It’s almost that time of year again when you’ll see many recent graduates in their best black suits, roaming the streets to attend interviews and/or training sessions, and becoming indoctrinated into, and swallowed up by the infernal corporate machine.
You see, Japan has a rather unique approach to Job Hunting, also called shukatsu, which is an abbreviation of shushoku (就職; finding employment) and katsudo (活動; activities), giving us (shuukatsu 就活).
In Japan, there is only one time a year, usually around mid-late March/early April, when most companies open their doors to new recruits, so it is a very stressful, and nerve-racking time for the hopeful youngsters, freshly out of the comfy confines of University life.
When their 3rd year of Uni rolls around, many students apply to as many as 100 (!!!!; yep, you read that right!) companies only to get rejected by the majority of them. As you can probably already imagine, the whole process is incredibly competitive.
This custom was unique to Japan and South Korea, however, a new law enforced in South Korea bans employers from discriminating against job-seekers who have recently graduated from high school or university. Now Japan is the only country practising this custom.
Most students hunt for jobs before graduation from university or high school, seeking “informal offers of employment” (内々定 nainaitei) one year before graduation, which will hopefully lead to “formal offer of employment” (内定 naitei) six months later, securing them a promise of employment by the time they graduate. Japanese university students generally begin job hunting all at once in their third year. The government permits companies to begin the selection process and give out informal offers beginning April 1st, at the start of the fourth year. These jobs are mainly set to begin on April 1st the following year. Due to this process, attaining a good position as a regular employee at any other time of year, or any later in life, is extremely difficult.
This “Shotgun Approach” was put into action by the Japan Business Federation, since most large companies have a very low turnover rate due to the lifetime employment style of Corporate Japan. It supposedly gives every upcoming graduate an equal chance to get a high-profile job with a top-tier company. Of course, the reality is often not quite so rosy.
As mentioned above, in their Junior (3rd) Year of college, students start to prepare for this job-hunting madness by cutting and dying their hair black, purchasing an “Interview Suit” (black pants and jacket, white shirt, black tie), preparing incessantly for the company tests, and (everybody) rehearsing the exact same lines they’ll use during the interview (should they pass the initial written tests).
Since individuality is not a desirable quality in corporate Japan, this is the time when potential candidates seem to completely loose the qualities that make them unique. As the old saying goes: “The Nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. There are a few exceptions, of course, but mostly this is the time where the individual gives way to, and subsequently becomes, the team member and company employee; putting his/her own needs and desires aside to satisfy the company.
It is said that the employees tend to obey any and all unreasonable demands made by their companies so as not to be fired. Yuki Honda, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education, has said:
“Whether they get a job when they graduate decides their whole life”
It is said that in Japan, you’re married twice: Once to your Company, and once to your Wife/Husband. Between those two choices, the Company will always take precedence.
Is this behaviour of repressing your own individuality psychologically healthy? Of course not! That is why each year, some students become so depressed that they commit suicide. As many of you reading this might already be aware, Japan has some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Last year in Japan, more than 25,000 people took their own lives – that’s about 70 People per Day!!!!
It should go without saying that young people these days are getting rather fed up with this one size fits all approach to job hunting, and are starting to rebel against corporate Japan and its strict rules and codes of conduct. How to best achieve this? Hold a protest and demand a change? Nope! Let the business leaders know their (student’s) feelings? Wrong again! Join a Union?? A Union? What’s that? :p
This being Japan, it has to be cute(-ified) and commercialised. So a new idol group aims to highlight all that’s wrong with this process and bring more awareness of how counter-productive the whole system is.
The group is called Kichohanakansha, and consists of young women, who try to juggle the demands of practicing, recording, performing, and job-hunting.
There are only two strict rules in the group:
1) Each member has to wear the typical job-hunting suit for performances and
2) They have to apply for jobs.
Once a member has been accepted by their first-choice company, she has to leave the group to work for that company.
Their ultimate aim is to highlight all the problems associated with the unique job-hunting situation in Japan.
According to the Band, “Even if we fail, at least we will have tried.”
As April rolls around, and the hordes of New recruits frantically roam the streets to get to their interviews or training posts on time, take a moment to remember the difficulties they had to go through in order to get to this stage. Will this one-size fits all, once you’ve removed your individuality approach continue? Well, it will certainly take a long time to change, since the ingrained job-is-more-important-than-yourselves mentality will take years, if not decades to change, but change is inevitable.
The younger people of today, having had more outside exposure than any other generation in Japan, don’t all agree with this approach and some changes are already underway. If anyone, THEY will be the catalysts of change to the 90/10 work-life balance and the current corporate structure.
Now we want to hear your thoughts on the issue. What do you think about the Japanese approach to job-hunting? Is it beneficial, or a burden?
Leave your feedback and ideas in the comments section below.