April is the time of a new start. It’s the beginning of a new school year. It’s when new recruits start their first full-time jobs. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom. It’s a perfect time of a year to remind ourselves once again that there is so much to look forward to in life. But this might be just a myth.
In Japan, many college students start job hunting (shukatsu) over a year before graduation. They don’t get to find out their prospective positions or see their job description until after they get hired.
In exchange for taking this risk of not knowing what to expect, they get permanent employment which in itself seems to be the one and only respectable social status in Japan. In other words, being young and freshly out of college is the very qualification that most companies look for when hiring new recruits.
I got my first full-time job in Japan when I was 24, two years after college graduation. By definition, I was not a new graduate. I applied for the job because there was a position available. However, all the time I was treated as a new recruit whose primary duty was to get to work on time at 9 in the morning and leave quietly at 5 every day without bothering anyone around. At the interview, I was asked to deliver a speech in English, in response to what sounded like the most random question one can ask in the given situation: “Tell me about your most recent memorable experience.” While it was obvious that they simply wanted to see if I could speak English, the truth of the matter is that I did NOT get to speak a WORD of English in my job. To this day, I still wonder – did they hire me because I was “relatively” young and thus supposedly naive?
In fact, I have seen many job postings that openly declare age limits: We prefer candidates under 35, for career building purposes.
If this little comment on a job posting is not considered discriminatory, then what is age discrimination? If they have to give an excuse for only hiring people under 35, then it is strange that it doesn’t ever occur to them that there might be people over 35 who already have experience and a “career,” people who can start a job right away without any training for how a new recruit should act on the first day of work.
All problems aside, job hunting in Japan has never been this difficult, says the media.
It seems that new graduates still have room to enjoy the advantage of being young. However, the situation is certainly changing and the competition is getting tougher. While some companies have decided to completely shut the door to new graduates since they can no longer afford to train them, others have looked outside the domestic market, welcoming more and more foreign workers. In recent years, Rakuten and UNIQLO have even declared “Englishnization” of their business as a mission, in part because there is a growing number of non-Japanese employees in the workplace.
In sum, the term “job hunting” is no longer an exaggeration. We really DO need to “hunt” for it.