Tips for Off-Season Job-Hunting In Japan
Japan is unique in that most of its major companies revolve around seasonal job application intakes beginning somewhere around March and ending sometime between July-August, depending on the company. This practice is known as shukatsu.
Author: Kilameida Irwantoro | Published date: 24th August 2019
Japan's Shukatsu Mentality
Shukatsu mentality has been so ingrained to Japanese culture such that most universities have become a giant human resources form for employing companies, instead of being an educational institution. And so, foreign students may find themselves in a lurch: either they have failed their attempts at job-hunting due to underestimating its rigorous requirements, or they have been so focused at pursuing higher education that they have found themselves completing their thesis, without ever having started job-hunting in Japan.
That being said, below is a rough time line to give you a comparison of how my personal experience compares to how job-hunting in Japan should have been done considering that I am a Fall semester intake International student with my visa expiring by December.
With the seasonal job-hunting season over, these new prospective employees find themselves in the off-season, a period of time where the cities no longer teem with men and women in black suits busily commuting to their next interview. Where the job fairs of Japan grow silent, and the popular aggregate sites like Glassdoor, RikuNavi, and MyNavi grow ever quieter.
At this point, many would give up, and prepare for the next season or become a freeter, or withdraw from the social stress and become a hikkikomori (acute social withdrawal). For foreigners, they would likely return home as their student visa times out.
So, is there hope for the off-season foreign job-hunter? True, Japan’s hiring systems is draconian in its ruthlessness. But as Japan’s labor crisis continues, talks of change may be on the horizon. In the meantime, however, there are some things that you can do to ease your off-season search.
The most important change that you should make is to the mindset. The off-season job-hunting arena is a completely different beast than the on-season one: mass-employment websites dry up, and kigyou setsumeikai (company job fairs) become increasingly infrequent.
The main reason students stop their job-hunts is out of despair, from either having to choose a worse job than in the ‘regular’ season (and thus employing themselves there for a lifetime). However, as a foreigner, you are unlikely to be beholden to these rules. Hiring companies are aware that unlike a Japanese student, you are less inherently moldable to their whims, and are prepared to accept you on a more merit-based assessment.
This means that while a foreigner has less job security and a Japanese employee, they are also more easily able to jump between companies. It is more than ever acceptable for employees to springboard from job to job, much like in a Western nation. So it would do well for the foreign job-hunter to remove such fears from his mind and steel himself on choosing a slightly less appealing job.
Another change that must be made is in terms of rigorous activity. On-season job-hunting can be described as ‘passive’, in the sense that job prospects are localized into enormous job fairs and websites. In the off-season, the legwork must be done on their own: find the few setsumeikais that exist in October-December, and the even fewer that exist in between. Better yet, individually apply to each company in the industry that the job-hunter is interested in: some companies do not post on aggregate sites like RikuNavi or MyNavi.
Serious students who are determined to work in Japan, no matter what, may apply for the job-hunting visa that are available from their respective universities. This extends the time that they have for job-hunting post-graduation, up to 6 months from extension, and is the first step for job-hunters to gain a foothold to prepare for the next season, if unable to find a job in the off-season.
Normally, job-hunting websites such as RikuNavi or MyNavi are commonly-used in Japan’s job-hunting seasons in order to find setsumeikais hosted by companies. These recruiting companies are created in order to farm new graduates from universities and give them a platform to more easily job-hunt by aggregating information on various setsumeikais, and in the off-season, provide seminars on how to prepare for them.
As most companies do not post during the off-season period, as they don’t have the resources for year-long job fairs, it is not the best idea to rely on these sites during the off-season.
It’s true that other sites, like Glassdoor Japan, hires all year long, but these sites are usually for mid-career hires, and usually asks for working experience as a prerequisite for hiring. For fresh graduates with no working experience, scouring this site may not be a good use of their time.
Search local areas and niche locations
In the off-season, the massive job fairs of places like Tokyo and Osaka will disappear. However, local recruiting agencies won’t, which often will inform students on local setsumeikai sessions that won’t appear anywhere else. For example, Oita has Sparkle, and Fukuoka has FISC, and so on. Students may rely on these location-based agencies for information about local job fairs that typically won’t appear on websites.
Far more effective than any of these, of course, is word-of-mouth job offers and connecting with seniors or friends. As Japan places a lot of value on seniority and hierarchy, the right friends in high places can land you a job even during the off-season.
Networking via going out to bars and meeting new people can be an unorthodox method of looking for jobs – with the added bonus of relaxation during the stress of the off-season job-hunt.
Self-preparation and Re-assessment
There are certain skills that enhance your appeal to potential employers, but at this point, the methodology does not differ from on-season job-hunting.
However, since the off-season job-hunt is more passive than the hustle and bustle of the on-season frantic travelling, it might do well to brush up on some side skills that boosts your appeal, such as computer literacy, which is extremely low in Japan. Another thing to prepare includes researching the potential dangers of working in Japan.
The term ‘black kigyou’ in Japan refers to a set of companies with morally questionable work ethics, and is often associated with the draconian mistreatment of employees. There are various lists online, but ultimately, it is very difficult to discern whether or not a company practices an acceptable level of human resource management without directly contacting workers who work on the company themselves. Exercise every single caution when applying to companies before you actually sign that waiver.
Word of Advice
The greatest cliff in the face of the off-season job hunter is the mindset. Despite the highly competitive market, but at this point, you must balance whether or not committing to this job for a year or so is worth the time, money, and mental toll. Often times, this cliff will become an insurmountable wall, and is one of the causes of the hikkikomori phenomenon in Japan: the mental and social toll of this wall eventually overwhelms Japanese people.
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