J-E Bilingual? Work in Singapore

J-E Bilingual? Work in Singapore

Today's column is for bilingual Japanese (or very fluent foreign bilingual) readers thinking about working overseas.
One of the attractions of learning English is the opportunity to study and work overseas. The major destination for language students is the USA, with about 45,000 studying at all levels then going on to work for 12 months after graduation on the OPT ( Optional Practical Training) program. But once your 12 months is up and your visa expires, you have to come back to Japan. Then what?

Well, if you're into technology, you might consider working in Singapore. There are about 1,600 Japanese companies operating in Singapore, and many of these require Japanese staff to help interface the operation with the Tokyo head office. Unfortunately, since being an expat in Singapore is an attractive proposition for many, there is often a queue of more senior colleagues wanting to fill such positions. So you may have to wait a while to win a posting. Right now there are about 20,000 Japanese expats living in Singapore.
But there is another way. Recently, foreign technology firms have been trying to set up Japanese support operations outside Japan- for reasons of cost and global integration. Many of you have probably heard about two large US computer/electronics firms establishing Help Desks in China. The issue these companies are experiencing is that while such locations may look good on paper, in reality, most employees want a place which is safe and comfortable to live AND overseas. In fact, a place like Singapore.

Singapore has a population of just over 4 million people, of which about 750,000 are foreign nationals. The country has deliberately set itself up as an IT hub for Asia, and indeed, many famous foreign companies maintain their regional IT operations there. It may surprise you to know, for instance that the world's largest bank and the world's largest credit card company both have large Japanese support centers in Singapore.

Then there is the world's biggest software company, Microsoft. They also have an advanced facility in Singapore, which is called APOC. The facility services Microsoft's Japanese corporate customers in the region, and employs about 30 Japanese among its 300-person team. Recruiting by Microsoft is done both in Singapore and here in Japan. You can also see jobs coming up on a regular basis on the DaiJob.com web site.

The great thing about working in an overseas Japanese support team of an international company such as Microsoft, is that you can fit in and contribute even if you're not an expert speaker of English. The reason is that although Microsoft has its pick of local native-English speaking staff, the fluent Japanese capability is essential. And this is your secret weapon. Thus, you can look at the opportunity as an ideal full immersion English-learning program.

Microsoft APOC's role is to provide backend support to the regional partners and customers with order management, partner call support, agreement processing as well as supply chain management. They typically look for professional experienced staff, program managers and order processing staff, as well as bilingual entry-level people with at least some IT training ( if not experience). Yes, the need for IT training may mean that you first have to return to Japan after your overseas study. But 1-2 years with a Japanese IT company should be enough to qualify you for a place in Singapore with Microsoft, or any other multinational under the sun.
In terms of personality, Microsoft ads usually describe the type of person they are looking for. It is a software company, so it should come as no surprise that they are looking for candidates with strong problem solving skills, analytical and strategic thinking, and good communication skills - all things that I hope you were able to develop during your studies abroad.
Lastly, I probably don't need to remind you of the benefits of living in a place like Singapore, but I will anyway! Key words to think of are: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other ethnic life style. Shopping, food, thoughts, education etc., warm and tropical weather. Lower living expense compared to Japan, such as apartment, food, transportation, etc. Safe but enjoyable living environment.