If you’ve been living in Japan for a while now you might love teaching English, either for its long holidays, high level of personal interaction or reasonably low stress environment. At the back of your mind, though, there’s a niggle: maybe you’ve been the target of your students’ mischief one too many times and you want to be in an office (where hopefully your colleagues will refrain from too much horseplay).
Although the benefits of office based work are evident – a stable career with pay rises (and possibly bonuses), experience of Japanese corporate culture, and looks of startled admiration from your partner’s parents; you are overwhelmed and under-confident, worrying about your language ability and the oft-mentioned work hours.
I made the move from teaching English to working at a Japanese company
I made the move from teaching English to working at a Japanese company last month, after about a year and a half in Japan. My role is primarily assisting international clients with company incorporation and related legal matters.
In the UK, my work experience was in financial services, but having transferrable and marketable skills, such as familiarity with legal documents and client management, is obviously something that companies like to see. As the only foreigner at a Japanese company, my experiences might be a little different to those of you working at large, multi-national firms.
Although my chargeable work is carried out in English, it has been useful to have at least some Japanese skill. Therefore, I’d suggest investing some time in your Japanese studies, including kanji practice, as you may well be required to carry out a short reading and writing test at the interview stage.
I actually spent the week prior to my interview speaking only 敬語 (keigo, or polite Japanese) to my friends, to try to become more comfortable using it (and ironically making my friends very uncomfortable in the process). From an employer’s perspective, not only does Japanese allow you to carry out administrative tasks without handholding, but it also helps with maintaining the 和 (wa, or harmony) within the office. Some of your Japanese colleagues (to be) will not have had much opportunity to interact with foreigners, so a little language proficiency will help to break down any preconceived barriers.
Having spoken to my interviewers since starting the position, I found that one of the deciding factors between the final candidates came down to ‘intangibles’. This was again a reference to the office 和 and the ability to fit into the team. Do you seem approachable? Have you found a balance between too shy to speak and talking the hind legs off a donkey? Can you demonstrate a positive attitude and 頑張る (ganbaru, or work hard) even when things don’t go your way? This is somewhat a two way street, as you can also glean whether the environment will be one which is suitable for you as an employee as well.
Turning to job searching, I think that the key is perseverance. I certainly didn’t get the first job I applied for, or even the second or third. You might miss out on a job after a second interview because of those intangibles above. The good news is that this is probably merely a matter of your ‘fit’ with that particular company, rather than any concerns about your abilities. There will be other opportunities, with slightly different corporate cultures which will be more closely aligned with your own personality and attributes.
Once you’ve secured the job, you can start the process of getting excited about your new position. In my case, this took the form of practicing Japanese songs at karaoke, with which to wow my new coworkers, and trying to make as many outfits as possible from my solitary “opening and graduation ceremony/interview/all-purpose” navy suit. You may also find yourself worrying about the differences in work culture between your own country and Japan: this is something which I hope to discuss in my next blog entry.