Job applications

Cover letters and CVs in Japan

Start applying for a job in Japan by preparing your CV/resume, or better yet, the Japanese rirekisho.

Job applications

When applying to a company in Japan, first consider the nature of the business. Is it run by Americans, Europeans, or Japanese? Application documents should formatted to match the style of the business.

Japanese Curriculums (CVs)

Applications to Japanese companies should include a Japanese resume (rirekisho) if at all possible. It is structured in two pages:

Page 1

  •  Name and contact information, including email
  •  Your age, sex, and nationality
  •  Summary of your qualifications (less than three lines)
  •  Academic background in reverse chronological order, including years of study, names of institutions and degrees earned

Page 2

  •  Work history in reverse chronological order, including job skills, position titles, company names and employment dates
  •  Other interests or activities relevant to the job
  •  References, if you like. You may also simply state: ¨References available upon request.¨ If you do choose to list references, make sure that they are relevant to the position for which you are applying, that they have known you for more than two years, and that their contact information is up-to-date

Before submitting, attach a passport-sized photograph to the first page of your resume with a paper clip.

While some foreigners, especially Americans, may be used to ¨padding¨ resumes with as many qualifications as possible (even if some are bit exaggerated), a Japanese resume should stick to the facts. If you are in doubt as to whether you have embellished a qualification, err on the side of caution. Exaggeration could cost you an interview.

Japanese cover letters

You will also want to submit a Japanese-style cover letter, no longer than a page, that outlines your past employment and your goals for the future. The cover letter should demonstrate that you have skills and ideas that will be valuable to the company in the future. As Japanese business culture values corporate loyalty, you may want to state your desire for a long-term future with the company.

Both the rirekisho and cover letter should be translated into Japanese.

Rirekisho templates can be purchased at many convenience store stores and almost all book stores. Also, it is now commonplace for companies to accept resumes/CVs/rirekisho over the internet.

Job interviews in Japan

Once a Japanese company is interested in an applicant, it will request an interview. Interviews vary in character and setting: you may have a single interviewer in an office or a video conference with an entire board of interviewers. Be prepared to adapt to unusual circumstances, and above all, keep your composure.

Applicants should arrive at the exact scheduled time of their interview, not early and under no circumstances late. Interview dress is always business formal: dark suits for men and dresses or pant-suits for women. Men should be shaven, with their hair cut, and should not wear piercings. Facial piercings are unacceptable for both men and women, and tattoos should not be visible.

Listen to the interview questions carefully and keep your responses brief but appropriate in length. Japanese people do not usually talk with their hands, so interviewees should do their best to keep their hands down, especially if they are from a country where it is normal to gesture while speaking. The Japanese also often avoid direct eye contact when speaking – staring is considered impolite.

Expect questions ranging from the relevant to the bizarre, as Japanese interviewers sometimes use odd or impolite questions to see how applicants react under pressure, and they often want to know information about applicants´ families. If you are asked anything you feel is offensive, you should politely decline to answer the question.

Be prepared to discuss your language proficiency and your knowledge of Japanese culture. Employers use these as factors in determining whether you will be able to blend with your Japanese co-workers.

Expect to interview more than once for most positions, and do not be surprised if it takes several interviews before you receive an offer or a rejection.

A note on the job offer

Those fortunate enough to receive job offers in Japan may find their salary is listed as a range and not a specified amount. Use the range as a reference when making your decision, it is considered an insult to push for a specific amount at the offer stage. If you accept the position your exact salary and benefits will be listed in your contract.

When applying to a company in Japan, first consider the nature of the business. Is it run by Americans, Europeans, or Japanese? Application documents should formatted to match the style of the business.

Japanese Curriculums (CVs)

Applications to Japanese companies should include a Japanese resume (rirekisho) if at all possible. It is structured in two pages:

Page 1

  •  Name and contact information, including email
  •  Your age, sex, and nationality
  •  Summary of your qualifications (less than three lines)
  •  Academic background in reverse chronological order, including years of study, names of institutions and degrees earned

Page 2

  •  Work history in reverse chronological order, including job skills, position titles, company names and employment dates
  •  Other interests or activities relevant to the job
  •  References, if you like. You may also simply state: ¨References available upon request.¨ If you do choose to list references, make sure that they are relevant to the position for which you are applying, that they have known you for more than two years, and that their contact information is up-to-date

Before submitting, attach a passport-sized photograph to the first page of your resume with a paper clip.

While some foreigners, especially Americans, may be used to ¨padding¨ resumes with as many qualifications as possible (even if some are bit exaggerated), a Japanese resume should stick to the facts. If you are in doubt as to whether you have embellished a qualification, err on the side of caution. Exaggeration could cost you an interview.

Japanese cover letters

You will also want to submit a Japanese-style cover letter, no longer than a page, that outlines your past employment and your goals for the future. The cover letter should demonstrate that you have skills and ideas that will be valuable to the company in the future. As Japanese business culture values corporate loyalty, you may want to state your desire for a long-term future with the company.

Both the rirekisho and cover letter should be translated into Japanese.

Rirekisho templates can be purchased at many convenience store stores and almost all book stores. Also, it is now commonplace for companies to accept resumes/CVs/rirekisho over the internet.

Job interviews in Japan

Once a Japanese company is interested in an applicant, it will request an interview. Interviews vary in character and setting: you may have a single interviewer in an office or a video conference with an entire board of interviewers. Be prepared to adapt to unusual circumstances, and above all, keep your composure.

Applicants should arrive at the exact scheduled time of their interview, not early and under no circumstances late. Interview dress is always business formal: dark suits for men and dresses or pant-suits for women. Men should be shaven, with their hair cut, and should not wear piercings. Facial piercings are unacceptable for both men and women, and tattoos should not be visible.

Listen to the interview questions carefully and keep your responses brief but appropriate in length. Japanese people do not usually talk with their hands, so interviewees should do their best to keep their hands down, especially if they are from a country where it is normal to gesture while speaking. The Japanese also often avoid direct eye contact when speaking – staring is considered impolite.

Expect questions ranging from the relevant to the bizarre, as Japanese interviewers sometimes use odd or impolite questions to see how applicants react under pressure, and they often want to know information about applicants´ families. If you are asked anything you feel is offensive, you should politely decline to answer the question.

Be prepared to discuss your language proficiency and your knowledge of Japanese culture. Employers use these as factors in determining whether you will be able to blend with your Japanese co-workers.

Expect to interview more than once for most positions, and do not be surprised if it takes several interviews before you receive an offer or a rejection.

A note on the job offer

Those fortunate enough to receive job offers in Japan may find their salary is listed as a range and not a specified amount. Use the range as a reference when making your decision, it is considered an insult to push for a specific amount at the offer stage. If you accept the position your exact salary and benefits will be listed in your contract.

Further reading

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Other comments

  • Samira, 13 March 2013 Reply

    Spelling mistake

    Hi - Please note it's not to "air on the side of caution" but to "err on the side of caution".

    Thanks for the succinct information provided otherwise - very handy.

    • Nick 14 Mar 2013, 05:48

      Spelling mistake

      Thanks Samira, made the change!