A giant leap for one man - part 3

So you've decided to make the move to Japan. Now what? Well, getting your first job is probably a priority, but it's not that easy. Unlike back home where it's just a matter of polishing up your resume and portfolio here you have the added disadvantage of being an unknown. On the other hand, you are a special case and this makes you stand out from most of the other applicants at Japanese companies, for better or for worse.
But are you ready to make the leap? Let's go through a few points to keep in the back of your mind:

Minimum spec:
Some basic Japanese skills.
Visa eligibility

Recommended spec:
Advanced Japanese skills.
Talent and experience.
A valid work Visa
Japanese residency
A big chunk of savings in the bank

Japanese skills.
You should assume no Japanese developer speaks English. All communication on the work floor is in Japanese. All software and operating systems, meetings, emails and discussions will be in Japanese. At first you may get by with simple Japanese, as long as you can hold a simple conversation, but eventually you'll have to buckle up and study. Not just to make the work situation easier on everybody but also because you'll get frustrated not being able to join in or have your say.
If you have absolutely no Japanese ability you are severely limiting your opportunities. There are some companies here and there that will take on someone like that, but they are few. If you're extremely lucky your company may even subsidise your study, or appoint a poor bastard to be your interpreter. But you have no excuse. Japanese isn't half as difficult to learn as you might think, and if you're planning on building a life in Japan you have no choice, so get studying!
This is a point I will make again and again.

Talent and experience
Talent is important. If you have a cracking portfolio you can go far. But as with any development company experience counts for a lot! You will be a much more attractive prospect if you have a few titles under your belt. It may also alleviate some of your employer's fears that they will have to teach you how development works while battling with a communication barrier. Having experience means they can just set you to work and not be too worried you won't manage.

A working Visa or Visa eligibility
Obviously to work legally in Japan you'll need a Visa. I have provided a link (sidebar) to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They'll be able to tell you much better than me what you'll need.
One thing I can tell you is that few Japanese companies have much experience organising Visas, and this may turn them off from hiring you. It definitely goes in your favour if you already have a valid Visa; it's just one more thing your employer doesn't have to worry about. How you go about getting a Visa first is a whole other subject in itself.

Japanese residency
Obviously being local means you can start at a short notice, or come in for interviews at a whim. Organising an interview while still abroad could prove difficult. The best you can hope for then is to line up a few interviews in the same week and fly over. Don't expect them to reimburse the travel expenses though!

Tokyo is expensive! Say it takes you a month or two to get a job; you'll still only get paid at the end of the first month you work there. So even if things go swimmingly it will be a few months before your first paycheck comes in. A little nest egg should ease you through that period. How much do you need? That depends on a lot of things, but a minimum amount of "a neat little pile" should be enough.

Like in the West, people in the know can often lead to better or quicker job interviews than cold calling or answering ads. If you're lucky you already have a friend or two working in Japan. You may have to fight hard for your first job but once you know a few people your contacts will grow quickly and changing to another company will be much easier. No surprises there.

Sure, it is not impossible to get a job in Japan, but it won't be easy. Be prepared for some frustration, long waits, a lot of rejections and a demoralising sense of futility. But stick with it! Once you're in, you're in. Maybe that first job won't be your dream position, but at last it's a foot in the door. Maybe the money they offer is lower than an English teacher's wage, but you need the experience. Maybe you get rejected a lot because they fear your Japanese isn't good enough. Well, only one thing to do while you wait for replies from other companies: study. On top of that Japanese HR can sometimes move very slowly. You're waiting for a reply, and they're waiting for the boss to OK an applicaion form to validate the interviewer's request to ask HR to send you an invitation for an interview.
It's no mean feat, but not a Herculean effort either. Just stick with it; when you get knocked down, just brush yourself off and try again.
In the next "Giant leap" post I'll talk about the different approaches to getting that first job.

No comments:

Post a Comment