Check Mate: Japan Forced to Adapt to New Job-Hunting Standards

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

Written by: James Cahyadi

Publish date: November, 2019

Things are changing. As of next year, we can expect Japan's current job-hunting system to be almost extinct. We interviewed students to see what they know about the change, and reviewed the new up and coming trends for Japan's work landscape.

New Standards

In the year 2018, Keidanren (日本経済団体連合会)or the Japan Business Federation, Japan’s largest business lobby, announced that they would abolish the decades-old recruitment guidelines that have shaped Japan’s job hunting system since post-war era Japan. This change is critical because it is a ripple that could potentially start a wave in Japanese society.

Job-hunting in Japan is infamously difficult for a few different reasons.

1. The lifetime employment system which values character over skills, and puts pressure on students.

2. The standardized and very strict rules greatly limit individuality.

3. All new hiring is done only during a distinct time period every year. This keeps companies from being able to hire year-round and bring in new people when they need them.

Announcing the age-old shuukatsu system is going to be abolished is to completely derail Japan’s working landscape--affecting not only new recruits but also current employees. And rightly so, this news is causing a huge commotion in Japan.

According to the Japan Times, a number of students, universities, and businesses are reportedly worried that the shift will lengthen or complicate the already arduous job hunting process. Though at the same time, many others appear to welcome the change, believing that it is simply a matter of time before they have to scrap the current guidelines.

We surveyed 30 university students currently undergoing their studies in Tokyo, considering that they are the ones to be most heavily affected by this policy revision.

Students’ Voice

Of the 30 students we surveyed, about 25% were Japanese with the rest being foreigners living in Japan. Over half of the respondents are currently 2nd years and all of our respondents will be graduating between 2021-2023, which means that they will be the ones to immediately experience the effects of Keidanren’s decision to scrap their current guidelines.

We were surprised by the widespread lack of knowledge both on the side of Japanese students and foreign students. Over 70% of those surveyed claim to understand only bits and pieces of the process, or not much. 10% say they know nothing at all.

There is a clear lack of knowledge on the traditional job-hunting process, from both international and Japanese students alike. It seems there is also a lack of knowledge of the huge change about to occur, with 60% of respondents stating they did not know about the change.

Many respondents held the belief that despite all the talk, in actuality this policy change will not really affect how most companies conduct recruitment.

This view is directly challenged by a poll held by Mainichi, which specifically inquired roughly 125 ‘leading companies’ from various fields which includes companies like NissanMotor Co., Tokio Marine Holdings, etc.

Companies’ Voice


Out of the top companies Mainichi interviewed, 15% are already implementing year-round recruitment and if that figure is coupled with the 24% that are considering doing so, that would mean nearly half of Japanese leading companies are shifting to a more flexible recruitment system.


What is exactly behind Keidanren’s decision to scrap their long-held policy? Especially when considering the huge disruption that it could cause. We can think of four reasons.

1. It’s Not Their Choice

One argument can be that the Keidanren is simply officially announcing a change that has already been underway for the past several years. As Mainichi’s poll show, several companies have already implemented a flexible recruitment system, focusing more on skill sets and specific positions rather than a single mass recruitment.

This is not surprising given that the traditional life-time employment offered in the past is no longer being seen as a positive by Japanese workers, as more and more Japanese engage in job-hopping.

2. Global Work Trend

Another reason to focus on skill-sets lies in the reality that skills are becoming the new metric for the labor market. With increasingly rapid technological developments, workers need to re-skill not just once but maybe even twice in their working life-time. Such reality is pressuring companies to break the current hierarchical structure in order to not lose their edge in the global playing field.

3. Shrinking Population

The backdrop of this change also relates to none other than Japan’s most well-known and perhaps most pressing problem: A dying population.

While Japan is not the only nation in the world that is facing the problem of an aging population, it is one of few major powers that faces the crisis not as an impending doom, but as very real issue happening right now.

For Japanese companies, this means a huge lack of workers. Japanese companies are being forced to recruit immigrants as a last-resort, and the rigid and traditional hiring schedule simply does not mix.

4. Withering Domestic Market

Despite its reputation as an export-driven nation, Japan is actually one of the least export-oriented countries in the world. Japan’s economy is actually very much reliant on its domestic market. Now that it’s domestic market is shrinking, it’s no wonder that Japanese companies are scrambling to venture abroad, as well as loosening up the once strict guidelines, particularly when they desperately need international hires.

Moving Forward

For International students, immigrants and even Japanese living in Japan, it is crucial that we understand the reality of Japan’s shifting labor market. The gears are already turning. Slowly but surely, the current structure is crumbling. While immediate and complete internationalization is unlikely, young people should be aware that the security, stability and benefits that the old generation currently have will probably fade away, replaced by a highly skill-based system similar to that of other leading economies. To survive and thrive in that future, equipping ourselves with the latest tech skills or the most valued soft skills may be necessary.