My Story: LM
Today we start a series of stories on people who have found jobs in Japan and how they found them. In doing so, I hope that the experiences of others will help guide readers in figuring out how to get started in Japan.
LM is 25 and hails from New Zealand. Ever since coming to Japan on a family vacation at the age of 14, she has had a burning desire to get back and discover the culture and people more fully. For that reason, she spent a year as a university exchange student in Japan, and upon finishing her exchange, set her mind to getting a position at a Japanese firm. Thanks to her time at a Japanese university and the various home stays she did, she speaks upper intermediate level Japanese (2-kyuu spoken and written) and is thus able to handle most situations in a normal Japanese office and on phone calls.
In LM's own words, "At every point in my job searches in Japan, my personal network has been important. Every job interview I have had here has resulted from either myself contacting the company directly or a referral from an ex-colleague or friend." LM got in touch with several foreign executives already in Tokyo (through referrals from contacts she already had), by telephone from New Zealand - asking for their advice, etc. While it is true that asking busy executives for advice may not always be warmly received, the point is that she had the guts to ask, and mutual contacts who were willing to vouch for her. It was shortly after receiving advice from these people that she decided to hop on an airplane and come to Tokyo for some face-to-face meetings.
Next, I asked her about her interviewing technique, keeping in mind that getting the introduction is really just getting to first base. Her response was, "It helps to do your homework and be prepared. First, you need to get to know the company and learn about the business field they're in. Then, if you can, try to find out if the interviewer is going to be a Business Manager or an HR person. Usually with personal introductions, I can get straight through to the Business Manager for the first contact, which in my experience yields the best results. For example, I can appeal to the bottom line and talk about how I can make a contribution to the company."
Unfortunately, LM's idea of initially working in a Japanese company for 2-3 years, to gain deeper experience and bring more value to an international job, was not to be. After a few weeks in her first job in Tokyo, her Japanese boss became "feudal" on her, and had her making green tea for guests and generally doing undemanding work around the office. As she told me, "I struggled with the hours I was expected to put in, even though I had little chance to be productive. There were also a variety of ethical issues within this particular company, which meant that I couldn't really have a sense of pride in who I was working for. So, when a new opportunity to work in a foreign company came along that I thought I could be passionate about, I took it."
I asked LM how she found her current job - a marketing role in a foreign company. Her current boss was indeed one of the foreign executives she initially contacted before coming to Japan. At the time, she had a friend working for the company and as part of her initial research, asked that person to introduce her to the Boss, and to get her some time on the phone (from New Zealand) with him. The Boss took the call and at the time she found a couple of leads in companies that he knew and got a better idea of what kinds of opportunities there might be for her in the market. It was some months after having been in the job in the Japanese company that she arranged for a meeting with this person, now her boss, and ended up accepting a job with his company.
In LM's case, for her current job, her first interview was with the CEO, and so the decision to hire was both quick and final. HR's role was to arrange for a smooth transition into the company. LM claims that a little extra value offered to her current employer was important in clinching the position. After talking about her commitment to help the company in its dealings with foreign customers, she also offered to initially take a slightly lower pay level than her previous position in Japan, providing that if she proved herself over time, she would be rewarded for it. Perhaps an unnecessary step - but one that helped herin this particular case, and that has resulted in her increasing her income after all.
Terrie Lloyd is the founder of DaiJob, Inc. He also writes a weekly newsletter for entrepreneurs and business people about business and political opportunities in Japan. You can find the newsletter at www.terrie.com.
For further contact with Terrie, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.