Friday, August 1, 2014

Job hunting and interviews: what the guides don't tell you

Job hunting in Japan is known for being quite difficult for expats. At least 90% of companies are domestic, and so have little interest or reason to hire people who speak other languages. The remaining lot often require 'native Japanese' along with 'native English' (which is basically a way of saying they want Japanese employees who speak excellent English... a small and highly sought out minority).

If you are fortunate enough to get interviews, the weirdness is far from over. Japan is quite 'late' in many things, and famously the treatment of women in the workforce is one of these. Most of the weird questions I have been presented would never be asked of someone Japanese or male. By the way, some of these are against the law, so if you are asked them feel free to react with well-placed shock. (Disclaimer: many of these are, naturally, not exclusive to Japan)

So, here is the top 10 of weird, rude or illegal questions I have been asked:

10- Do you have children?
I checked with several male friends, both Japanese and non, and none of them were asked this. If you are, I recommend a good, long piercing stare, because this is illegal.

9- Are you married? 
See above. I additionally recommend using gender neutral language, to check how comfortable they are with non-binary relationships.

8- So, how do your parents feel about you being so far away?
This question is basically a different version of 'so, when are you going back to your country?'. While it is a legitimate question, bringing parents into it feels a bit patronizing. I realize that this is partially a cultural thing, but it should be clear from one look at my CV and personality that parental approval is not a big concern.

7- Why Japan?
I hate this question, because my truthful answer is usually not what people want to hear (aka I love the culture, the history, the traditions, the food...). While I do love the koto and old stuff, mostly I find that (on the whole) Japan is a good fit personality-wise. Also, hey! I speak fluent Japanese... far too practical reasons, it seems.

6- Well, we were kinda hoping to hire a native Japanese person... do you know anyone?
Fine, then put that information in the job description! What was particularly annoying is that this was for a qualitative research position... a field where, famously, knowing a culture but not being of a culture is considered a major asset.

5-Are you Catholic?
No, and how does this have anything to do with my skills, potential or ability to do the job? 
Also, not all Italians are Catholic, and not all Catholics are Italian. Repeat until it sinks in.

4- Describe what you would do if money was no object.
Write. Sleep until 10am everyday. Volunteer at animal shelters and food banks. Play the koto. Go out for long leisurely lunches. Get hour long massages from Oguri Shun lookalikes (okay, that sometimes happens already). You know you will be lied to when asking this why ask it?

3- Please list all of your schooling, starting at elementary school.
Do my results in Colouring and Show and Tell really matter for this job? Also, the schools I attended all across the world will mean nothing to a Japanese interviewer. This is not a case of figuring out if my elementary school self was smart enough to get into Waseda's 'elevator' middle school (a concept I already find beyond the pale). In addition, there seemed to be some kind of insinuation that I had gotten kicked out of the schools... certainly not the more logical (and previously explained) fact that my parents' occupation required constant moves.

2- Can you use a computer well?
No, somehow I managed to run an official social media page, and then work for a famous tech company without ever having to touch one of those scary devil-boxes... like, seriously?!
Also, my proficiencies (including, you know, the ability to check source code for tags and deal with major DSPs) are all listed on my CV, which the interviewer had obviously not read.

1- Where are your ancestors buried?
I usually have an answer for everything, but this question left me spluttering. There are literally no words, and when the company (a famous, supposedly hip Japanese platform) decided to call me back for a second interview I let my recruiter  know exactly why I flat out refused. Eeeesh.

What weird questions have you been asked during interviews?


  1. "Can you use a computer well?" Shouldn't that be, "Can you use a fax machine well?"

    Most unusual question ever (should actually be plural) was in South Africa, but it was at a TV company, and I knew they would throw curveballs and try to unsettle me. "What does your bedroom look like?" a panel of three men asked me. "You'll never know," I said.

    I got the job.

    Real answer: full of books. Don't all bedrooms look like that?

    1. Good answer!
      Yeah, most of the questions were pretty unimaginative...a few curveballs would have been fun

  2. I should add that they asked male candidates that exact same question, and THAT is the difference between Japanese and South African companies.

  3. Oh man, it ate my comment... I had a really nice, long one too!

    I was going to say I've gotten most of these as well. It's pretty crazy.

  4. How do they know you are italian...does your last name end in a vowel?

    1. Hi there!
      I tell them I am, as I have double citizenship.

    2. Oh I always assumed you were from the states. If you don't mind me asking I was curious with the attitude towards muslims and jews in Japan. Presumably both would be rare in a secular country. The weird thing in America is that no one jokes about or makes fun of muslims in a joking manner presumably because comedians are too afraid to and most people just mindlessly repeat what they see on TV. However, everyone jokes about Jews especially when I went to high school presumably because of the myriad of stereotypical junk that perpetuates the airwaves such as South Park (the ironic thing is that while jews in hollywood love to make antisemitic jokes they never make jokes about the Israeli government or show the Israeli government as a villain like they often do as the Chinese and Russian government. To my chagrin Asians also seem to be a common target ( I am asian). Also I heard that Japan is more homophobic but I on kids shows I see openly gay and lesbian characters.

  5. Oh dreadful, my reply was eaten again.

    What's wrong with "Japan is a good fit for my personality?" Guess it's not saying enough about the culture, huh.

    The ancestor question is weird. Maybe they are expecting you to go there during Obon?

    I get the "How do your parents feel about you being so far away" question from people all the time. Oh and I'm an only child, so their reaction is always worse.

    1. Yes, the parental approval question I can somewhat understand from a cultural perspective, however considering I usually explain my career goals first (and that includes staying in Japan), it feels unnecessary.

  6. How about "Are you planning to have children/start a family/get married?"
    I've gotten those.
    How do you reply to those gracefully in an interview? I never have the balls to flat out refuse an answer. I assume they want to hear that you will choose to live a solitary, childless life so you can be a mindless overtime slave to their lordship forevertimes.

    1. Hi Momo, it depends. Usually I wait a beat, and twitch an eyebrow. Then, depending on how I feel about them, I tell the truth (not interested in quitting my career to be a housewife or mother).

      I happen to be lucky, since my childfree-ness coincides with their wish for someone who won't quit to have kids. Those who DO want kids are in a much tougher position