Illustration: Phil Couzens

The Job Interview

What Not To Say

With the Japanese economy picking up at a fairly brisk pace, we’re seeing an accompanying upsurge in recruitment. I thought it might be helpful to trot out some guidelines our firm has worked up in handling the most-dreaded part of the job-hunting process: the interview. This is a tricky component because it is more likely to be the place where you lose out on a job–-even if you are fully qualified--by saying the wrong thing. So, the Top 5 tips on what NOT to say:

#1 “My current boss is a jerk”
No potential employer wants to hear about the problems at your current or previous job and you certainly do not want to be perceived as petty or prone to holding personal grudges in the workplace. They know you want a new job because you’re sitting in front of them, so there is no need to make negative comments, even if you have some legitimate issues with past employers. If you are pressed, stick to the bland: “I am looking for a different work environment” or “My career goals have changed.” These are safe ways to steer the conversation to more positive topics.

#2 “Is there a bonus with this position?”
A question like this sends the clear signal that you are most interested in the benefits of the job, not the work you are likely to do. Save such questions for subsequent interviews or separately ask the HR department rather than your prospective manager. Any good company will have already made some effort to determine that this job suits your level of experience and therefore will be willing to offer a competitive package.

#3 “How much longer will the interview take? I have a meeting soon”
Treating your prospective employer with respect seems incredibly obvious, but we see instances where people come across as rude and self-centered by asking such questions. Needless to say, preparation is the key. Show up early to make sure you can get through reception by the appointed hour. Plan as much time as possible (an interview that runs long is a positive sign after all). If you have a constraint you cannot avoid (you only have an hour at lunch) tell the person doing the arrangement in advance and they will almost certainly relay this to the manager.

#4 “I would rather not learn PowerPoint”
You do not want to do anything that suggests an inflexible attitude to your work. After all, for the right package, you should be willing to invest a bit more in improving your skills. At the same time, if you do not want to travel, a sales position requiring weeks on the road at a time is probably not a good idea - do keep an eye out for these types of deal breakers, and point them out. This is best done by referencing external factors (the need to care for an ill parent) rather than just being selfish.

#5 “My favorite hobby is drinking in Roppongi”
Your personality is an important factor in getting hired, but you certainly don’t want your interviewer hearing too much. This is especially true in Japan where kicking back and having a good time is common practice but seldom talked about. Remember that it is your skills and experience that you are selling, not your personality.

One final caution for interviews here. While the rules are getting stricter, one can still find the occasional manager who will ask clearly inappropriate questions, especially about marriage, plans about having a family, etc. If that happens, don’t be shocked or get upset: The job interview is not the place to make a moral stand on adherence to labor law. Instead, say that you are not sure of your personal plans and that your focus is on doing a solid job for your employer that helps the team and supports the business. You can decide later whether this is the right company for you.

David Price is a Senior Manager for specialized recruitment firm Robert Half International

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Your so-called suggestions are not only overused but downright insulting to the intelligence of your candidates and your clients.

As far as I am concerned, the primary purpose of a job interview is for the client to collect EVIDENCE that the candidate can do the job and for the candidate to demonstrate that s/he CAN DO THE JOB and not the interview. This is how you find and attract top talent in the market!

Hope your company trains its recruiters to become recruiting professionals and not just mercenaries.

From a future ex-client of yours,


What I am really curious about is whether the traditional Japanese approach to the interview, often involving personal details that would not come up in the West, continues.

I was in one interview situation where they actually did ask about my marital status. I wanted to say it is not relevant to the job but figured it not worth potentially sacrificing the opportunity.

Is this type of question still common practice with Japanese companies or is the approach changing? Has anyone else experienced similar?

It seems to me, with the shrinking pool of labour, they can't afford to be picky over things like this much longer.