The Intern – AM's Story (Part Two)
While internships are not for everyone, for Mr. A.M. it helped open new doors and opportunities. He explains here that finding the right company is not an exact science, and since he was hoping to be hired on strength of personality and commitment, he had to find a firm that would hold these qualities as a company value.
TL: What resources did you use?
AM: My initial tool was the World Wide Web, and I trawled through local job sites such as Daijob.com. As I found opportunities, I researched the companies' own websites to find out more about their leadership. Once you have the names of company principals you can go looking for them on other public sites and find out what they are really like. My understanding is that at small companies in particular, the attitude of the principals is pretty much the attitude of the company, and thus it is likely to have a very real and direct impact on your work experience.
I managed to get interviews at five different companies, so the good news is that internships are not an alien concept among foreign firms in Tokyo. I went back for three for second-round interviews and finally received one job offer from a Marketing company, as well as two internships from regular IT firms.
TL: How did you pick the right firm?
AM: Well, as I got more practiced, I found that the attitudes of the people I interviewed with turned out to be a very good indicator of values of the company. At the second company which offered me an internship, I was not allowed to see the office. This touched-off some warning signals. Also, I felt the CEO's attitude was a bit hostile and even a bit cynical. In meeting some others during the selection process, I found this CEO's attitude had diffused throughout the organization.
Likewise, at the Marketing company I won a job offer from, the office was professional but it felt a bit sullen. As a result, even though the offer was a generous one, I decided not to take it and instead stay on course for an internship.
Finally, the company that I did choose had just the right atmosphere - the people that I interviewed with were friendly, interested, and clearly busy. I felt like Goldilocks trying each different seat until I found the one that felt right! The person who would be my immediate boss showed empathy and openness. I felt that the place had a relaxed but energized atmosphere, and still do. I can not stress enough how important the atmosphere of the work environment is to your overall job satisfaction.
TL: Any interview tips?
AM: I would point to the following factors as key to having convinced the company to give me a shot. First, I showed enthusiasm and interest in the company. Second, an internship is a low-risk, short-term proposition for the company -- it had nothing to lose by having me around for a few months. I tried to communicate my willingness to fit in and make a substantial work contribution. Third, I had done some research and knew that the company actually did have room for another body – an important factor with smaller businesses.
But out of all these points, I think the most important was my ability to connect with the managers and leave a positive impression during the interview process. As follow up, I tried to do everything by the book, such as sending a prompt “thank you” note to anyone I'd had even the briefest contact with, being quick to return emails, and showing up early for the second-round interviews. Overall, I let enthusiasm, personality, and luck take the forefront, rather than skills and experience.
TL: What is your current job description?
AM: My official job title is Pre-sales Engineer. However, my current job entails a broad variety of activities. I am deeply involved with the internal office infrastructure, designing, procuring, and assembling our daily computing resources (such as work stations). I also have duties regarding the daily maintenance of our network- designing and implementing a backup strategy, monitoring power usage and backup power requirements and current capability.
TL: Well, you made the grade and are now employed. What's the next step?
AM: As I think I have indicated, I like to plan and build for results. Certainly my internship was a deliberate piece of long-term thinking. Looking some time ahead, I am thinking about when the family returns to the US. We're trying to time this so that we're there before my daughter enters grade school. That gives me about 3 years to make myself marketable internationally, not just here in Japan.
I see there being two routes home: either to get hired locally by a company which also has offices in the US and transfer internally, or do some direct job hunting back in the States. The local-then-transfer route requires stronger language skills, and the US-focused route requires more technology and experience. Thus, I plan to focus on both areas. My goals are to be somewhat fluent in Japanese and pass the 2-kyu JLPT test, and at the same time, gain my Microsoft MCP certification.