Friday, May 02, 2008

Job-seeking in Japan

The Delightful Miss E and I have watched this year as some of our younger friends attempt to find work at companies now that their university careers are in their last year. As I mentioned when discussing Japanese universities, for most Japanese people university is a ticket to a job in a company, and their whole education focusses on getting them successfully to "shushoku", job hunting at the end of their university life.

Getting a job through shushoku means becoming a company man or woman, working hard but getting paid overtime and bonusses, yearly pay rises, and a career path. These jobs used to be much more the province of men and women, but as the pool of jobs has decreased the number of women taking them has increased. The assumption is that once one has joined such a company one will stay with it, and adopt the "job-for-life" model of Japanese fame. It is a tough but ultimately financially rewarding pathway through life, and most people who go to university plan to take this path.

For most of these people, however, work after leaving university will not involve any special tasks related to their study. So the exceptionally short Miss K, who recently took up work with Nissan, is doing some kind of management job in a factory or shop in Hokkaido, even though she did her undergraduate studies in Agriculture, including with stints to do experiments in Mexico and China. For these people the application process is easier, since they can apply to any company they think has good conditions. However, for people like the Unflappable ChikaChan, or the endlessly happy Miss H in Tottori, the process is considerably more difficult. Chikachan wanted to pursue a career in design and art, having specialised in art in her degree; and Miss H, undaunted as ever by having failed to enter a specialist course for perfumers in Shizuoka university, wants to try and find a job in a perfume or cosmetics company even though she has done a general food science degree. For these women, the application process is restricted to trawling through specialist companies, as Miss H has been doing for the last 6 months.

So what are the stages of this application process?

  • Attend an information night, probably in one of the big cities, where one can register ones interest
  • Take the online personality test (?)
  • Submit a proper application form and cover letter, if the online personality test was successful
  • Attend a group interview at the company offices in one of the big cities
  • If successful, return to the company office to give a presentation
  • If this is successful, return to the company office to give another presentation to the President
  • Receive the job

That's right, for a starting graduate job with a wage of maybe $25-28000 a year, Miss H has to make 4 trips to Osaka or Tokyo and undergo 3 interviews, 4 if there is a personal interview at any point. Should she take a job, she will then spend the first years of her work being shuffled through different offices and positions in the company, perhaps learning the ropes of different departments, before finally being given some kind of elevated responsibility. It is not unusual for company employees in Japan to spend 5 or 10 years being transferred regularly (sometimes with 2 weeks' notice) around the country.

There are other types of jobs (such as one in marketing recently snared by the Stunningly Handsome Mr. Hiroki) which require less intensive application processes, and are run by small local companies. But these do not come with the long-term security and benefits of the big companies. For example, my Japanese Teacher, Professor F, is married to a man who works for the Shadow of the Mountains Overall Combined Bank. He is paid overtime for every hour he works, and until recently worked until 10pm most nights. While it may be true that many Japanese work long hours, the company staff are paid for those hours, while staff in smaller local companies work shorter hours, but get no paid overtime. They also have less job security, and are less likely to receive bonusses. This system of distinction between company staff and everyone else is starting to create strains in Japanese society, and is receiving a great deal of criticism at present. The worst part of it all that I can see, though, is that while Miss H and Chikachan have had to jump through all those hoops to get their basic company job, the companies have been making record profits, but the starting wage remains stuck in the same bracket it was in the early 90s. The big companies have used the collapse of Japan's bubble economy as an excuse for 10 years of continuous cost-cutting and wage restraint, while forcing their new staff to jump through more and more hoops to get a chance at the shrinking slice of this pie.

Sound familiar to anyone?


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