Whether you’re applying to a traditional Japanese company or a Gaishikei (a foreign company in Japan), here are a few expert tips to help you ace that job interview.
Do your homework before interviews and before accepting an offer
Get as much background information as you can on the company, the job and the concrete expectations of the Hiring Manager. It’s easy enough to look online, but we’ve always found it best to reach out to people who are either currently working in the company or former employees, as well as those who have interacted with the organization, or even your potential Hiring Manager! Be diligent with your research by getting real data from reliable sources. Having a second, third, or fourth opinion allows you to see the company from a variety of viewpoints.
Prepare your questions in advance of interviews
Many people overlook the fact that having well-thought-out questions for your interviewer is actually one of the best ways to show your competence and sincerity of interest in a role. While this might have been a bold move in the past, nowadays I feel it should be standard for all candidates to do their own due diligence on companies by asking questions at each step of the interview process – especially in today’s candidate-driven market where the ratio of jobs available to candidates in the Japan market can be as high as 7:1 depending on the exact domain of the job and requirements.
In terms of the types of questions to think about when preparing for an interview, it is important to understand who you are meeting and calibrate your questions to the audience. Some ideas are as follows:
HR Interview – focus your questions on career development systems, training, company culture, the type of people whom have been successful joining, as well as the types whom have not, the challenges they see in the organization and how they plan to address those, etc.
Direct Hiring Manager Interview – focus your questions on their current challenges, future goals for the team, short term (less than 12 months) and mid term (12-24 months) goals of the role, how they define success for this position, perspective on company culture, thought about business prospects and risks, etc.
Executive Interview (more senior than the direct Hiring Manager) – focus on the bigger picture, more macro topics such as overall direction of the business, threats to the business or organization, challenges they are facing in growing the business, etc.
One area we do not feel candidates should directly address through their questions (especially early in the process) is the topic of compensation & benefits. We have seen many people over the years send the wrong message to a prospective employer by asking about their salary budget, airline seat class policies for business trips, etc. in the first interview. Focus on the organization, role, business prospects, career development opportunities, etc. If you do well enough and are interested in what you hear, there will be plenty of time to talk about compensation & benefits later in the process.
As mentioned in our previous article, because of the political and cultural landscape of Japan, traditional Japanese companies and even many gaishikei (foreign companies) tend to ask questions here that may not be customary overseas. If you are interested in our thoughts on this topic, please check the link at the end of the article.
Another point to be aware of is the length of time the interview process may take to complete (of course this depends a lot from company to company, so we are talking in broad brush strokes here). We have seen many interviews here last 1.5-2 hours at times because Hiring Managers have spent a lot of time and effort to talk about personal topics with the candidate they are interviewing and also have seen many hiring processes easily last 4-5 months as many companies continue to prioritize collective decision making processes and want to build consensus along each step of the process. Japan is still a very consensus-driven decision making culture – it’s often the community or the workplace that decides on hiring decisions, not a single person.
Even if you and the hiring manager have very good chemistry, there are often still numerous other stakeholders involved in these decisions, so that naturally tends to lengthen the decision making process here vs. other, more pragmatic approaches to hiring. The tech sector, as well as a handful of Japanese companies, are catching up and trying to speed up their processes in general, however, as a rule of thumb in Japan, patience will go a long way in helping you manage your nerves in most interview processes.
Preparing well for any endeavor involves getting the right mindset and setting your expectations straight. If you keep these three tips in mind, we are certain that the interview process will be more manageable for you.
Author: HCCR PR Team
Image Credit: Image taken from Teamschlegel