Cultural differences are also present in career-related decisions and situations

The Japanese approach to the job market

In Western countries, when we are children, teenagers and then university students we are continuously asked what job we want to do once we graduate. There is always this pressure to give an answer without which

we could come across as lost and indecisive. This is why we learn from a very young age to give one or more answers.

When I moved to Japan, I was very surprised to discover, when chatting with young Japanese people and even students who were very close to graduating, that quite a few of them had no idea which career they were heading to, however this is slowly changing. I eventually found out the Japanese approach to a career was, like pretty much everything else in Japan, quite different from our perspective. For a start, while we always apply for a specific job, the Japanese are more driven by joining the organisation rather than the position they will actually be occupying. Thus, about a year before they graduate students start sending multiple applications to various companies of their choice without knowing what job they will be doing if they were to get a role in one of them. However the more prestigious the university, the better chances they have to be hired, it is not as an important factor as it used to be

Students will go through a standard recruitment process starting with the review of their application, then the interview steps and finally to the hiring stage where they will find out for which position and location they have been hired as not only there is no guarantee in terms of the responsibilities they will be in charge of, but also they might have to relocate to a different city to integrate their allocated function. Although it seems unthinkable from a Western perspective to commit to a job we have not chosen, it might not be such a big deal knowing we will be rotating across different departments anyway. Indeed, traditionally and depending on the size of the enterprise employees and most often managers will be transferred from one department to an other throughout their career. It seems the logic behind it is for each single worker to experience every aspect of the business so that they understand fully the organisation they work for. However this practice used to be common, we cannot say that the recruitment methods and in-company dinamics did not go through changes. Depending on the organization, we might be able to witness some of the above introduced employment but again, Japan is changing in many ways.

A further interesting aspect is the fact that Japanese people do not commonly take gap years while in other parts of the world students might take a year off between high school and university to travel, volunteer or work while workers can take a sabbatical. Interrupting studies and even less likely a career, is not common practice and students are expected to move on from school to college directly as well as from university to a steady job. Getting a full-time permanent position is indeed the Grail in Japan whereas part-time or freelance jobs can be looked down upon. ≤br/≥It seems stability and job security is more socially accepted even if a freelance role can also require high skills and solid revenues.

Based on this logic, the Japanese tend to spend their entire career in the same company as it is not well-perceived to job-hop. This is more likely to happen when an employee works for what the Japanese call a “white company” meaning an organisation that offers good working conditions which encourage them to stay until retirement. These sort of places generally imply a very low employee turnover. As opposed to “black companies” which in contrast offer a less attractive working environment and may be less likely to retain their staff.

That is in this situation that workers might start moving around and leave for greener pastures. However, in this context too things work differently in Japan. First, professional networks such as Linkedin are not commonly used. Very few Japanese people actually advertise their work experience or build they network online when most people in Western countries and more particularly in English speaking countries will count on those professional boards to plan their next career move. An other major distinction between cultures is the perception of job advertising. When interacting with the Japanese HR team of my former company, I found out that posting vacancies was not necessarily regarded as positive. While in other countries it is the sign of a financially healthy organisation that is growing, in Japan it is quite the contrary. People might think it is a business so unattractive that they cannot retain their workers.

Ouarda Guellou