Updated: Nov 7, 2019
By: Santiago Brignole Araujo
Published date: September 23, 2019
Knowing how to prepare for job interviews is one of the keys to success while job-hunting in Japan. Japanese interviews (or 面接 mensetsu) are run with very strict standards quite different from that of Western countries. Having the know-how of a Japanese interview will give you a head-start on your competitors, and a chance to be taken seriously as a candidate.
Preparing for a Japanese interview
Let's be honest, we all get nervous before a new job interview. Sweaty palms, accelerated heartbeat, we've all been there before. But now, make the interview in a different country and under a different set of rules, feeling scared now? Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it in no time. In this article, we'll give you the best first-hand advance from real workers and real employers in Japan. Knowing and respecting these unique procedures can make or break that interview you've been waiting for.
1. Prior to the interview
The first impression you leave at interviews in Japan is extremely important, as it is your chance to showcase your character and professionalism. In Japan, there is an unspoken dress code/attire for when recruits visit companies in Japan for job interviews. To learn more about job hunting attire in Japan, check our other article Job Hunt in Japan: what to wear and where to get your own 'Recruit Suit.
Do not take off your coat before entering the building, and have some copies of your CV/Resume. Also, punctuality is critical. Japanese society values arriving on time, so be there on the dot, or even 10 minutes early for good measure.
2. Entering the Interview room
In other countries, you can simply enter the interview room with a greeting, a nice comment and sit down. But in Japan, greetings work in a very different way, one adapted for its polite culture, and you can show respect and integrity by following Japanese work-place traditions. (Of course, the content of interview matters the most, but always remember: “when in Rome, do as Romans do.”)
First, knock on the door for few times and announce, “shitsurei shimasu” (失礼します=pardon me) Then interviewer/s inside of the room will respond “douzo”（どうぞ=Please come in).
Next, open the door and walk toward the chair--be sure to introduce yourself before sitting down. A solid introduction will look like this:
“konnichiha, watashi ha XX大学 XX学部 XX desu. Yoroshikuonegaishimasu” (I’m XX from XX大学 majoring in XX, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”).
Following your introduction, interviewer/s will ask you to have seat, and now you can finally start answering questions.
3. During the interview
Fukuya Sayoshi, a 65-year-old retired businessman, has worked for the human resource (HR) department of his company for many years. We asked him for some tips on having a successful interview in Japan.
Mr. Sayoshi says “the most important thing is that the interviewee shows a great capacity for communication, which implies being clear and concise. In turn, he must show strength of spirit and adequately justify his interest in the work to which he is applying.”
Is “keigo” really necessary?
Readers might wonder how about “keigo” (formal, honorific Japanese). Most foreigners speak basic forms of keigo, but not always the level required for Japanese interviews.
Mr. Sayoshi says “if you have not mastered it well, you can just relax and use friendly form. If you would like to add your opinion towards what the interviewer has said, you should explain it with your motives for entering that company without losing your nerves.”
Of course, being able to master the language and communicate fluently using “keigo” is still the ideal scenario, but the goal of an interview is still to persuade the interviewer to hire you by self-promotion and displaying your credibility/capability/potential.
Other factors to watch are your posture and way of sitting. Try not to cross your arms or legs, as it's disrespectful to the interviewer.
4. Exiting the interview room
Leaving the interview room is also an important process. First, you should bow to interviewer/s while sitting and thank the interviewer; Repeat this process once again after you stand up. Place your chair in its original position and when leaving the room greet them again before carefully closing the door.
Mr. Sayoshi explains the reason why these bows and process are necessary, and the difference between Japanese and the Western work culture; “In the Western world, for example, the interviewee generally seeks to be confident, sometimes thinking too much about himself. Instead, in Japan, the priority is to leave a positive, dedicated, and humble impression.”
Understanding the Japanese protocol and how it affects the interview system:
Understanding the protocol of Japan involves studying interpersonal relationships, nonverbal language and knowing that there are certain limits that we should not cross if we want to maintain a positive image.
Paula Fernández has a degree in oriental studies from the Universidad del Salvador in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She teaches courses on culture and protocol of Asian-oriented tourism and business to different companies and students.
Fernández differentiates the style of the Japanese interview with the Argentine or Latin American style in general. "In Argentina or Latin America, our main concern is to be confident and sure of what we can provide. Then, during the interview process, we are likely to gesture and be very sincere, since the openness here is valuable. But Japan has huge respect for personal space, and many times being honest breaks that balance."
To explain this, she uses the concept of “ma” (間). It's not possible to translate ma into English directly, but you can think of it like a force that encompasses the ideas of space, pause, interval, emptiness, and distance, among others--all of which are deeply rooted in the depths of Japanese society. “With “ma” we can understand the need for correct flow of time, of work, from a place, from a conversation, where breaks and gaps form an integral and irreplaceable part of that fluidity,” Fernández said. So it is important to give an image of respect to personal space and not appear invasive while being interviewed.
A final word of advice
Interviews in Japan have a specific code of conduct that is also applicable to Japanese society at large. Learning about etiquette, the way of expressing oneself, and personal space has value for every student or visitor who seeks to enter not only the work market but also integrate into Japanese society in general. Taking into account all these factors, you will be evaluated as an equal competitor, valued by your merit and professional ability, not your "foreign-ness".