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Job Hunting in Japan - it's different but it works.

As I walk through the streets of Tokyo during the cherry blossom season, the city is awash in shades of pink and white. This time of year is special to me, not just for its natural beauty, but because it heralds a unique tradition in Japan – the start of a new professional journey for countless fresh graduates. For us, this season symbolizes more than just the arrival of spring; it marks the beginning of a distinct and culturally rich job-hunting process that sets Japan apart from the rest of the world. Find out more about one of our traditions in Japanese called, “shuushokukatsudo” (就職活動 しゅうしょくかつどう).

  1. The Japanese Job Hunting Calendar
  2. Importance of New Graduates in Japan
  3. The Job Hunting Process in Japan
  4. Future-focused Hiring and Internships
  5. Adapting to a Changing Landscape

The Japanese Job Hunting Calendar

In Japan, the year ends in March and the new year starts in April. While 2024 starts in January, academic years and the company’s tax returns are mostly at the end of March or the beginning of April. Most jobs for recent graduates and the new school term usually start in April. This period, deeply embedded in our corporate culture, is characterized by synchronized hiring. In my third year at university, like many of my peers, I embarked on this critical journey, aiming to secure a job before graduation the following year. Once you have passed an interview, you will be given a “possible” job offer (so called “naitei”) this is already 99% sure you have been accepted into the company. Students might receive more job offers and usually will be given a deadline to choose which company they want to work for. 

This ritual of hiring en masse is not just an age-old practice; it is a reflection of the values we hold dear in our society. In recent years, there has been an interesting shift. Companies in Japan now increasingly seek to engage with students through internships, starting as early as the first or second year of university. This proactive approach to talent acquisition, relatively rare on a global scale, is a hallmark of Japan's unique job-hunting timeline, distinguishing our practices from those in other developed nations. It is therefore possible that a student will be hired once they’ve graduated, after they’ve completed their internship as a first or second-year student successfully. 

Importance of New Graduates in Japan

As I reflect on my university days, I'm reminded of how job hunting in Japan is more than just a quest for employment – it's a pivotal moment in a student's life. From the day we step into university, we're keenly aware that our future career paths are greatly influenced by our success as new graduates and we try to work hard for it. You might wonder, why are fresh graduates so integral to the Japanese workforce? At the heart of this lies the concept of 'lifetime employment.' You might have heard of this system before.  In this system, deeply ingrained in our work culture, employees typically remain with their first company until retirement, usually between the ages of 60 and 65. We have a group culture, meaning that you are there to build something together, until the end of your work life. 

Despite some opinions that the lifetime employment system is fading due to economic shifts, I've observed that it still holds a significant place in our work ethos. It's not uncommon to meet people who have dedicated their entire careers to the company they joined as fresh graduates. This is particularly noteworthy in a country like Japan, where mid-career hiring is much less prevalent compared to other nations, highlighting the immense emphasis placed on securing the right job right after university. For example, we have strong ties with a variety of our internship partners in Japan, most HR managers working at multi-nationals have been with the company for 15 years or longer (some even 30 years!). 

The Job Hunting Process in Japan

When I started my job-hunting journey in Japan, I quickly realized it was more than just simply submitting applications. We, the students, meticulously follow a well-structured plan laid out by recruitment agencies. This roadmap begins with self-analysis, leading us through a series of steps including industry and company research, crafting resumes and cover letters, engaging in interview practice, and participating in internships. Particularly in Japan, interviews hold immense importance. As someone who went through this process, I can vouch for the necessity of thorough preparation – it's not just about showcasing skills, but also about demonstrating potential and adaptability.

Future-focused Hiring and Internships

One aspect of job hunting in Japan that always strikes me as unique is our forward-looking hiring approach. Companies here often make hiring decisions based on the potential they see in students, not merely their current abilities. Companies also understand that they need to educate and train their new employees and that they’re responsible for their employees’ success in the workforce. This contrasts sharply with practices in other countries, where immediate skill sets are usually the focus. During my job search, I realized it was crucial to not only display my current competencies but to also convey how I could grow and contribute to a company in the long run.

Additionally, internships have become increasingly valuable. Reflecting on my own experience, I can see how internships play a pivotal role in the hiring process. In fact, over one-quarter of interns are significantly involved in recruitment activities at Japanese companies. This trend, partly due to the high turnover rates among new hires, has led to a growing emphasis on internships as a means to better match candidates with companies. It’s a response to the evolving needs of both the job market and young professionals like myself. I also think internships in Japan are the best way for both parties to work together successfully.

Adapting to a Changing Landscape

Living in what's often referred to as the "100-year life era" in Japan, where many of us anticipate reaching a century in age, I’ve come to realize that our traditional employment patterns need to evolve. The long careers that once defined the Japanese workforce are undergoing transformation. As a young professional navigating these changes, I understand that adapting the job-hunting system is crucial for both companies and us, aspiring employees.

Some forward-thinking companies have already begun to diversify their hiring methods, moving away from solely focusing on new graduates. They are actively looking for new talent by organizing job fairs or going out to network events instead of using recruitment agencies. This shift is a response to the dynamic nature of our society and economy. For job seekers like me, this means that job hunting is likely to become more varied and flexible in the future. Embracing these changes is essential, as they reflect not just the evolution of the job market but also the evolving aspirations and lifestyles of young people in Japan. Companies and job seekers need to find a way where they can meet in the middle.

In this ever-changing landscape, the journey of job hunting in Japan continues to be a unique blend of tradition and innovation, one that I am proud to be a part of. As we move forward, I'm optimistic that these changes will bring about a more inclusive and dynamic workforce, paving the way for a bright and diverse future for all of us.
Perhaps for someone learning about this for the first time, it might be surprising but it is another cultural aspect that makes Japan, Japan. It’s definitely something that I would recommend you to see for yourself through an internship in Japan.

Start your internship in Japan!

As a team at Zentern Internships, we are dedicated to transforming the unique challenges of job hunting in Japan into opportunities for growth and success. We have carefully crafted 4 unique programs to fulfill the aspirations of young professionals, like yourself, from across the globe. With us, dreams of thriving in Japan's dynamic workforce become a reality. You can seize this opportunity and jump the career ladder, making life easier for you after this kind of internship experience. Join us at Zentern, where your career journey in Japan begins, and let us turn your dreams into achievements!