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Lessons from Japan - Job Hunting, Part 1

Although I initially went over to Japan through the JET Program, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a way to get into the game industry. Being in Tokyo, I thought there might at least be a number of developer meet ups or other events that I could go to and break into the indie scene, but… well, that didn’t quite work. For some reason, I had a really hard time finding meet ups, and it felt like so much more of a struggle to meet new people than it had been for me back home. So I gave up on the indie route, and decided to try to apply to companies instead!

I knew there were a lot of differences between the hiring process in America and Japan, but those differences ended up being a lot bigger than I had ever expected. To begin with, there are two different hiring processes, depending on whether you’re just graduating from college or not. The hiring process for people with previous experience is similar to America, although most Japanese people don't tend to switch jobs and companies as often as most Americans.

New Recruits

Since I had recently graduated from college before going to Japan, I decided that it would probably be in my best interest to go through the same process of getting a job as other graduates. You often see this on websites as the big button that says “New Recruits”, 新卒採用 (shinsotsu saiyou). For some reason, it was usually always blue, too. But whatever, what I didn’t know when I went to apply for these jobs the first time around was that this isn’t some few month ordeal – it takes a whole year for graduates to get a job, and they usually start looking the year before they graduate.

A Year in the Life of a Job Seeker

  • January / February – All future openings are posted on each company’s website. Applications are not open yet.

  • March – Applications open. The first step is to submit an indication of interest in the company, called an entry in Japanese (エントリー). This only tells the company that you’re interested in applying, and is not the actual application. Some companies will send out fancy-looking packets of information to get you really excited to apply.

  • Late March / Early April – Actual applications are due. This often includes a set of questions about your motivations, and a special resume unique to that company. For musicians, this includes sending in their portfolio.

  • June – After hearing back from the company, you may have to take a test. This can either be a general knowledge test, or a test in a more specialized area, such as music theory or composition.

  • June / July – Interviews begin after passing the test. There are frequently multiple rounds of interviews, with more important people being present at each interview.

  • October – If you did well on the interviews, you will get an informal job offer. This job offer will be formalized a few months later, closer to March.

  • April, the next year – All new recruits start in April. April is the start of the year in Japan, coinciding with the arrival of Spring and the cherry blossoms.

Job Hunting Basics

So once you’ve figured out which companies you want to apply to, there are a few other things you need to prepare in advance.

Resume 履歴書

Resumes in Japan are called rirekisho. They always follow the same format (although different companies might have a slight variation they prefer for you to use), and are usually handwritten. There’s a bit more emphasis placed on education and a bit less on explaining what you did at your previous jobs. For example, you’re expected to list the dates that you started and graduated from every school you attended, starting with elementary school. The other positions that you’ve had are also just listed as a start date, end date, and a brief reason why you no longer work there. On the right-hand side of the page is a space for you to explain your career goals, another to explain your hobbies and special skills, and yet another asking for other, more personal information. That’s another thing that makes a rirekisho a bit different – it includes a lot of information that would be considered too personal for an American resume, such as a current headshot, marital status, and number of dependents. There’s a lot of sites that go into more detail about how to properly write a rirekisho, such as this one here.

You can buy packs of blank rirekisho for really cheap at the 100 yen store. You’ll probably need all of them – the expectation is that, once you mess up, you have to start all over. White-out and crossing things out aren’t allowed, so you need to make sure that you do everything right the first time. My coworkers taught me this neat trick of writing everything in pencil first and then tracing over it with pen after I started getting angry after messing up about a billion of them. Being a slow writer, I think it took me about an hour just to fill out one of them.

Job Hunting Suit リクルートスーツ

Everyone wears the same thing to every interview. You wear a black suit. Solid black. Not black with little white stripes. Black. Underneath the suit jacket is a white shirt. Always white. You wear the same kind of shoes, and the same kind of tie, with the same kind of hairstyle as everyone else. For women, the skirt can’t be too short, and you must wear pumps that have a heel, but aren’t too high. No jewelry allowed. Definitely no tattoos. This has started to change, but for the most part, new recruits tend to always wear a black suit because it’s considered safer, and shows that you have the ability to follow instructions. There’s a great article about a huge blow up on the internet over what someone wrote in Japan arguing for always wearing a black suit to job interviews.

Next time…

Now that we’ve talked about some general job-hunting related things, next week, I’ll go into specifics and write a bit about the applications to be an entry level in-house composer at Nintendo and HAL Laboratory!

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