A Roundtable Talk: Job Hunting vs. Graduate School
On March 19th, 2022, JPort powered by SPeak Corporation held an hour and a half-long roundtable talk with four guest panelists from Waseda University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University to discuss how they decided on their career paths as international students in Japan. The panelists shared their insights and tips regarding internship and job-hunting activities along with their respective experiences attending graduate school or starting their careers. The panelists also discussed their personal journey in entering particular industries and companies or learning about pursuing further specialized studies.
Graduate student at University of Tokyo
Hao is a computer science major Waseda University graduate who will be entering the University of Tokyo’s graduate school with a research topic focused on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (VR/AR). During his time as an undergraduate student, Hao was a member of the Waseda Taiwanese Student Association (WTSA) and a developing team leader of Waseda Time, a website for Waseda students to check their courses, syllabus, and shuttle bus arrival times. Hao remembers being fascinated by Japan’s traditional culture because they combine the traditional aspects with modern technology effectively, such as their VR/AR technology. He also enjoys watching anime and reading manga. Waseda University was Hao’s first choice as there were more advantages and resources in his academic interest as well as their affordable tuition fees.
Graduate School Application Process
Previously, Hao was in an English program at Waseda. However, for graduate school at the University of Tokyo, he decided to switch to a Japanese program. In order to be prepared for this major switch, he took a semester break to study the Japanese language more: Hao borrowed Japanese textbooks and used online resources to prepare for the entrance exams. He would practice solving previous test problems, therefore polishing his Japanese skills. While preparing for entering graduate school, Hao began by studying and searching for labs and their research topics, then contacting professors via email or phone, to visit their labs and talk directly to them. He then began the final steps: writing his research plan, taking his paper exams (math and computer science), and having a 40-50 minute interview process. In September 2021, Hao was accepted and is currently preparing for his journey as a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, starting this April.
Graduate Student at Waseda University
Peter decided to apply to Waseda University because social science and economic classes are offered fully in English. As his parents were both engineer majors in university, doubtful of Peter pursuing literature-related courses, Peter decided to study economics within social sciences at Waseda University.
Similar to Hao, he was also interested in manga and anime which kickstarted his Japanese studies in high school. Peter reminisces reading Japanese literature that describes their surroundings and the environment–the writer’s connection to nature, other people, and the world around them, with stories of their internal struggles–which further deepened his interest in Japan.
Preparations for Graduate School
During undergraduate school, students usually have seminars or zemi (ゼミ) in a small class size studying with one professor who specializes in the field they are interested to work in the future. Peter was interested in the history of economic thought and Japanese economic history, so he read a lot of anthropology and sociology books. During his seminar, he was able to develop several skills such as writing and public speaking, through his practice of writing short papers and presentations focusing on the academic fields he was interested in. They also had weekly readings and discussions in class to cultivate critical learning.
This was all very helpful for Peter who was not confident in presentations prior to the seminar, whereas now, is able to express his opinions and thoughts openly. In other words, Peter says that zemi was great preparation for graduate school. He is currently studying graduate school of political science at Waseda University, following a similar path of democratization and political institutions. Peter recommended the attendees show their eligibility for scholarships or other benefits by demonstrating a solid research plan and displaying their willingness to devote their diligence to their future studies.
Joon Young Moon
Associate Consultant at Nomura Research Institute
Moon is a September 2021 graduate who majored in economics at Waseda University. While attending an English degree program, he mainly studied the fields revolving around mathematical applications, microeconomics, finance, as well as data science. In regards to the business sector, Moon said his interest lies in real estate, finance, and recently, pharmaceuticals. He is currently working at Nomura Research Institute Seoul Branch in the Strategy Consultant Division as an Associate Consultant since April 2021.
Job Hunting Experience Midst COVID-19
When Moon was in his 2nd year of university, he realized his interest in real estate and retail business in Japan through his internship program with Mitsui Fudosan (三井不動産). In 2020, he worked as an intern to make a real estate platform for international students at 3Floor (Build Corporation). Until this period, Moon was aiming to work in a Japanese firm and preparing to do so, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, information about Japanese job positions became very limited. The given situation also led to the closing, canceling, or postponing of job fairs and career forums. As an international student–with not many Japanese connections–Moon struggled with the lack of access to information and was struggling to find any advantage as an international student. Moon also realized that his Japanese proficiency level was not sufficient enough for a business environment and after acknowledging this reality, although desiring to work in Japan, he realized that Japan might not be his future workplace. So Moon put together a game plan to figure out his advantages and strong points as an individual: his diligence through his good grades; his internship experience, and; his Japanese language skill for companies outside of Japan. Through his job preparation, he failed numerous times but was fortunate to be seen for his diligence and real estate experience, enabling him to join his current company.
Commercial Business and Process Improvement Leader at Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan Inc.
Anindya came to Japan to study at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). After graduating in 2016, he began working for a start-up finance company in Tokyo. In 2018, Anindya decided to go to graduate school in the UK, focusing on financial technology. After returning to Japan, he wanted to work in financial companies in Japan but was not able to join any. He then worked at Daimler Trucks Asia as a Product Development Project Leader until 2021. Currently, he is working at Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan Inc. as a Project Leader in Business Process Improvements.
Job Hunting as a 4th-Year Student in APU
Anindya got a degree in business administration from APU. As it was a very general field, he decided to go to the UK for their finance courses, as he was keen on improving his knowledge of the financial industry.
Being a Graduate School Student in the UK
Anindya applied to many financial institutions in Japan and Europe. Due to his insufficient Japanese language proficiency, he struggled when applying to Japanese finance companies which require high-level Japanese knowledge. He then decided to move to Japan and work in the finance area with any company in Japan. He soon learned that all the finance he studied in graduate school was not applicable to his current job and that he must be flexible with his acquired skills.
Pros and Cons of Job Hunting and Graduate School
In contrast to Anindya, in the UK, around 30 percent of his classmates had no prior working experience. Anindya expressed that there is no problem with having or not having work experience, but that experience will help the individual in the long run. Hence, he suggests doing group work with people who have experience as a way to receive valuable information.
#2 Panelist Discussions
CHOOSING A CAREER PATH
Why did you decide to go to graduate school after graduating from university?
If you want to have a job where you can make use of your specialized knowledge, what you learn in undergraduate school would not be enough. My research topic is VR/AR and I want to learn more about it in graduate school. During my third year as an undergraduate, I joined a lab and while conducting research projects, my interest in the field grew. While I considered becoming a doctor or researcher, I ultimately wanted to find a good job. But in order to find a good job in my interested field, I had to and wanted to go to graduate school.
My academic interests lie in social sciences which are a combination of different subjects such as economics, political science, linguistics, philosophy, et cetera. I realized that studying for 4 years at undergraduate school was not enough to have a deeper understanding. I felt I needed more time to do academic readings, and reading does take time–you need time to absorb the knowledge. I was also afraid to join the working environment just yet because I am not very competitive. Therefore, I needed more time to figure out whether I am compatible with the working environment and see what I will pursue in the future.
Why did you decide to work right after graduating?
To be successful, I think it’s better to enter the work environment right after graduating. Nowadays, the academic world is different from the working world, and you need to take full responsibility for your own actions within the firm. The academic skills that you have accumulated are no longer useful in the work experience. As a consultant, I also had clients who held me accountable and made me realize how different the workplace is. Once you overcome your competency and adjust your personality to fit the job, you can be successful. I joined the work environment right after graduation so I can be successful sooner and earn money sooner. There were a lot of books related to business that inspired me to join the work environment because they showed me what I needed to prepare for my future career.
I have a slightly different opinion from Moon, although I don’t disagree. After graduating from APU, I wanted to dig deeper into the field I want to achieve in the future. I worked for financial companies and then decided to study finance in graduate school in the UK. A lot of lessons were learned through working first, before applying to graduate school, and as Moon mentioned, I did internships where we have to be fit to the workplace and understand what’s going on, which is a very different environment from the university environment. After two years of gathering work experience, I decided to go back to graduate school. People with work experience and without it give vastly different solutions–those who were specialized are needed as much as those who are more comprehensive–which gives everyone their own value. I don’t think that after obtaining your undergraduate degree, you have to work first. If you really want to focus on your field and you think you can gain more skills from going to graduate school, then go to graduate school. I think that there should be a balance between different specialties and peoples’ experiences and it allows for the development of more innovative products. Another reason I decided to work after graduating from APU is for the money. I need to earn money first that I can use to pay for graduate school.
JOB HUNTING TIPS
What should we pay attention to when doing internships?
Confirm whether your internship is relevant to your future path and will help with your studies for those going to graduate school. For example, I had an internship building websites for companies. While it is computer-related, it was quite different from what I wanted to major in. After I quit this internship to prepare for graduate school, I had to take more time to review because my internship wasn’t relevant or helpful to my field of academic interest. So, with that said, be careful as some companies will describe the position of the internship differently compared to the actual responsibilities and tasks given.
I found it difficult to find any internship opportunities as a social science major. In my 2nd or 3rd year as an undergraduate, I was an intern at a media company in Beijing as a translator but it wasn’t relevant to my academic major. However, interning at a media company internship can be advantageous for those who are specialized in certain fields by being continuously informed with the news in your interested industries. You will have a comparative advantage because you know the academic terminology and can write more accurately on those issues. That is one thing that social science students can think about when they are searching for internships.
What should we pay attention to when doing job hunting?
Regarding job hunting, everyone wants to see the good part of the company. But it’s better to see the problem of the company as well. Once you apply and begin working in the company, you need to be the person who is irreplaceable and indispensable in the company. This way you can negotiate for a better position and help the company grow more. In short, don’t only view the good aspects but find the issues within the company and figure out how your skills can be used. As a student, it may be hard to provide a solution–often feeling we have little impact on the company–but giving your insight can actually be sufficient. If you can give an insight into the current situation of the company such as the problem(s) inside the company, the difficulties the company faces, it can give you a very interesting impression to the company.
During internships, you need to be focused on what field you want to work for and find the job that is best for you. That way you can begin making comparisons between different companies. Try to analyze the best and worst qualities of companies and find what is suitable for you. When you are applying to countless industries during job hunting, it is a bit difficult to find what company fits you the best and where you truly want to work. Using the backgrounds of companies, you can compare and analyze each company to filter out where specifically it is you want to go.
GRADUATE SCHOOL TIPS
What should we pay attention to when applying to graduate school?
First, do a lot of research about the labs and professors by reading through their projects and papers, visiting their labs, sending emails, or calling them. By doing this, you can judge if this lab is a fit for you or not & whether this lab is ‘black’（ブラック, unethical) or not. Then, prepare questions and ask professors or senpais about the labs and courses because the information you receive is very important. However, you should only be applying if you have a clear goal. If you don’t have a clear goal yet, try writing out your research plan first. If you are still unsure whether you want to go to graduate school, plan out what you want to study to find your passion. For the exam part, universities often make the previous questions public so you can prepare using those and study with others in groups to exchange information. And those notes you’ve taken during your undergraduate, make sure to keep them!
I was in an undergraduate English program and stayed in the same faculty and department for graduate school. However, there are two potential issues that can occur when applying for graduate school. First, if you change your major drastically, make sure you spend sufficient time communicating about what you plan to research beforehand. Second, you should have a good match with your potential supervisor or your future could be disastrous. If you are applying to a university different from your current one, you should go to their homepage and find out if there is a professor who matches your research interests.
For those who are lost in their passion or career path, graduate school is not the answer. If you cannot find their job interest, it is the worst-case scenario to go to graduate school because you will be unhappy while doing research. A tip to keep in mind before going to graduate school is to try various things during your undergraduate years by joining circles, zemis, reading about articles in your field of study, or going to the career center.
#3 Message to students who want to pursue a career in Japan or attend Graduate school or are conflicted about which path to take
You have to be clear about what you want to do. Whether you’re undecided, going to graduate school, or job hunting, you should try having a research plan. If you are able to draft a research plan, go to graduate school. If you feel that you cannot complete the research plan or you’re not sure what you want to research, start job hunting. Also having friends and partners to exchange ideas together in Japanese and English is useful if you wish to pursue graduate school. And during these times, your mental state will be very tense, so make sure you take the time to relax and do sports or exercise. I think it is important [to take care of your mental health].
The first piece of advice is to try not to multitask too much because you need to maintain a good work-life balance. We have our limits as human beings so don’t try to apply to numerous schools while doing a million other things at the same time. Don’t focus too much on social media and what other people do around you. Think about your actual interests and what will benefit your future.
The business world is very harsh, but do not be afraid to face such difficulties. Overcoming it is part of the challenge. Go on and please pursue your career goal once you’re ready.
My final message is simple: first, you need to know yourself and know what you want to achieve, and be passionate about it. Second, balance your health because as Hao mentioned, having good mental and physical health can allow you to succeed?
#4 Audience Q&A
- Are scholarships applied for before, during, or after applying and passing the university?
- [Peter] For Waseda University, they will offer scholarships after they accept you. So if you do good during the application process, the faculty professors will discuss and rank the candidates and some will be offered a scholarship.
- Is there any possibility for job hunting in engineering in Japan from overseas, although they are not able to speak Japanese so fluently? If so, what are some good platforms for getting jobs?
- [Moon] Usually people use LinkedIn or Glassdoor, however, it’s not as helpful for students with no prior job experience. The reality is you need at least JLPT N2 even for an engineering field. You will need to supplement your Japanese skills now so that you can begin applying for Japanese companies. Or you can choose a path like me, going back to your home country and finding a job. If you have been learning Japanese so far, you can highlight it as one of your strong points when applying for companies.
- [Anindya] You can join the Boston Career Forum or CFN from different countries for those who want to work in Japan. The companies joining these forums are offering positions where a high Japanese language level is not really needed. Although conversational level probably is required, the Japanese skill level is less difficult than going through the typical shukatsu process. I have a Korean friend who applied for a job in Singapore for a company in Japan because he really wanted to work in Japan, and it worked for him.
- How did you find your internships during your undergraduate years?
- [Hao] I searched online for part-time jobs and internships. International students can also ask senpais and professors for internship opportunities.
#5 Comments from the panelists
Post-Event Comment from Anindya
“This kind of event is also good for us panelists since most of us are newbies. By joining these types of events, we also learn how to communicate with different people with various backgrounds → very important for our self-development as well”
Tips from Peter
Tips for graduate school preparation as an undergraduate
Most important are interactions in seminars/labs
- Learn to do academic readings and presentations effectively
- Learn to structure a research paper from literature review, to data collection, to data analysis, and to conclusions and self-evaluations
- Explore various subfields by taking a range of courses and choosing one research area
- Take relevant specialized courses and even attend summer schools in your chosen area
- Write an undergraduate thesis in your chosen area
- Practice communication with professors and project teammates
- See the close connectedness between various fields and disciplines
Tips for graduate school application
Most important is the research plan/proposal
- Present your academic interest and strength holistically
- Communicate your particular research area, question, and hypothesis upfront
- Convey your research passion and diligence
- Detail the database and methodology you will be using
- Explain why a research gap exists and why your research is important
- Include citations of book chapters and journal articles to indicate your familiarity with the research topic
- Show a good foundation in mathematics and statistics if you want to do empirical/formal research
The second most important tip is the recommendation letter
- Ask your professor in your seminar/lab at least a month before the deadline
- Meet your professor to discuss and make sure he/she read your research plan
- Make sure your recommender knows you for quite some time
Find a good match between your and your potential graduate supervisor’s research areas
- Look through the faculty website and check the background of your potential supervisors
- Do not be overconfident in multitasking and only apply to a few desirable programs at once
#6 Closing note by the JPort Team
During the panel discussion session, the four panelists actively shared their thoughts on the struggle many students face when deciding whether to further pursue their research or begin job hunting. They also shared their own personal experiences and stories to help international students and talents. The spirited discussion of all panelists and active participation of audiences, allowed for this event to be a fruitful information session without a minute being wasted.
For those who are interested in watching the event, please check out this link to access the Youtube stream. Stay updated on more of our future events by following our social media platforms.
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