Written by: Mieke Aarsman
What to do after graduation?
Although it is changing gradually, Japan is still famous for their employment system. Once you find a regular job, you stay there and gradually work your way up the career ladder, your wage increases along with your age and you are guaranteed to have steady employment until you retire. Maximum stability. However, since the economic crisis set in, this system has been under change. The dismissal of employees occurs more regularly and it is more difficult to find employment in the first place. Companies no longer hand out contracts like they used to do before the recession. Naturally, this leads to more competition under those seeking employment. Such as new graduates.
How do Japanese graduates go about finding employment in tough economic times like these?
In Japan, university students start roaming around for employment as early as early as one and a half year before they graduate. This is called ‘shūkatsu’ (short for shūshoku katsudō, or job-hunting). There are shūkatsu-events where companies present themselves to students and provide the opportunity to leave their resume’s and contact information behind. I went to one of these events, aimed at bilinguals and international students. Surprisingly (though not that surprisingly if you’ve been in Japan for a while) all the information was in Japanese and I heard hardly anyone talking in English. I chose two companies whose presentation to attend. After the presentation, I left my resume at one, the other one required me to send them a (handwritten!) resume later.
If they are interested, they will call you out to do an interview directly at the fair, or make an appointment to interview you at their office. In my case it was the latter. Like the event itself, it is of Key Importance to stand out as little as possible when it comes to dress. Literally EVERYONE wears the exact same suit , a white blouse and typical ‘shūkatsu shoes’ . So, dressed to the nines, off I went to the office of company no. 1 in Hamamatsuchō (an office area in Tokyo). I went upstairs like I was told in an email, where another girl was waiting already in a kind of waiting room. See looked pretty tense. When I asked her how many interviews she had been to already during her job-hunting, she said she wasn’t sure but probably around 30 (!). This is not an unusual number. Many students who don’t find employment right away may continue their job-hunting well over a year, going to some 2, 3 interviews a week. Imagine your ego after just half a year of ongoing rejection…
In any case, my interview partner completely revived during the interview and talked like her life depended on it (which may have been the case to some degree). If they like you, you are usually called back for more interviews, which may have other forms like one-to-one or group discussions. According to my Japanese classmates it is again important to lay as low as possible during group interviews or discussions. If you attract attention, either by aggressively over-asserting your point or by saying nothing at all, you’re out. The type of employee that is most in demand by Japanese companies is apparently the ‘tabula rasa’ type, someone who does not (yet) have a too strong opinion and is able to be educated to work in any field within the company. In fact, when a company decides to hire someone, they usually do not decide on their exact job within the company until a few months before they start working, or sometimes even after they started working.
But what if you cannot find employment before your graduation date? Should you just graduate anyway and work at McDonalds until you do?
Perhaps not. In Japan, the mass employment of new employees in April is quite strict on demanding only fresh graduates. Whether the problem is that companies don’t want last year’s leftovers or not, your chances of finding regular employment when you’re not a fresh graduate is almost zero. Therefore, most students who have not succeeded in finding work before their graduation just choose to postpone graduation for one year. They will have collected most or all of their credits at this point though, so this year is mostly filled with more shūkatsu, part time work or just partying. Of course they have to pay another year of tuition, but this ensures that they ‘belong somewhere’ (in this case the university). When you graduate and work at irregular employment (for instance flipping burgers at McDonalds under a year contract) you don’t belong anywhere, a very problematic situation in the mind of the Japanese employer. With an army of fresh graduates competing with you for the same job, you are pretty much doomed to remain in your burger career for the rest of your life. People in this kind of irregular employment, consisting of part-time jobs without a permanent contract are called furītā (short for ‘free arbeiter’) and are considered a degradation of Japan’s working values and a major social problem by some . In any case, the increasing number of these ‘freeters’ will press Japan to review its employment system’s structure in the near future. However, I think any new system will nevertheless require all participants to wear the same boring suit.
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