Interviewing in your native language can be nerve-wracking enough.
Now you’re staring down the barrel of your first Japanese language interview.
In Japan, interviews require more than Japanese language skills, they require familiarity with Japanese etiquette and customs.
After learning about some of the ins and outs of Japanese food ordering and useful phrases, you may think you’re on top of things. However, there’s plenty more to learn outside of your handy podcasts, blogs and other learning tools.
Even if you’re not planning to work in Japan, many of these behavioral and linguistic pointers will help you navigate Japanese social dynamics better than ever before.
And in the case that you are out job hunting in Japan, that means it’s time to start prepping!
6 Tips to Rock Your Japanese Job Interview
1. Don’t skimp on preparation
Waltzing into an English-language interview sounds like a dream right about now. When you are expected to speak in your native language, you might just do a tiny bit of preparation before going. You figure, “hey, I’ll know what to say in the moment,” but you can’t expect to wing it if your interview is in Japanese.
Even the most advanced Japanese learners get tripped up and lose opportunities because they couldn’t exhibit the correct behavior or understand certain questions because of the way they were posed by the interviewer.
If you want to get that coveted job at a Japanese company, you need to prepare. This means more than just researching the company, it means knowing what may be asked, how to reply and how to behave.
Pay close attention to the following pointers for interview success. You will need many of these phrases and gestures in critical moments. Practice in front of your bedroom mirror until you get your words flowing naturally and your body language just right.
Use authentic resources like FluentU to hear what real spoken Japanese sounds like and make sure you know your vocab, phrases and etiquette.
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2. Know correct behavior before your Japanese interview
This may sound obvious to the more polished professionals among us, but you must wear an appropriate suit or formal dress. If wearing a tie then your top button should be done up. If you are wearing a suit jacket then the buttons must be done up.
The Japanese workplace often requires conservative dress. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.
Correct behavior begins before you even enter the interview room. Here is the full play-by-play of how to behave when first arriving for your interview:
1. Knock on the door three times and say:
Shitsurei shimasu (失礼します / しつれいします) — Excuse me
2. Wait. Do not enter the room until you hear the interviewer say:
Douzo (どうぞ) — Please
3. Enter the room, close the door, face the interview panel and say shitsurei shimasu again. Bow.
4. Walk to your chair, stand beside it and say:
“______to moushimasu. Douzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu”
“My name is_____, it is a pleasure to meet you,”
5. Bow again. As you will need to bow, it is best to have your arms out at your sides rather than placed behind your back.
6. The interviewer will then invite you to sit down by saying:
“Douzo suwatte kudasai“ (どうぞ、座って下さい/ どうぞ、すわってください) — “Please sit down,”
7. Once you hear this, you may sit.
The way you sit is important: you should be sitting up straight and not leaning back, your legs should be together and your hands should be flat on your legs.
It is best to maintain this position throughout the interview. It may seem natural to relax eventually, but in a Japanese interview, a relaxed posture is not appropriate.
3. Be prepared to answer typical Japanese interview questions
The first question you will always get is some version of “please introduce yourself,” most commonly:
Jikoshoukai wo onegai shimasu (自己紹介をお願いします/じこしょうかいをおねがいします)
The key vocabulary here is 自己紹介. Regardless of how the question is asked, just listen out for this vocabulary. When you hear it you will know that you need to introduce yourself.
The best way to introduce yourself well is to prepare a short monologue. This monologue should cover your latest activities, whether work history or university courses, and a little about yourself, such as pastimes, passions and hobbies. Keep it brief, don’t go into too much detail. Keep in mind that this, along with anything else you say during a Japanese interview, should at least be in the polite form.
Knowledge about the company
Typically an interview will begin with you explaining what you know about the company. You might well be asked:
- “What do you know about our company?”
(Company name) ni tsuite nani wo shitte imasu ka? (Company name について何を知っていますか/についてなにをしっていますか).
The key vocabulary to listen out for is the company’s name, 何 and 知っています, and then with the research you have done you should give a brief summary of what you know about the company – for example: company history, products, customers, competitors, etc.
Alternatively, you may also be asked:
- “What does our company make? What kind of products are there?”
(Company name) ga dono youna seihin wo tsukutteiru ka, donna seihin ni tsukawareteiru ka gozonji desu ka? (Company name がどの様な製品を作っているか、どんな製品に使われているかご存知ですか/company name がどのようなせいひんをつくっているか、どんなせいひんにつかわれているか ごぞんじですか).
This question is asking what kinds of products the company is making and what products they currently have. The key vocabulary is the company name, 製品 and the verb forms 作っている or 使われている. Once you hear those words, you know that you need to talk about the company’s products.
How do you fit the job?
Of course, a good part of the interview will be about you, the job and the requirements of the job. One of the first questions you may hear is:
- “Regarding the position that you have applied for, what do you know about it?”
konkai omoushikomi no pojishon ni tsuite, dou rikai shiteimasu ka?
(今回お申し込みのポジションについて、どう理解していますか / こんかいおもうしこみのぽじしょんについて、どうりかいしていますか)
which means they are asking you about your application for this position and what you understand about this job role. The key words to listen out for are お申し込み, ポジション and 理解. You need to discuss the job role and I would also include why you applied, and try to show how your experience matches the job role.
Why did you apply for this job?
Quite often an interviewer will want to ask why you have applied for the position. Generally, the question is in a fairly simple format. They might ask you:
- “Please tell us about why you applied,”
oubodouki wo oshiete kudasai (応募動機を教えて下さい/おうぼどうきをおしえてください).
Instead of 応募動機, the interviewer could also possibly ask:
shiboudouki, oubo shita riyuu, (志望動機、応募した理由 / しぼうどうき、おうぼしたりゆう),
ouboshita kikkake (応募したきっかけ / おうぼしたきっかけ)
or shibouriyuu (志望理由 / しぼうりゆう)
These all have a similar meaning. Again, I would recommend that in your answer you highlight the experiences and skills that you have which fit the job role.
Other possible questions
A possible question that you might hear – and which can trip people up – is:
- “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
ima no shigoto wo kaetai riyuu ha nan desu ka (今の仕事を替えたい理由は何ですか/いまのしごとをかえたいりゆうはなんですか).
This means that they are asking about your reasons for changing your job, but just by listening out for the key vocabulary it is easy to mistake this question for the interviewer asking about your current job.
It is really important to answer correctly, and of course—as in any interview—when answering this kind of question you must be sure not to criticize the previous role you had or the company you worked for.
You may also be asked the following:
- “If you were placed in this position, please tell us about what you would like to achieve” or:
anata ga moshi kono oshigoto ni saiyou saretara, okonaitai koto wo oshiete kudasai (あなたがもしこのお仕事に採用されたら、行いたいことを教えて下さい/あなたがもし このおしごとにさいようされたら、おこないたいことをおしえてください).
This question is basically asking what you would like to achieve if you gained this position. In order to answer you really need to know what this job is about and be able to provide a feasible possible target that you would like to aim for.
4. Know what you’re all about
One of the main purposes of the interview is to find out about yo. If you are currently employed, then they may ask about your current job. One question you may expect to hear is:
- “Please tell us about your current job,”
genzai no shigoto naiyou wo oshiete kudasai (現在の仕事内容を教えて下さい/げんざいのしごとないようをおしえてください).
This is an opportunity to highlight important skills that you have and the kind of work that you do. The key word in this sentence is 仕事内容 (within a job), so be sure to talk about what you actually do in your current position, rather than just chatting about work in general. Discuss the value you bring to your current employer. It is also a good opportunity to show how your experience matches the position you have applied for.
Your relevant background.
However, the interviewer will also want to dig deeper about any experience you mention and ask for more specific examples. Let’s say that it was a sales position. In this case, they might ask:
- “Please tell us about your experience in sales.”
ima made okonatta seerusu katsudou ni tsuite oshiete kudasai (今まで行ったセールス活動について教えて下さい/いままでおこなった せーるすかつどうについておしえてください).
This question is quite typical, and you can interchange the word of sales with other kinds of skills, abilities or experiences. It is important to listen out for the word 活動 as they are asking for actual activities. And if you want to improve your listening, be sure to check out this post.
In order to see what you are like, especially in regards to working under pressure, the interviewer will ask you the following:
- “How do you deal with pressure? Please explain exactly how you would cope,” or:
puresshaa ni dou taiou shimasu ka, puresshaa ni taisho suru houhou wo oshiete kudasai. (プレッシャーにどう対応しますか。プレッシャーに対処する方法を教えて下さい/ぷれっしゃーにどうたいおうしますか。ぷれっしゃーにたいしょするほうほうをおしえてください).
Both questions are asking how you would handle pressure. The actual word pressure itself is easy to understand, so you just need to be aware of the verbs 対応します and 対処する.
What gets you up in the morning and excited about work.
The interviewer will also want to explore a little into your motivation, asking:
- “What kind of work is particularly motivating for you?”
dono youna shigoto ga anata no yaruki wo soushitsu sasemasu ka? (どのような仕事があなたのやる気を喪失させますか/どのようなしごとがあなたのやるきをそうしつさせますか).
This question is also indirectly asking what kind of work discourages you, so be sure not to say anything which is very different to the job role you have applied for!
How you manage troubleshooting at work.
Troubleshooting questions are perhaps the type of question that everyone dreads most, as they can be hard to anticipate. In particular, the interviewer may give you a tricky scenario in which you must decide on a solution. At a basic level you may get questions like these:
- “What do you do if you can’t make a deadline?”
Shimekiri ga mamorenasasouna toki ha dou shimasu ka. (締め切りが守れなさそうな時はどうしますか/しめきりがまもれなさそうなときはどうしますか).
- “If you can’t manage your workload well, what would you do?”
Shigotojou taimu maneejimento ga umaku ikanai baai, dono youni taisho shimasu ka. (仕事上タイムマネジメントが上手くいかない場合、どのように対処しますか/しごとじょう たいむまねーじめんとがうまくいかないばあい、どのようにたいしょしますか).
These two questions are quite similar; the first one is asking about if you can’t keep to a deadline (締め切り) so you have to think of an appropriate answer for what you would do in this situation. The second question is a little bit more focused on how you deal with (対処) time management problems. It is always best to prepare several examples as responses prior to your interview. The following question also asks you to explore a hypothetical situation:
- “If you come across a problem during work, how would you resolve it?”
Shigotojou mondai ga hassei shitara, dou kaiketsu shimasu ka.”(仕事上問題が発生したら、どう解決しますか/しごとじょう もんだいがはっせいしたら、どうかいけつしますか).
This question is asking how you would resolve (解決) a problem that has developed (発生した). It is best to prepare specific examples which you can easily talk about and go into more detail about if prompted.
- “At work there is someone that you don’t get along with well. What would you do to get along with them?”
Shokuba de umaku tsukiaenai hito ha donna hito desu ka. Mata, sono kata to dou yatte umaku tsukiaimasu ka. (職場で上手く付き合えない人はどんな人ですか。また、その方とどうやって上手くつきあいますか/しょくばで うまくつきあえないひとは どんなひとですか。また、そのかたとどうやって うまくつきあいますか).
This is dealing with more interpersonal issues, like what kind of person you don’t get along with and what you would do in that situation. I would really highlight in your answer that there isn’t a specific type of person that you don’t get along with, but if there was you would use your communication skills to overcome this kind of issue.
- “If you have a work colleague you don’t agree with how would you approach this situation? How would you come to an understanding?”
Shigotojou, iken no awanai douryou ni dou sesshi, taiou shimasu ka (仕事上、意見の合わない同僚にどう接し、対応しますか/しごとじょう いけんのあわないどうりょうに どうせっし、たいおうしますか).
This question is asking if you have a difference of opinion with a work colleague, 同僚, again I would highlight communication skills in your answer and try to make it clear that you get along with people quite well.
- “How do you deal with difficult people?”
Atsukai no muzukashii hito ni tai shite, dono youni taisho shimasu ka (扱いの難しい人に対してどのように対処しますか/あつかいのむずかしいひとにたいして どのようにたいしょしますか).
This is similar to the previous question but the interviewer is asking more directly what you would do if another person was difficult. You can think in terms of difficult customers rather than difficult colleagues.
Your applicable experiences and skills.
An essential part of the interview is about your strengths, but the interviewer may also ask about your weaknesses:
- “Can you tell us about your strengths/weaknesses?”
Anata no chousho/tansho wo oshiete kudasai (あなたの長所・短所を教えて下さい/あなたのちょうしょ・たんしょをおしえてください).
If you hear 長所, then you need to give examples of your strengths. If you are asked about your 短所 then you need to provide examples of your weaknesses. As a rule of thumb, you should prepare three examples of strengths prior to any interview. For anything you are not good at, you should also include an explanation of how you are overcoming it.
Alternatively, the interviewer may go straight into asking you about your experience. For example:
- “How do you think your experience matches the position?”
“anata no keiken kara donna koto wo heisha de ikaseru to omoimasu ka?“ (あなたの経験からどんなことを弊社で生かせると思いますか/あなたのけいけんから どんなことをへいしゃで いかせるとおもいますか).
Important vocabulary to listen out for would be 経験, 弊社に and 生かせる. It is vital that in your answer that you don’t just talk about your experience but actually answer the question. For example, you can talk about specific job roles that you have had which make you a suitable match for the job you are interviewing for. 弊社 refers to the company where you have applied for a job, it is best to keep an ear out for this word.
A similar question, but in regards to skills, would be:
- “How do you think your skills match the position?”
“anata no sukiru no donna koto wo ikaseru to omoimasu ka” (あなたのスキルのどんなことを生かせると思いますか/あなたのすきるのどんなことをいかせるとおもいますか). 生かせる is an important word to remember as it can be used quite often.
Another way to find out more about you is to ask:
- “If you compare yourself to someone else, how would you do work differently?”
“hoka no hito to kurabete, anata ha dou chigatte oshigoto ga dekimasu ka” (他の人と比べて、あなたはどう違ってお仕事が出来ますか/ほかのひととくらべて、あなたはどうちがっておしごとができますか).
This can be a hard question to answer, but you can highlight your personal qualities. For many jobs the interviewer will be curious about how your communication skills rank as one of your personal qualities or strengths, so they may well ask:
- “If you think of a new idea, how would you convince your superior about it?”
“atarashii aidia ga detekita toki, dou joushi ni settoku shi, nattoku shite moraimasu ka.” (新しいアイディアが出てきた時、どう上司に説得し、納得してもらいますか/あたらしい あいでぃあがでてきたとき、どう じょうしにせっとくし、なっとくしてもらいますか).
The key parts of this question are アイディアが出てきた時 and 上司に説得し、納得して, which indicate to you that it’s about having an idea and how you would persuade people about it. It is helpful to think of a past example to include in your answer.
A particular interview question that can catch many people off guard is:
- “What are your merits? How would they be beneficial to the company?”
“anata no benefitto ha nan desu ka. Sore wo dono youni kaisha ni kangen dekimasu ka” (あなたのベネフィットは何ですか。それをどのように会社に還元出来ますか/あなたの べねふぃっと はなんですか。それをどのように かいしゃに かんげんできますか).
The problem is with the word benefit which might lead you to think this question is about job benefits, but in fact actually they want to know how you would be a benefit for the company.
Finally, as a foreigner they may be interested in knowing more about your Japanese skills by asking:
- “Please tell us about your Japanese level.”
“anata no nihongo no reberu wo oshiete kudasai“ (あなたの日本語のレベルを教えて下さい/あなたの にほんごのれべるをおしえてください).
You can answer this with information about your Japanese studies, any JLPT exams you have taken as well as any relevant experiences. Of course, the best way to knock it out of the park is to speak great Japanese throughout the interview!
The interviewers may also want to know more about any achievements you have listed in your application or mentioned during the course of the interview. You’ll then hear this question:
- “Please tell us about something that you achieved? How did you achieve it?”
“ima made no shigoto de tassei shita koto wo oshiete kudasai. Mata, sono purosesu wo oshiete kudasai” (今までの仕事で達成したことを教えて下さい。また、そのプロセスを教えて下さい/いままでのしごとで たっせいしたことをおしえてください。また、そのぷろせすをおしえてください).
This question means up until now what have you achieved, and what was the process to achieve those things. It’s very important to have prepared specific answers. For example, you can talk about how you supervised a team which achieved its sales targets – but you must also specify what those targets were, how they were achieved, and the importance of teamwork throughout the process. The key word to remember here is 達成 as you may also hear this word if the interviewer wants to ask about other kinds of achievements.
5. Be prepared to get personal.
The interviewer may finish with some questions that are a bit more general and personal, such as:
- “What are your thoughts about your career? What kind of job do you want to have?”
“kongo no kyaria wo dou kangaete imasu ka? Kongo dono youna pojishon de, dou itta shigoto ga shitaidesu ka” (今後のキャリアをどう考えていますか。今後どのようなポジションで、どういった仕事がしたいですか/こんごのきゃりあをどうかんがえていますか。こんご どのような ぽじしょんで、どういったしごとがしたいですか).
In this case they are asking you what you think about your career and what kind of position you would ideally like to do. It is best to align your answer with the expectations of the position you have applied for.
They may also ask for a little information about your hobbies:
- “What is your hobby?”
“shumi ha nan desu ka“ (趣味は何ですか/しゅみはなんですか).
The word to listen out for is 趣味 and you can answer with anything relevant about yourself and your hobbies.
Asking the interviewer questions
It is best to ask at least a couple of questions at the end of an interview, such as asking why the position become vacant, what kind of person would be successful in the job and to ask for more details about the position. You need to ensure that you use polite language while asking any and all questions.
6. End the interview on a high note
When the interview has ended, you need to stand once more, place yourself next to your chair and say a simple:
- “Thank you very much.”
“doumo arigatou gozaimashita” (どうもありがとうございました)
You then bow, walk to the door, turn around and say “失礼します /しつれいします” while bowing. After you have gone through the door, you should bow one more time just before you close the door. Congratulations, you’ve made it in and out of the room without anyone, and you have successfully tackled an interview in Japanese!
And One More Thing…
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