A giant leap for one man - part 7

Interviews are unnerving at the best of times, let alone when you’re also facing a culture and language barrier. I’ve only had a few Japanese interviews so far and given a few but they all seem to follow the same basic principles. It’s nothing shocking or different but armed with a few pointers it should make the whole process a little easier, hopefully.

Firstly, Japan is a country where business is still conducted in a suit. Developers luckily don’t have a dress code, but the sales and marketing sections usually do, as do the financial and HR divisions. When going for interviews it is not unusual for developers to don the old whistle. This isn’t strictly necessary these days, because, as I mentioned before, developers don’t seem to stand on ceremony so much and also because you’re foreign. Unless you have some particular aversion to looking presentable, why not wear a suit? It’s one of those little things that show your potential employer you understand and are willing to play by their rules.

Be confident! It is not uncommon for an interview to be conducted by a small group of people. The very first interview I had in Japan was scary as Hell, as I was on one side of the table facing 4 suited businessmen and 3 development staff simultaneously. This was a little extreme but expect three, four or even five people to interview you. It may be a little more as people may want to join in to have a look at the foreigner.
If the boss cares to make the time he’ll be there, as well as the producer, team lead and maybe one or two of the members of the team you would join.

Unless you’re extremely confident or fluent I’d start the meeting off with an apology for not being too good at “keigo”. This is the higher level of polite Japanese which is so archaic and difficult that even Japanese people don’t know it well until they get to a management position and will have to start using it to clients. I remember laughing at a recently promoted colleague studying a book on “keigo”. No one probably expects you to be fluent at this point, but you don’t want to embarrass or insult anyone. A quick warning of our incompetence in this field at the start will elicit a response along the lines of “don’t worry about it!” which should put everyone, not least yourself, at ease.

They will ask you to give a “self introduction”. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been semi-formally introduced to anyone without the need for self introduction arising. So practice this at home and it’ll be useful for many occasions, as well as giving an impression that you’re better at Japanese than you really may be.
Things covered by this introduction are very basic: name, age, country of origin, job description, where you worked before. That’ll probably suffice. You could add a little more about previous projects, when and why you came to Japan, but don’t make it a long monologue; that’ll be boring and arrogant.

Another question they’ll sheepishly ask is, um, you know, how you feel, like, um, you know, overtime. The correct answer to this is, of course “Oh, well, if you pay what the Japanese Labour Laws dictate I’m fine with it” This of course butters no bread. The best answer you can probably give in this situation is “well, all part of the game, innit?” and keep your fingers crossed behind your back.

Your salary discussions usually don’t happen at the interview, or at least not in front of the staff. You may have a private chat with the boss about this. I would recommend you fight tooth and nail at this point to get a salary you’re happy with because it’ll be almost impossible to get a pay rise at a later date. Keep in mind the bonus scam I wrote about earlier when calculating your desired income. Also, if it becomes a bartering session expect it to take some time. Decisions, if made at all, are glacial at best. Don’t let that deter you though; the time for this is now.

If you’re very lucky the company will provide a translator; usually someone at the office who speaks English pretty well. Though this is handy if you want to discuss the finer details of your contract but for the main part of the interview you should really be able to speak Japanese only. At the very least it should be a test for you; if you manage an interview in Japanese your ability is sufficient, more than, to do your daily tasks.

If you want a promissory note before you quit your current job, if you are in such a position, be sure to ask for one. I don’t think these are sent out automatically.

Keep in mind that if you get to the interview stage you have already come very far. There are many things that can put an employer off hiring foreigners but they decided to bring you in for a chat; that is promising. You probably have a lot of good experience or a great portfolio, so try to be relaxed and confident; don’t stress too much.

Good luck!

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