Finding Work in Japan: The One Thing You Shouldn’t Say on Your Resume
By James Winovich
On September 5, 2016
So you want to work in Japan? Great! I thought the same thing about eight years ago — and I still haven’t left.
I’ve taught English, got married, had a kid (well, my wife did most of the heavy lifting there), started working as a translator and now I do my best to help people all over Japan improve their work life or get hired in the first place. I’ve learned a lot about myself and had a hell of a lot more fun than I ever thought I would. Sure, there have been some tough times mixed in as well, but overall I’m extremely happy with my choice.
I’ll admit: It wasn’t a cakewalk for me to get that first job in Japan. While I was full of enthusiasm and had sufficient credentials (a degree in anything), my first resume resulted in exactly zero interviews.
I was at a loss. I wrote about how much I loved Japan, how interested I was in the culture, mentioned my degree in passing, and noted how I was willing to work anywhere in the country — even the deep inaka (countryside) like I had heard hiring departments would want to hear. But it wasn’t working out. Nobody was giving me a second look.
I thought my quest to work in Japan was over, but then I got some sage advice that I’d like to share with you.
While I was lamenting my fate, I showed my CV and cover letter to a college friend who had already been accepted into the JET program and asked for his thoughts. The first words of his response were:
Everyone applying wants to work in Japan, bro.
I read through my cover letter again and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Every paragraph was some form of me talking about why I was interested in Japan. I wrote about all of the things I planned on doing to become a true “cultural ambassador.” I spent many sentences going on about how hard I would study Japanese, and how I would strive to become a part of whatever community I found myself joining. I mentioned the travels I already had planned for when I arrived.
Basically, I told them all about why I wanted to work in Japan.
It was a page-long essay about my love of Japan — nothing more. I wrote only minimally about the skills I would bring to the table in performing the job. I gave no information about my past experience teaching people. I didn’t once talk about my desire to help people learn.
Basically, I provided nothing that would convince my future employer that I was anything more than someone who wanted someone to pay them to move to Japan.
So I started over from scratch, limiting my still considerable interest in Japan to a single paragraph. I spent the rest of my cover letter explaining why I would be a valuable asset for their organizations. Before long, I was able to nab an interview and then lock down a position.
It wasn’t until years later that I would learn just how common this resume-writing mistake is — and it’s easy to understand why.
While you’re in your home country, the fact that you want to work in Japan seems like a big deal. And to you, it absolutely is. It’s the thing that’s prompting you to search for jobs thousands of miles away. But the companies you’re applying to? Well, guess what? They’re already in Japan. They don’t care how much you might enjoy their country — they want to know if you can do the job.
So if you’re living outside Japan and trying to apply for that first job to get your foot in the door, keep this in mind: While it’s great to mention how enthusiastic you are about the country, if you can’t tie it into how that will help you be a great JET, ALT, translator, CIR, or whatever, it’s just wasted space.
The people making the hiring decisions are ultimately looking for people that can help them fulfill their companies’ goals.
Would they like to hire someone who’s got a genuine interest in Japan? Sure. Would they like for that person to also have a boatload of relevant experience? Hells yes!
Bear this in mind when applying for jobs in Japan and you’ll be way ahead of the game — unlike me all those years ago.