A Career in IT in Japan - Part Two, The Bare Minimum Qualifications
Getting a career in IT in Japan is basically a function of three simple but important capabilities: the ability to speak both English AND Japanese, an awareness of computers and how they work, and cultural sensitivity. So if you're thinking about moving into the IT field, you at least need these skills. In particular people keep asking me, "Well what if I don't speak Japanese?" To those people I suggest that you move to an English-speaking country! Because unless you're a genius programmer or security expert or something, your technical capability will not make up for your inability to communicate with your users and customers. No Japanese means your employer will have to pay someone else to be bilingual for you. Are your skills that valuable?
The great thing about most Japanese returning from overseas, foreigners graduating from Japanese courses in Japan (or outside),and JETs is that you DO have language skills. And quite frankly, to get to first base in the IT game, language is 60% of what is needed. On top of that is another 20% is being able to demonstrate that you have IT support experience and knowledge. By far the best way to get the IT support experience, and even 6 months is enough, is to sign up while still at college to provide PC tutoring or support to other students. I've hired a number of successful IT staff who had made the most of the resources available to them while they were studying. Alternatively, get the experience for yourself by writing some code, running a PC-SIG for a non-profit, or building an advanced home PC network. Again, make the most of your academic resources by asking for help from your professors and seniors in the school.
The other 20% of getting to first base is not about your having to be an expert, but about how you handle people. If you've had any PC user support experience at all, the fact that you've oriented yourself practically in IT systems and can keep your temper while dealing with losers who don't know which key to press, makes a big impression on intending employers. When you write your resume, be sure to accurately describe the types of problems you troubleshot, the types of situations handled, and how you dealt with difficult customers! An awareness of user (customer) satisfaction is a high priority and a great hot button for employers these days.
If you didn't have the foresight to gain such experience before graduating, then all is not lost. There is still the ability to do an internship. I've mentioned before how valuable internships can be, creating as they do familiarity and confidence by potential employers that you are worth further investment as a trainee, once the internship finishes. In my own company, out of about 20 interns we've had in the last 5 years, we offered jobs to around 50% of them.
Yes, internships are hard to sustain when you don't have any family in Tokyo to support you. The way around this is to ask your internship employer to let you come in part-time, starting your second job sometime in the afternoon. The key here is to remember not to get too busy on the paying job, remembering that the lack of sleep is only temporary. And DO remember to get back into the books and study after you get home after the job and on weekends. Forget your love life, your friendships, and personal obligations. This internship is about the rest of your life and is worth sacrificing for. Getting a company to take you on after an internship means you have to be able to impress the management that you can learn and become productive quickly. You MUST spend time studying and be able to cope with technical issues at the same level as any other junior employee by the time the internship ends. Else, you are unlikely to get a job offer.
Lastly, I will say that I am very happy to review resumes for anyone considering an IT career but unsure of what to do next. The only requirement I ask is that you MUST have bilingual skills and at least advanced PC user experience. You can send resumes and questions to email@example.com. Yes, I answer EVERY email personally.