Having an interview in Japan can be really stressful. The interviewee not only has to undergo the selection process in a foreign language, but also has to deal with the Japanese attitude towards work and the required formalities. So important is the correct protocol at all stages that it is possible to fail the interview before you’ve even said a single word.
Before the interview starts, it is common for Japanese people to knock on the door to the interviewer’s office to check that the interviewer is ready to receive them. This knocking is often accompanied by saying 失礼いたしますしつれいいたします・Excuse me through the closed door as an extra courtesy.
Even at this early stage before the interview has formally started, there are formalities to observe. For example, 失礼いたします is considered slightly more formal than 失礼します, so Japanese people often prefer it, especially at the start of the interview. On top of this, it is usually considered best to knock twice only.
While these formalities may seem unnecessary, it shows that you have patience and are aware that your interviewer may have other responsibilities requiring their time before they can give you their full attention.
As a general rule, it is better to be excessively polite than not polite enough in Japan
After knocking, you are expected to wait calmly for a second or so before the interviewer invites you into the room, usually by saying どうぞ. At this point, it is very common to say 失礼いたします again upon entering the room. The aim of this is to tell the interviewer that you are aware that just inviting you into the room could be an inconvenience to them.
As a general rule, it is better to be excessively polite than not polite enough in Japan, so after you’ve closed the door, it is time to observe the complicated rules of お辞儀おじぎ・Bowing. As a general rule there are 5 levels of bowing politeness depending on the degree that the back, neck and even knees are bent.
This may sound ridiculous, but there are names for the range of bows that are commonly used in business (In order of formality: 会釈, 敬礼, 最敬礼) and they are taken very seriously. Ambitious business people may even take courses in bowing etiquette to guarantee that they don’t cause offense with an inappropriate movement.
In general you are expected to bow 30 degrees at the start of an interview and 45 degrees at the end. These bows are usually performed with no bending at the neck and a straight back for maximum respect. Thankfully Japanese people are usually understanding of bowing mistakes made by foreign people and the utterly inappropriate bow President Obama gave to the Japanese emperor was forgiven in the media.
After the bowing has finished, the interviewee is expected to give their name. The verb 申します (mōshimasu) is considered the most business-appropriate verb for this introduction. Japanese people usually introduce themselves with their family name first followed by their given name.
Although a lot of more international companies are ok with the usual western style of giving the first name followed by family name, it is generally better to err on the side of caution and use the Japanese style. Therefore my name would become コスレット マシューと申します (Coslett Matthew to moshimasu).
As your alma mater and your course are considered important in the Japanese business world, the interviewer may request that you tell them about which places you attended before you give your name (They will say something like 大学名とお名前をお願いしますだいがくめいとおなまえをおねがいします・I would like your university and name, please. In this case, you should list your university first (~大学だいがく), followed by your department (~学部がくぶ), then your specialty (学科がっか), and finally your name.
Giving your name is usually followed by a formal greeting such as 本日はよろしくお願いいたしますほんじつはよろしくおねがいいたします・Thank you for meeting me today and another deep bow. While this may seem excessively formal, the key thing to remember is that Japanese people generally value harmony at the work place, so these practices simply show that you are aware to the appropriate levels of politeness.
And that’s it! Congratulations! You have made it to the actual interview section without committing a faux pas. At this point, you will probably be asked to sit どうぞ、お掛け下さいどうぞ、 おかけください・Please have a seat and after another quick bow and another 失礼いたします, you will finally be seated, ready for the dreaded 自己紹介じこしょうかい・Self-introduction.
While all of this can seem like a lot to learn, a lot of the phrases and formalities that are used in job interviews are useful in other situations. Any time that you have imposed on someone, ‘shitsurei shimasu’ is an appropriate phrase. Similarly, 申します and よろしくお願いします can be used in any situation you introduce yourself to someone.