciate your effort in trying.
Will You Get the Job?
That all depends on you, I’d say. I’ve found that Japanese employers tend to be a little more earnest when it comes to hiring foreign employees, but I think that also depends a bit on the industry and what you’ll be doing. If you’re trying to do domestic Japanese business, it might be a hard sell. If you’re trying to do international business, tech, or hospitality, I think your application will stand out more.
But what are your thoughts? Do you have experience finding employment outside of the English teaching industry? Drop us a comment below.