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Understanding the Japanese Interview Process

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Interviews in Japan can be quite different when compared to those in other markets and we hope that this article is able to help you prepare for your pending job-seeking activities.

In some of our previous articles, we went over the behaviors and mindsets to adapt to in order to build a successful career in this country. If, after reading that, you’re still keen–maybe even eager–on pursuing a professional career in Japan, then the next step would be to look for opportunities and start submitting your CV. This can prove to be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience for candidates, regardless of where they are from or their experience level.

Getting a foot in the door with a prospective employer in Japan takes preparation, patience, and a general cultural awareness if you are to be successful in your endeavors. There are some aspects to the interviewing process here that are quite unique, and if you are unprepared for them they can come across as very administrative, awkward and downright invasive if you do not understand the context in which they are happening.

When looking at hiring processes in Japan, it is very important to keep two fundamental concepts in mind so that you can understand why certain questions or processes are taking place in your interview process.

The first concept to understand is that Japan is generally a very pro-labor country, with labor laws highly skewed towards protecting employees rather than employers.

Secondly, Japan has historically had very low labor liquidity amongst mid career hires, so this has led to the country having a comparatively less sophisticated, more administrative approach to talent acquisition vs. some other markets globally.

A Pro-Labor Japan

In terms of the country’s basic political landscape relating to employment, Japan is very pro-labor. Labor laws in the country are generally constructed to protect full-time employees, making it very hard for companies to fire their people if needed. One of the positive derivatives of this pro-labor backdrop is that it generally helps to cement strong commitments between companies and their workforce over time.

Unlike in other markets where poor performance can easily cost you your job, in Japan, you will typically find that companies must stick with their employees, even through bad performance because the process of actually firing them is too costly, painful and time intensive given the protections in place for labor in the country.

The downside of this, from the employers’ perspective, is the difficulty in risk-managing hiring processes to limit the downside of a bad hire for companies operating in Japan. This has led to a generally more cautious, risk averse hiring process for many companies in order to try to avoid the high costs associated with a bad hire.

General Expectations for the Job Interview

These two fundamental aspects of the Japanese labor market steer the direction of job interviews into ways that most foreigners are not used to. For one, foreigners will find that Japanese companies casually ask about one’s 個人情報 (Kojin Joho) or private information, which includes age, salary, salary verification, marital status etc.

This might be uncomfortable for foreigners who are not used to disclosing such things, and in many ways goes against the current of popular culture relating to privacy rights we have seen erupting around the globe. However, regardless of global trends around privacy, according to local labor law In Japan, companies have the right to ask such questions in the interview process as part of their due diligence in hiring mid career talents for their team, so rather than fighting the process, you might as well get prepared to disclose such information in most cases if you want / need the offer from a prospective employer in Japan.

Given the strict labor laws protecting employees highlighted above, hiring managers are compelled to carefully consider the personal background of their candidates in order to better ascertain their fit to the organization and to attempt to minimize risks associated with mishires, so might as well be prepared to disclose such information if you want / need an offer from your prospective employer.

Another part of the standard interviewing process in Japan, which we feel is actually generally more of a positive than a negative, is the focus from the employer on genuinely building a relationship with prospective candidates and getting to know one another on a personal level to ascertain cultural and philosophical fit to the group. Many hiring managers and companies will spend extended time getting to know a candidate’s personal hobbies, family situation, etc. in order to attempt to deeply understand them as an individual and to try to gauge their overall fit to the team. This may not happen in all interview processes, but we see it more often than not with more traditional organizations in Japan as such organizations are often more focused on protecting their organizational 和 (Wa), or harmony, rather than simply maximizing performance by bringing in an all star from outside the group.

At the end of the day, understanding the context as to why certain things are happening or why certain questions are being asked in an interview process can go a long way in helping you to successfully navigate your job seeking activities in Japan.


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Author: HCCR PR Team

Image Credit: Someecards & Claes Stridsberg