Career & Living, Life

Shuukatsu: Japan’s Hellish Job Hunting Process

If you’re a 3rd year university student in Japan, October signifies the start of shuukatsu – the Japanese job hunting system. Every year from October to May, thousands of university students are preparing to secure their first job, but what’s interesting about shuukatsu preparation is these Japanese students start rigorously applying for graduate roles 2 years before they actually graduate. It’s an exhaustive process that involves hundreds of setsumeikai (company seminars), examinations, online tests, study visits to companies, job applications, internships and mass interviews.

Without doubt, the shuukatsu season is a chaotic, crazy and stressful time for students. According to Japanese job information site Rikunabi, the average student applies for at least 100 jobs – almost simultaneously. Some companies even require students to hand write their application form and résumé. It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

The protocols are quite strict, as one would expect. You should only wear a dark blue suit if you’re being interviewed by a bank. Women are expected to wear their hair and makeup in specific ways.

The Process

There are 3 phases to the shuukatsu process. In the 1st stage, students perform self-assessments, research the companies they might possibly work for, attend job interview seminars and squeeze in some internships if they can. On the 1st of December at midnight, all shuukatsu job opportunities are posted and students start applying for jobs en masse, along with attending setsumeikai. Giant seminars that host up to 10,000 students are not uncommon.

During shuukatsu, of the 100 job application students submit, they are lucky to be offered just 1 job (only 68% of applicants are successful). The final phase is full of exams and interviews, with failed applicants begging their professors to fail them so they can try it all again the next year. It’s more socially acceptable to repeat the final year of the course than to fail during shuukatsu.

The Obstacle Course

Jumping through the proverbial hoop starts from the announcement of the job opportunities in December. Then it’s months of company research, setsumeikai, aptitude and personality testing. Followed by TOEFL testing, application writing (resume, cover letter and entry sheet), group interviews, individual interviews and for the lucky few, the final job offer. And you follow this process for every single job you apply for.

The protocols are quite strict, as one would expect. You should only wear a dark blue suit if you’re being interviewed by a bank. Women are expected to wear their hair and makeup in specific ways. You must talk about what you think is bad about yourself in the self-assessments, and then explain what you are doing to improve yourself in those areas. You also need to go into detail about where you put most of your energy at university and convince the interview panel that those same energies will be beneficial to the company. These are all non-negotiable.

A Harsh Reality

The non-profit organisation Lifelink recently found that 1 in 5 university students going through the shuukatsu contemplate suicide at one time in the process. While overall suicide rates in Japan are down in recent years, suicide among 20-somethings has gone up, with many citing failure to find a job as a reason.

It Pays to Follow the Rules

As Japan is highly structured, it pays to follow the basic shuukatsu interview rules so that you ‘melt into the mould’ (originality is out of the question) of the company. This means not only having the right suit, haircut and pair of shoes, but also greeting the interviewer the right way by bowing (at a 45 degree angle) at the right time, standing next to your chair at the appropriate time and excusing yourself twice (and only twice) before you leave the room.

In my book, any student that can go through such anxiety and desperation and make it through to the end of shuukatsu still standing absolutely deserves the job.

How would you handle job hunting in Japan?

Bronwen Kaspers is the CEO and Founder of Trumpet Page, a company that provides you with the tools needed to create a digitally optimised resumé with the goal of getting you noticed by employers in the hyper-competitive environment of job seeking.

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