Guide to Cover Letters and Resumes in Japan

By Tyson Batino | Date : September 3rd, 2020

The third step for getting a job in Japan is to write an outstanding resume and cover letter. Eighty percent of cover letters are uninspiring and don't encourage follow-up. Someone who meets the minimum requirements and actually took the time to look at the company's website is an easy decision to move to the next round.

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    Ideal Cover Letter Length

    Keep your total letter to two or three paragraphs long. Four paragraphs are too many and one paragraph is too short. Good companies hiring for an entry level position are satisfied with something that covers the point concisely.

    The first paragraph should focus on why you are applying for the position – you need to communicate why you want to work at company X instead of company Y without mentioning company Y. Example:

    “I looked at the websites of many companies, and your website stood out to me. You provided great detail about your vision and team. It looks like your staff is passionate about [industry/product/service], and that's a company I want to work for.”

    The second paragraph should focus on why you are suitable for the position – i.e. why they should hire you. Remember that you are applying for jobs in Japan; avoid mentioning that you don't really care about or that your dream is to do something else.

    Your final paragraph should summarize the key points you made and remind the recruiter that you really do want this job. Express your confidence that you'll be talking to them soon. Example:

    "I look forward to discussing your job requirements and my qualifications with you."

    Close with a simple "Sincerely" and your name.

      For non-native speakers

      In my experience as a recruiter for jobs in Japan, most of the generic cover letters we receive are from people who are NOT from the US, Australia, UK, and the other so-called "native" English-speaking countries. I sympathize. Most companies aren't open to hiring instructors who are not from native speaking countries, so these applicants tend to just blast their resumes all over the internet. My recommendation would be to check if the company hires non-native speakers, do some research into their history and current model, and then send your cover letter. You want to focus on the places most likely to hire you and also distinguish yourself from others.


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        Resume Mistake 1 : Addressing recruiters by their first name

        Even if you already know the recruiter, don't refer to them by their first name. This can be interpreted as unprofessional by some hiring managers. For Western recruiters, refer to them by family name and title (Dear Mr. Johnson) or (Dear Hiring Manager) if you don't have a specific name to send to. For Japanese recruiters, refer to them by their last name + San (Tanaka San; Miyagi San) – referring to someone by their last name + San is the equivalent of using Mr. or Ms.

        I personally don't mind being called my first name, but even I hesitate when someone refers to me casually in the first interaction or two. The caution comes from wondering if this person will be overly relaxed in other areas of employment.

          Resume Mistake 2 : Sending generic cover letters

          A generic cover letter starts out with "To Whom It May Concern", doesn't mention anything specific about the company, and was obviously sent to numerous other companies.

          If you must send a generic cover letter, at least include the company name and website. Many recruiters automatically throw generic cover letters into the digital trash can. It shows that you aren't interested in that company; only companies who are desperate for staff would respond. A company desperate for employees is probably not a good place for you to work.

          Resume Mistake 3 : Business selfies and other bad photos

          Recruiters know when you use your smartphone to take your own photos. Ask a friend to take your picture from a short distance. At a minimum, use the timer to let you step back and avoid the selfie look. Also, use the light feature to create decent lighting. Entry-level positions seldom require photos, but if you're applying for managerial positions and can't demonstrate simple camera skills, then you come across as potentially unable to handle more complex operations. No group photos or travel photos as your resume picture unless you're applying for a tour guide position!

            Resume Mistake 4 : Using chat speak and slang

            I often see fresh graduates use internet lingo and unprofessional in cover letters, resumes, and email interactions. Examples of this include shorthand like “i c”, “gr8”, and trendy terms like “wicked” or “pimping.” Show you understand professionalism by using proper English in all your writing interactions. This mistake is not funny or "ironic" when you're applying for a job.

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              Resume Mistake 5 : Not Including Required Details

              Here's what recruiters want to know before considering someone for a position; include all of them if you want your application to make it out of the slush pile:

              • Contact details and picture
              • VISA type and work permissions
              • How long you plan to stay in Japan
              • What is your nearest train station if you are already in Japan

              When under time constraints, a recruiter may choose another candidate over you simply because the recruiter doesn't have the time to pick through your application for the relevant information.

              Resume Mistake 6 : Grammar and spelling errors

              Everyone makes spelling, grammar, and typing errors. Not everyone makes time to double-check their communication before hitting "send." You spent hours making the perfect resume and cover letter, so why let them become worthless because of simple errors? This advice is on websites everywhere because people consistently refuse to use a spell checker. Prove to your potential employer that you can and do make good use of basic editing tools.

              The internet abounds with free grammar-checking software; you can also use the tool built into Microsoft Word and/or Google Docs. Using a grammar checker is simple, and recruiters commonly complain about how both native and non-native speakers write emails and send cover letters with a ton of mistakes in them.

              How can a small mistake result in you not getting hired? In the HR field, there's a famous expression: you're only as good as your last hire. A recruiter can hire twenty-five great people in a row and lose that reputation with one lousy employee. To protect themselves, recruiters are risk-averse. They use any excuse possible to disqualify a candidate, and that includes spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.

              Recruiters spend almost twenty percent of their time filtering unqualified candidates. Spend a few minutes of your time getting into the eighty percent.

              Resume Mistake 7 : Not including business achievements

              If you don't learn anything else from this section, this is the one takeaway you need.

              In my experience, ninety-five percent of those who apply for jobs in Japan only write their job description when explaining what they did for their previous company. This is relevant information to know, but it doesn't tell the recruiter what you're capable of contributing to their company. Use this opportunity to showcase your accomplishments rather than saying you met minimum expectations.

              Example 1 : Job descriptions vs Job accomplishments

              • Description: Taught students aged 5-12 once a week
              • Accomplishment: Achieved a 95% yearly contract continuation rate with young students

              There is a difference between merely teaching students and having your students continue year after year.

              Example 2 : Job descriptions vs Job accomplishments

              • Job Description: Typed up notes for company files
              • Accomplishment: Created files with detailed notes on procedures for company-wide use

              There is a huge difference between making files vs having your work used across the company.

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              Resume Mistake 8 : Not tailoring your resume 

              Even if you don't have any experience (or it's in another area), you can still tailor your resume for working in Japan. Since any industry is actually about servicing customers, design your resume around how you helped customers, increased customer satisfaction, and reduced customer attrition wherever possible. Reliability is a huge issue for hiring in Japan, so take every chance to showcase where you stayed at a position for a long time, your attendance and tardiness record, or took responsibility for a project.

              Tips for improving your resume

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