If you’re currently a senior in college, you’re probably feverishly trying to finish up final exams and senior projects about this time. Once you’re done, if you’re like me you’ll sigh a breath of relief and then suddenly realize, “Holy shit, what am I going to do once I graduate??”
Well, I’m no expert but for those interested in finding a job in Japan, let me tell you about my experience with Career Forum, a job fair that helped me land my first job as a Java developer for Hitachi.
Career Forum is a great job fair geared for English and Japanese bilingual speakers and is free to attend for job seekers. You can apply to all sorts of companies including top names like Toshiba, NTT Docomo, and of course Hitachi. I have to be honest though. This is not for the faint of heart.
First of all, they had a technical career forum in San Francisco a little before I graduated in 2003. This year, it seems like the summer forum is being held in Tokyo so even getting there is no picnic and will hit your poor student wallet hard. For that price, you might as well consider going to the London forum at 5/31-6/1. The only other option is to wait until the end of September twiddling your thumbs for the Los Angeles forum. Juniors, you might want to think about getting a head start and plan for the next Boston and New York career forums in Fall and Winter.
Second, when I was there most of the companies seemed to be looking for Japanese people graduating from universities of English-speaking countries. The logic seems to be since they managed to graduate, they must be good at English even though the interviewer usually doesn’t speak English and so has no way of verifying this. I doubt if half the people there were actually fluent in English. So I suggest getting very comfortable in interviewing completely in Japanese. Also, I wished I had done this, but you should prepare a Japanese-style 履歴書 in addition to your regular resume. Make sure to have it proofread, ideally by somebody who successfully found a job with his/her 履歴書.
If your Japanese is not near native level, you’re going to have a lot less options so you should evaluate whether the cost of transportation and accommodations is going to be worth it. Look for foreign companies with locations in Japan like Goldman Sachs. In any case, you should check to see what companies are participating and focus on those you’re interested in. You won’t have enough time to visit every booth. Also wear a suit, no question. It’s Japan we’re talking about here.
If you do manage to land a job in Japan, congratulations! I hope you enjoy the high stress, long hours, and low pay! (Pay is based on seniority and not profession and skills.) Seriously though, you should think about whether this is the path you want to take as it’s not an easy one. I found my job by pure luck and I had to fly twice to Japan for 1st and 2nd round interviews with only the 2nd one paid for by the company. Until then, I was basically sitting around my mom’s house waiting for them to finally hire me. Even then, I was only hired on contract and became a regular employee after one year and yet another interview.
After the expense of flying and staying in San Francisco and Japan, I was pretty much out of money. Thank goodness meals at the company cafeteria and dorm were deducted from my salary. I managed to make it to my first paycheck by eating the cheapest thing I could get at 松屋 every weekend. Also, I had to shop around for a bank branch that would open an account for me without an Alien card (takes over a month to process) so that I could get paid. Can you believe that checks don’t exist in Japan?
Why go through all this when I could have had a much more comfortable job in the US with less stress and more pay? Well, working for a Japanese company in Japan was a great experience for me and helped me grow in many ways. I also started developing my career right away without spending a couple years teaching English in JET or whatnot. Still, that’s another perfectly fine option for getting into Japan. Another option is to develop your career first and then eventually find a company willing to ship you over. You’ll probably end up with a cushier job than climbing the Japanese corporate ladder from the bottom like I did. Whatever approach you decide, I suggest you do it while you’re young!