Work in Japan…I could live in Japan, Part 2.

The next in a series of insights into finding work in Japan

In part 1 [http://www.deepjapan.org/a/3029], I set down some of the conditions that would be faced by those who are interested in working and living in Japan and also included information about obtaining a visa.

In this section I discuss some common assumptions about working in Japan that may be sending you down the wrong path, suggest some resources that can be helpful in a job search, as well as give a few other practical words of advice.

Let’s begin with setting some expectations and challenging some assumptions people make about working in Japan, without even consciously being aware of it perhaps:

No you don’t ‘have’ to speak Japanese
Many people find work and live here in Japan for many years, even settle here – without having spoken a word before they got here and without having very good Japanese years later. Does any level of Japanese above ‘konnichiwa’, ‘arigatou’ & ‘sayonara’ help? Of course it does. There is a difference however between use of Japanese in getting your job done and what is expected if you are seeking work ‘through the front door’ as I call it; through recruiters, HR departments and specific advertised roles. If you think you’re only way in to Japan where Japanese is asked for is ‘through the front door’, then indeed start studying to pass the higher levels of Japanese language proficiency test https://www.jlpt.jp/e/about/

When it comes to working in Japan, there are really only two levels of Japanese language proficiency; can you use Japanese as a critical part of getting your job done, or can you not? Think speaking Japanese all day every day and having to deliver on the real reason you are hired… or not having to speak Japanese, to use it that much to perform in your job.

Being able to 'do' your job and actually 'getting hired' to do it are two different things though. If you can talk to the person actually doing the hiring and needing the resource to help to get things done, solve problems and achieve things - and convince them you are the person to do be able to do that, then language level will drop back to a later priority in the hiring process, and you may very well find yourself with an opportunity to prove you are the right person to join the team.

A third level, for fluent Japanese speakers, might be the use of polite Japanese (keigo) or being able to operate where the paperwork you must use, the Computer systems, presentations, even Microsoft Excel - everything used or written in the firm is Japanese - can you still operate at that level? Usually however, it’s long term residents who are faced with such considerations, not someone wondering of their spoken level of Japanese will get them into Japan and / or through an interview or not.

Still not convinced or disagree? Well, you’re right – the higher the level of Japanese you speak if you want to work in Japan (and live!), the better in every sense of the word. It’s like Education in anything; it is not the ‘solution’ to everything, but it surely does increase your choices across the board. Just don't let it stop you pursuing working in Japan if that's what you want to do!

What does ‘foreigner’ mean when it comes to work in Japan?
According to government statistics on foreign residents, under 10% of foreigners are what would be called Western foreigners or put another way, well over 80% of foreigners in Japan are from Asia. While Skilled workers from most demographics are faced with similar opportunity for work here, there are many blue collar jobs, for example factory, manufacturing and rural jobs that are not the type of jobs the average overseas job seeker is considering here or would be considered for. Personally I know little about this area and can’t offer much advice on exploring it, which leads to…

Most ’work’ in Japan is not available to most foreigners
Excluding manufacturing and less desirable and menial work where foreigners from developing countries are perhaps sought specifically as discussed above, anything you might imagine as ‘domestic’ or government work, is likely not going to have many foreigners working in it. Think road works, driving a bus or train, Doctors, Psychiatrists, counselors, aged care/nursing (this is changing somewhat, for some countries), Mechanics, retail or Industrial repair, Surveyor, Civil Engineer, Insurance Sales… most Sales where the market is primarily Japanese, Hairdressers, Accountants/Tax Accountants, Construction, Electricians, most trades… and so much more, with some exceptions of course – simply ‘nope’. Foreigners, especially western foreigners by and large don’t work in such jobs here.

Wait, what? That’s right it’s not all English teaching here, but most jobs most people do in their home countries, are not the type of jobs Foreigners do here.

Well what roles and work are available to foreigners then?
The caveat here before I continue, is that most foreigners work for foreign companies. I’ll type that again, because it is a common misconception; people assume Japanese firms will be the ones to hire them, once they achieve their goal of coming to Japan to work – most foreigners here however, not all of course, not by a long shot, but most foreigners especially those new to Japan, work for foreign companies or foreign capital companies here. Period.

So where to start?

Well first, there are jobs people can be hired into from outside Japan & many people can't imagine how else they might get to Japan:
1. High level Corporate Internal transfer, High level recruiter, personal connection; Enterprise level Management &/or specialist in the company think corporate… aand folks like that? Likely not reading this post.
2. Hunted down technical or scientific specialist, high end Professor, R&D Lab Candidate* etc. …. Again, not reading this post. (*OK, R&D potential folks may be reading, but you should have your own avenues, usually Universities)
3. Diplomatic mission, foreign government employee… again, likely not reading this article (Seeing a theme here?)
4. Boston Career Forum, University Exchange Programs or similar school to school, government to government programs (see next point too)
5. English Teacher! Try the gold standard, highly recommended by pretty much all who take the path, though competitive & 'restrictions apply':
The JET Program http://www.jetprogramme.org/
Or the current biggest employer of Assistant Language Teachers for the Japanese Education system: Interac http://www.interacnetwork.com/recruit/japan.html
6. Got hired by or otherwise work for a Japanese firm in another country; express clear desire to work in Japan (Surprisingly effective I have heard)

Note: Misconception in this area - 'Expat' jobs and getting hired where some company then pays for your airfare & moving costs; not really going to happen unless it's an internal transfer to Japan, you're a high level executive or at a stretch, have tech skills extremely sought after across the world, you can pretty much forget about that. I don't think there are English teaching roles outside of the JET Program that pay for airfare anymore even.

Next – being here.
If you didn't come here on the back of a previous work history in a skilled profession (those available to foreigners remember –see above), and you are from a native English speaking country, then arguably at the top of the ways to find work once here – non-professional/unskilled work that is not secured from outside the country – is also English Teaching.

The glory days of English teaching being extremely well paid and a shortage of native English speakers also meaning jobs were easy to find, are long gone, but it is still the most common job for young western foreigners and really is the most well-known path to working in Japan. Additionally if your goal is to immerse yourself in the culture and language, English teaching jobs are available all across Japan. It's possible to live virtually anywhere in Japan and teach English unlike most other jobs for foreign workers which are most likely based in Tokyo.

As well as JET & Interac above, here's some sites to start with for finding English teaching jobs (many you'll need to be here already):

Next comes Technical skills like IT & Technology, Investment Banking Sales & Trading and the like.

There aren't many single locations of Online Recruitment Resources as complete as this one:

Some other links at this company’s website are broken so I don’t know how long this list will last – better grab it/book mark the interesting links now. Perhaps I’ll do a post here on DeepJapan listing all these and more in the future as a resource for online Job Search in Japan.

Next? Recruiting – learning how to find Japanese people between the ages of say 27 and 48 years old who would even consider working for a foreign firm and speak some level of English, and convincing them to stop working where they are working now and come work for the (usually) foreign firm you’re being paid by.

Note: The ‘Mid-career’ or ‘Lateral’ recruitment market that is an assumed component of the recruitment Industry many people and especially foreign firms entering Japan probably give little or no thought to? Not such a thing here. The fees for recruiting here indicate this. They are about double most other countries in the world. Broadly & generally speaking, not many Japanese people are constantly on the look out for their next opportunity, as is the case in much of the rest of the world.

Recruitment is Sales. Headhunting firms are sales organizations on steroids, it’s ‘Boiler Room’, ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, sink or swim, sell – bring in revenue, consistently, or you’re out. In that sense, it’s getting harder these days to find a job as a recruiter without prior experience. Once here in Japan however, it is possible to find such work. You gotta be hungry (and/or you gotta have 'proven success') and I mean show them you’re hungry for the money, not the job. Google “Recruit the Recruiter” if this is something that makes your heart beat faster, to help you prepare for pursuing the job. After getting hired, it’s all about learning from massive activity, good training and good mentors. If you can do it at all (Consistently bring in some revenue & so keep your job, just) you’ll make 2-3x what an English Teacher does. But if you can really do it the way the company wants all performers to and that you will want to, you’ll be earning U.S. $100-150,000 per year or more. The top guys in most firms here approach or exceed double this range.

Possible Posts coming in the series:

 Interviews with people who found work in Japan either from outside the country or by coming here to make it happen
 Advice for job search while living here, real life examples of seeking any work and how people found jobs in Japan, in the area they actually wanted to
 Business Networking, what it means in the era of Social Media, for job search and how to do it 'on purpose'...in Japan!
 The 'hidden' job market; Japan is no different, most jobs are not found through websites, applying randomly or even (especially) through recruiters.

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