Recontracting time has come and gone. For personal or professional reasons, you’ve decided to move on from your time as an assistant language teacher and find another job in Japan. The thing is, you may be living in the remote countryside (like many other ALTs), so the only real resources you have at your disposal are the internet and local networking to forge your way to a new job here.
While it may seem like an uphill battle, the future is seemingly bright for foreign “skilled workers” in Japan. With a declining population, the country wants to hire more foreign talent. For highly skilled foreigners, it may be less competitive in certain markets, as Japan ranks dead last among Asian countries for the number of skilled foreigners in the workforce, according to the 2017 IMD World Talent Ranking.
The jobs are there — you just have to work to get yourself in prime position for them. So if you’re an ALT wondering when the optimal time is to start a job search or where to even begin, here are six simple yet effective tips to help you move forward.
1. Start early and do your research
If you have decided not to re-contract — even before you sign the necessary papers and turn them into your school — start the job search.
First things first, bookmark GaijinPot Jobs, which is one of the largest databases of jobs for foreigners in Japan. While teaching positions are offered aplenty, others like those in the IT, human resources and recruitment sectors are gaining traction for foreigners here. In addition to the GaijinPot job board, there are also more bilingual jobs in Japan on Career Engine, which has bilingual employment and recruiting services and works with 11 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan. The two job boards list recruiting companies in grey that will try to place you into their clients’ openings. Another option is simply a direct-hire position, where you become an employee of that company without a middleman.
Beyond that, stay tuned in to what’s available in your area and let people know you’re looking for new opportunities. Some ALTs end up working not for the same school, but for the government in their area or elsewhere in Japan with a local tourism agency.
Don’t underestimate job postings on regional Facebook groups (like Japan Jobs, Jobs in Japan or the JET Programme’s JETA Jobs board) or, if you really feel like you need more guidance, find a recruiting company to help you out. For example:
- PlayNext Lab Inc or Inbound Technology – both specialize in IT jobs
- Asuka or Asisai – both help find positions ranging from teaching jobs to sales to PR
To that end, be sure to brush up your Japanese resume skills.
2. Don’t underestimate networking
Many ALTs make strong bonds within their program or immediate community, but often lack a broader connection to the foreign professional community in Japan. Check out groups (online or in person), Meetups, conferences or at the very least, do some networking on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn worked incredibly well for me in Japan to make connections in Tokyo virtually, when I was living far out in the inaka. I would also suggest taking some time to curate posts on LinkedIn during your daily social media routine — swapping out those Instaselfies and FB-complaints for posts about future career goals and sharing your latest work so that people in your LinkedIn network can see what you’re up to (other than late-night karaoke).
Putting in the research to discover what’s out there and connected to your field of interest is half the battle. Once you’ve found a few choices, then you can reach out to people or better understand what might be right for you. Actively search out groups and events that pertain to your particular field of interest, and it’ll pay off.
As an example, I was interested in the travel industry in Japan, so I attended a free event from the Tokyo Chapter of a worldwide network called Travel Massive. From there, I knew I wanted to be more involved, so I ended up contacting the leader and asked if they were looking for volunteers to help with events. After a meeting, I joined this group as a Tokyo Chapter leader and helped plan and coordinate their next tourism events. The experience, although it took some extra work and time, opened up my network and gave me the chance to interact on a more meaningful level with CEOs and board members in Japan.
Here are a few other resources to consider for expanding your network:
- Savvy Tokyo — One of the only websites focusing specifically on foreign women in Tokyo and in Japan in general. Check out this article on networking for expat women, as well as other pieces written by and about women working in Japan.
- Expat Briefing — This website provides a great list of more than 10 groups to consider joining. Check out their list on business groups and associations in Japan.
- Definitely attend an event or two of your country’s chamber of commerce here in Japan. For example, here’s the American, British, Canadian and European (EU) chambers’ sites. What’s more, reaching out and connecting to people in your country’s chamber is easily done via LinkedIn. (Chambers of commerce are networking machines and often have job listings that require very little Japanese ability and may not be posted elsewhere.)
3. Always have a side hustle
It’s never, ever too late to start a side hustle in addition to your role as an ALT.
Maybe that means you start keeping a blog of your experience in Japan. Maybe that means you do comics, photography or even start your own YouTube channel on the side. Maybe you pitch an article to and write for GaijinPot or one of the other numerous blogs and publications in Japan. It doesn’t have to be a replacement for your work, just a way to gain meaningful experience doing something your specifically suited to, interested or practiced in.
If you don’t have much prior work experience, you’ll want to have some type of side project to give definition to those “highly motivated” adjectival expressions you put in your cover letter. Even if you do have prior experience — for example, working as a journalist in your home country — you still need to prove that you can do it here in Japan. Your side hustle (whether it’s paid or not, depending on how worried you are about limitations on your current contract) can give you an edge on other applicants. Added bonus: applying for a job you already have a bit of experience doing makes you more confident, too.
Need some ideas? Check out this Japan Life Reddit forum on none other than side hustling.
4. Interview for jobs you think you won’t get
Life, my friends, is just practice. Job interviews are no different. It’s kind of crazy to think you’re going to ace your dream job interview on the first try. So — much like finding the right match in love — finding the right job is going to take a few trial runs.
Apply for positions that might be out of your league, get the interview and then do your best. It helps to go through the process and get some of the jitters out of the way, even if the interviews come earlier in the year in winter or spring and your contract isn’t up until August. (To that end, be sure to dedicate some of your vacation time to travel for out-of-area interviews.)
Moreover, practice for the interview, whether in English, Japanese or both — out loud. This may seem a simple piece of advice, but a lot of people just run the answers through their head without speaking a word. Again, even just the rehearsal of speaking, gesturing, making eye contact and perfecting your bow will only benefit you in the end. Muscle memory, people!
For some more practicalities, check out this GaijinPot article on tips to prepare for a Japanese interview.
5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate
Some ALTs figure they can’t leave their job until August, so why apply for a position that starts in April? Here are a few things to consider on that point:
- An early prospect is better than no prospect. There certainly are cases where ALTs interview in spring and the company agrees to hire them in August after their contract with their current school. That being said, this isn’t exactly a detail to lead with.
- Let’s say you do get a job slated to start in April and they cannot wait for you until August. If this is a job you can really see a future at, it’s time to have a real conversation with a trusted teacher or superior that hopefully can understand your predicament. After all, you didn’t make this strict rule of an April hiring season, did you? Nor did you make your contract strangely not adhere to this rigid custom. You may be leaving your school high and dry for the next few months if you take an April job, but the alternative may leave you packing your bags. It’s a tough one, so handle with care.
- There is another option. Let’s say you get the April job, but you can negotiate to have it start a bit later. Not four months later, but perhaps one-to-two months later. Setting yourself up for a June-July start date may work for both your school and your company, as you’d miss less classes than leaving in April. Of course, leaving early may complicate the moving out and other processes for you, so if you don’t have a great relationship with your teachers or supervisor, that’s another thing to keep in mind.
6. Apply, apply, apply
This one is self-explanatory. It may come down to a numbers game, so get applying! Here are just a few links to the numerous job opportunities out there on the GaijinPot Jobs board.
- Hi-Tech / IT / Internet
By considering your options and taking action with these six tips, you’ll be ready to get hired in Japan and get ahead of the stress and overwhelm that may arise when the time comes. So get started now!
And if you haven’t already put your resume on GaijinPot Jobs, what are you waiting for?