On The Job Hunt - An Intern's Tale
I came to Japan with high hopes of a bright future.
Wow; do I ever sound like a stereotypical immigrant!
Anyhow, I wanted a fresh start, and I was determined to make it happen. I did some research before I came, looking at job boards and reading some blogs. When I arrived, I continued to research, but now I could ask people in the know and get insider information.
What I learned was encouraging and sobering. Yes, there were lots of jobs available for foreigners like myself. Yes, many of them would pay a livable wage. However, Japan has a lingering referral system from its golden eras, and I hadn't had the time to build a strong network of well-connected professionals.
All this meant that the timing of the GaijinPot job fair was pure serendipity. I could meet recruiters from the major English-teacher-placement agencies around the country, have real interviews, and get needed info from vendors about living and working in Japan. Score!
Part of my research leading up to the job fair led me to realize that my resume needed a serious overhaul. I spent several hours polishing the facts to their shiniest (without misstating or willful omission) and printed a dozen copies. I checked the train schedules to see how the construction would affect my travel, and off I went.
I didn't have any trouble finding the venue, which was a relief for my direction-challenged mind. The trouble was all the nifty stuff to look at along the way and not allowing myself to become distracted. Hey, I'm on a tourist visa; I'm allowed to sight-see.
The reception area was well-staffed with knowledgeable people who gave me helpful information and a cool pencil that doubles as a paperclip. I had a shiny brochure with the vendor names, descriptions, and map to the booths. The far corner held a projector setup and chairs for presenters and audience to go over helpful information about living in Japan. Since my goal was the job fair, I passed that by. With several sidelong glances, of course.
The second reception area was more crowded, but a staff member located me quickly (by my confused look, I'm sure) and took care of me. I showed my registration code, got another shiny brochure plus a sticker, and off I went.
So. Many. People. Hundreds, all milling around in a conference room that felt like it shouldn't have more than three dozen in it.
Japan is a wonderful place, and a lot of people want to move here. Hopefuls of all types and descriptions crammed into the conference room, milling around the booths and waiting for their chance to interview. I had worried that I would be among the older crowd and that my new, funky hairstyle might be a detractor, but I needn't have wondered. While not many people had unnaturally-colored hair, there were numerous styles verging on the "eclectic" side of description. My lack of a suit jacket also didn't stand out. Whew!
I examined the brochure and found it contained not only a brief description of each company, but also an indicator of visa assistance. Very helpful! I wouldn't bother the companies that don't offer sponsorship and could focus my efforts on those that would. I could also narrow my search by those companies whose Japanese language requirements matched my proficiency. That is to say, didn't require it at all, since I know about four words in Japanese. Currently. I'm working on it.
My first stop was at one of the busier booths of the fair. The roaming staff member gave me an application and took my photo (which I hadn't thought to bring), then apologized that it would take a good half-hour to get me to the interviewers. I assured him it was no problem and that I would come back.
I wandered the floor, weaving through the press of bodies, until I found the next booth on my list. This one had a much shorter line, so I stepped up and waited about ten minutes for an interviewer. I looked around while I waited at the different approaches each booth employed.
Most of the booths had staff to interview candidates right then and there. A couple of booths were information-only. One booth had an amazing video presentation with a skilled speaker giving information to applicants and guiding them through the hiring process. I don't think they did interviews, but they did their best to connect with the attendees and answer all the questions.
My turn came to sit down and sell myself, so I put on my best professional smile and handed over my shiny resume. He glanced at it and invited me to talk about myself.
I've done my share of interviews. I know the game you have to play and the sort of buzzwords to use, the enthusiasm to show, etc. This interview wasn't like that, and I'm so glad it wasn't. I hate feeling fake just to get my foot in the door, but you have to do the song-and-dance for most hiring managers or you won't get five minutes.
My resume was polished, but I worried that it didn't show enough qualifications. I worried that I had too many gaps in time between jobs, too much of the wrong background, too much that wasn't what they wanted to see in an applicant for teaching English in Japan. I can teach, and I even enjoy it. But surely I wasn't as competitive as these fresh-faced university grads or decades-of-experience teachers I saw all around me.
I had listed what I decided were my selling points: the work I'd done with writing, editing, managing employees, providing top customer satisfaction, creating new and better procedures... all things I considered qualifications for heading up a classroom. But no degree in education. No decades of experience.
Who would want to hire me?
None of the booths were making hiring decisions at the fair, but they were sorting candidates for recommendation to their HR departments. The recruiter I sat in front of was himself an immigrant who'd gone through much of what I was in the middle of, and he knew better than to take my presentation at face value. That is, he didn't see me as desperate for work but rather as a potential asset to the company.
Most of the interviews lasted between five and ten minutes; I sat with this recruiter for over thirty. He was actually impressed by my meager (to me) skills and asked insightful questions about how I'd applied the things listed. In fact, he turned his laptop around and had me fill out an online application right then and there, telling me what to expect from the HR department and a realistic timeline for responses. He didn't promise anything, but he made me feel hopeful.
Edit: The next week, the US-based recruiter contacted me and asked me to attend the next round of interviews in my home state. Updates as they happen!
After such a good interview, I decided to go back to the first booth I'd looked at. The line was even longer, so I took my place and waited it out. The applicant behind me was finishing up University in Japan, and he talked a lot to his friend while in line. Mostly, he complained about how long it was taking to get an interview. I kept my eye-rolls to myself and mentally responded that he was in for a surprise once he got out of school and into the "real world".
Granted, it did take over an hour for me to get to my interview. The booth had two recruiters, one of whom (a foreigner) was in the short informational video playing in front of the line. They did the best they could to get through the applicants quickly but without shorting anyone, and they did need to take the occasional break. As I got closer, I could listen in on some of the interviews, and I started to worry again.
I could hear the man from the video (possibly the owner of the company?) telling applicants that they needed to have three years of in-country teaching to be considered for placement through his company. (Eeek.) His manner was brusque, making me wonder if he were looking for ways to disqualify candidates. I watched the support staff take resumes for completed interviews from him, and I noted which went into the big file and which went into the small file.
The other recruiter was Japanese and less abrupt than the other. I ended up sitting with her, and I'm happy I did. Again, she looked past my nerves and saw potential, which a skilled recruiter needs to do. In fact, she inferred some skills that I hadn't put down on the resume and brought up an opportunity that sounded wonderful to me. Alas, she couldn't help me with a visa in this instance, but she gave me her personal contact information and told me to let her know the moment I was back to stay. "I'm waiting for you," she told me.
Talk about a confidence boost.
I dropped off my resume at another long-line booth that had a "resumail" box, exchanging pleasantries with the staff member acting as line-guard. Then I decided to try one more booth before calling it a day. This one didn't go as well as the others, but I had enough encouragement to see me through.
I'm not certain exactly what qualifications this company had for their short-list, but I could tell the moment that the recruiter decided I wasn't going to make it. It wasn't a bad interview, per se, but after two such amazing experiences, it did lack luster. I still gave my best and kept an open mind about it, because you never can tell.
Edit: A week after the fair, I got an email from this company with a request for an interview. I'm guessing the booth was actually to screen the hopefuls, and the reason I was cut off is because I made the cut. See? You never can tell!
I'd been at the job fair for over four hours, and I think it was time well-spent. On the survey form provided by GaijinPot, I did reply that they needed to give the companies more space for interviewers. It was incredibly crowded and the lines moved slowly, especially for the larger companies. The recruiters need to give each applicant a fair hearing, and there wasn't space enough for the number of recruiters needed to process the candidates.
In conclusion, I recommend the GaijinPot English Teachers' Job Fair to those looking for jobs in Japan. The focus is, naturally, on hiring teachers, but there are other possibilities available. Eat well before you go, because you're likely to be there for a while. And don't worry so much about being the perfect fit. There are jobs waiting for you.
What percentage of jobs were for teaching positions?
In the job fair section of the event, all the booths but one were for teaching jobs with various dispatch companies and universities. In the vendor area, one booth offered teaching positions through their online platform, allowing teachers and students from around the world to connect.
What percentage required Japanese skills?
Two-thirds of the companies hiring do not require any Japanese proficiency at all; the others required at least conversational Japanese, all the way to business and native-level.
What non-teaching jobs were there?
Non-teaching jobs from both the main job fair and the vendor area were for event production, ride-share, video game production, and legal services.
What percentage of companies were willing to sponsor visas?
Over eighty percent of the jobs available came with visa sponsorship.
How many people attended?
I don't know how many attendees came to the fair, but I'm sure we numbered in the hundreds. It was very crowded, and the booths holding interviews had lines wrapped around every corner.