Monday, April 6, 2009

"So you wanna land a job as salaryman in Japan?" Reader mail

Ok, I generally try to stay clear of too serious subjects and observations about working in Japan since that's not particularly crazy, but since I have on a few occasions received mails from readers who found my blog and want to become a salaryman here in Japan I thought I could post the reader's mail and my reply.

Disclaimer - I am in no way an expert in the job market here in Japan, I have recruited on a few occasions though, but my advice here is valid for jobs related to sales and marketing in healthcare and consumer goods.

I received the following mail:
"Dear Mr. Salaryman,

I'm emailing you because I found your blog online and I had some questions for you.

I'm not sure if it was your original dream, but it is my dream to live and work in Tokyo as a "salaryman". I've graduated college recently with a degree in finance and economics; although these days thats not such a good thing it would seem. On top of that, I've never really taken formal Japanese courses, so my Japanese is pretty minimal with what I taught myself.

I was wondering, did you take Japanese in college? Did you speak fluent Japanese before you went to live in Tokyo? How did you come to work for your company in Japan?

I would prefer not to do the English teaching thing, but in my desperation I just might have to; which would get me into Japan's doors and help my Japanese studying. But, that is why I'm interested in your path of how you came to work in Tokyo. I'm in desperate need of some advice so I'm really looking forward to hearing your response.

Thank you for your time.
Avid reader and long time fan (Salaryman comment: Ok, maybe I made that last part up)"

Since this reader managed to time his mail when I was sitting in a dreadfully boring corporate training session where my best source of entertainment was to check my e-mail and that I do know of the hardships in finding a job here in Japan he actually received a reply pretty quickly and what I told this person is as below:

"Hi Avid Reader and Long Time Fan,

As I'm sitting now in a corporate training session I for some reason find myself with nothing more entertaining to do than to check my e-mail, so this time you'll get a quick reply!

Unfortunately I'm not sure if I can give you much hope at the moment... The global economy is pretty shitty now and it's hard to find any jobs here in Japan at the moment, that said, this will hopefully change in the not too distant future. But the key to getting a corporate job here in japan is to speak Japanese... In my office, basically all my daily communication is done in Japanese, including reading/writing reports and mails...

I studied Japanese in university and landed my job because of that (Bachelor of arts). I went through university with the target of working in Japan and after I finished my Japanese studies (including one exchange year) I also studied a year of business administratio to get something more on top of my Japanese degree. I targeted quite a lot of companies here in Japan and entered first via a low paid "summer work internship" thingy that a friendly manager helped me land via e-mail. I used that summer in Japan to formally apply to a host of jobs and got into the coporate circuit.

Assuming a reasonable Japanese level has been achieved, this fair and homepage is geared to Japanese English bi-linguals and my former consulting company always recruited there as well as many other companies from different industries.
So, my recommendation to you would be to strive to get to Japanese fluency! So... how do you do that if you don't have the financial resources to go back to school for another year or two...?

Well, the options available here in Japan is either to enter as an English teacher where Japanese skills are not required. It's a hard life, but not necessarily badly paid depending on what job you can land. To be honest, I don't know to what extent the current financial downturn has had on the English teaching job market, maybe you can try and mail some of the English teachers that blog from Japan since they know the job market better...

But... the other option is to try and land a job in recruiting (as in head hunting) who often recruited aggressively with no Japanese speaking requirements (the company east-west consulting is infamous for recruiting in massive amounts). A headhunting job would get you closer to business and give you time to learn Japanese, but it's a pretty hard life and demands that you do a lot of aggressive cold calling in a dog-eat-dog environment. This niche too is also pretty hit by the current downturn I believe, so it might not be as easy as a couple of years ago.

Sorry if I can't give you any better advice, but if you ganbaru for the Japanese fluency it is in no way impossible, but the language is the key!
Good luck!

Personally, I've never ever bothered writing up a Japanese CV "Rirekisho" (for some reason I've always gotten away with the excuse "I'm a foreigner so my CV is in English, screw you and your demands for a Japanese one", but I guess it can help, especially on entry level and I can refer you to neighborhood blogger J. Turningpin's crash course in writing a rirekisho.

If any of my readers have any additional advice to this Avid Reader and Long Time Fan, please feel free to add on to what I have written!

(Whew, this post was way too serious for my own good, look for my next upcoming feature "Cooking with Mr. Salaryman" instead)


Chris said...

While you typed you musta missed some critical training point that will someday, cost someone, somewhere, something....maybe.
Shame on you!!!!!


kasi said...

Hello, my first comment.
How convinient, I've been wanting to ask you similar type of questions for a long time, however did not do it yet as it isn't very timely for me yet.

The post gives me some hope. I'm soon to have a masters degree in management (with some engineering background) and I've also studied Japanese until JLPT level 1 during my years at the uni. I also have a year of exchange studies in Japan behind me.

In case you have another boring meeting I also have a question for you: Getting a company to sponsor a visa seems problematic, if I just come looking for jobs with a tourist visa, is it likely that a company provides me with a visa or even an interview?

Would appreciate the reply if you have time!

Hälsingar från Finland!

p.s. For me personally the most interesting aspect of your blog is the Japanese corporate culture and work life, so in that perspective I didnt find this post at all too serious :)

ThePenguin said...

A couple of years of marketable experience in some sort of specialist field (accounting, law, IT or whatever) in your own country (or anywhere outside of Japan) would vastly improve your marketability for the kinds of companies which actively seek to employ non-Japanese for roles other than in-house token decorative gaijin.

And connections, connections, connections.

john turningpin said...

I second connections (x3), but would add, never underestimate dumb, stupid luck. And never hold off from applying for a job thinking, "They'd never hire me," because you have nothing to lose.

By all rights, I have no business holding my current corporate job, but hold it down I do.

Nor-Cal Nikkei said...

I've always believed that if you want something bad enough, it will happen.

Good luck!

Mr. Salaryman said...

Chris- I am ashamed by all the shame you have shamed me with.

Kasi - Vojvitto! When it comes to Visa, I don't think that it's a big deal at all. Assuming you get to the stage that a decent company want to hire you, it's no big deal for them to sponsor a working visa. Granted, it makes stuff a little more difficult for them, but not that big of a deal. However, maybe some other people can give better advice on that one since I am here on a Visa as the child of a Japanese citizen.

Penguin - I agree with your general advice, but it depends on what you strive to do. Obviously having some special competency is an edge and can also land you jobs where Japanese is not required. Personally (and what my advice talks about) is getting in on basically entry level as a regular peon. This of course makes it more difficult with connections and stuff, since that is something you build up over time when you're slaving away.

And I agree with JT, "dumb luck" is a key factor here, post my first job, the rest of the jobs I have landed due to unexpected timing and phone calls from contacts at just the right moment.

And generally I agree with Nikkei as well, in the end, it'S not like it's an impossible prospect, tons of people get in and out of corporate jobs here. If you just keep at it, at some point you're bound to be lucky. I'm sure there are a lot of pitfalls and such to look out for which I'm afraid I can't give much good advice on though...

Mattias said...

Ah, the refreshing sincerity of this post... is... well, you did manage to sneak in an ironic comment or two.

Anyway, I've been trying to find out exactly what is required when it comes to proving ones japanese proficency and your link to Turningpins site gave me a clear answer to that.

Keep up the good work sarariman.

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