Selection criterias for returning Japanese graduates


This year many times I came across the comment in the media that not enough Japanese are studying or working abroad. So let’s say you are one of the few Japanese Nationals, who went abroad after gaining your basic education in Japan. You were the one, who did one more step: You wanted to broaden your mind. Now after having gained some foreign exposure and graduated abroad, how does reality really look like after coming back to Japan? What are the Japanese companies looking for when they want to hire Japanese returnees? Last month the Nikkei Shimbun had presented the top 10 preferred personal traits that hiring managers are looking for in Japanese graduates.

1. Communication skills
2. Vitality
3. Covered basic education
4. Cooperation skills
5. Teamwork skills
6. Cheerful personality
7. Passion
8. Creativity
9. Common sense
10. Tolerant to stress

Honestly while most of the ten points make very much sense for me and are very much needed in the Japanese employees pool, I am shocked about number 3. From my perspective, either someone has so unique professional qualities that their educational background becomes second or then for anyone else growing up in Japan, I believe basic education is a given. I am sincerely wondering why this topic even came up with HR managers as a criteria for hiring Japanese graduates. On the other hand, from my perspective I am very happy to see that a cheerful personality and passion has become more important. I guess this type of “new blood” is what many traditional Japanese companies are looking for.
For sure I wish all returnees good luck in the job hunt! Having a reversed culture shock to adjust to “one’s own culture” is challenging enough.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

4 thoughts on “Selection criterias for returning Japanese graduates

  1. Interesting list, Sibylle…

    I completely agree with you about #3 being redundant: with competition being so tight for spots because of the aftermath of “Lehman Shock”, it’s absurd to think that any mid-size to large company would take on someone who hasn’t “covered basic education”.

    As for those who have done study abroad, it’s a sad fact that there are still many companies who don’t consider that as a plus. This is not to say that they think of it as a minus, but just that they are not particularly interested in it and, in fact, it sometimes creates issues for HR because it’s difficult to treat all incoming freshmen/shinnyu shain (新入社員) as “the same” if you’ve got highly fluent, gloabalised, new hires in the mix.

    Over the past 10 years, I have met and dealt with shinnyu shain at a number of major Japanese companies. On the ground, I see a few interesting things: the number of fully bilingual “returnees” is definitely on the rise at the big companies (so, for example, in an average new hire of 70, I used to see one or two returnees and now it’s more like five or six); some major companies are definitely seeing it as an advantage and many of these new-hires are hired for language skills beyond English (i.e., they are fairly fluent in English, but they have other language skills – Chinese being a prevalent one these days, but I have, for example, met someone who studied Turkish in university, spent a year in Turkey, and will deal with the company’s Turkish branch office); these more globally minded new-hires are on a management track from day one and they will absolutely be assigned to deal with people abroad or be sent abroad themselves; and, finally, and perhaps most important, despite most companies not going the route of Rakuten (and viewing their all-English decision as too extreme), they definitely value and covet these new-hires who are globally aware and globally minded.

    At the same time, another interesting trend is some major companies cutting the amount of time allocated to language training in freshman training programs and, instead, allocating that time to JAPANESE Business Etiquette (i.e., how to deal with clients in Japanese, etc.) because they are finding a real lack of ability in that area (decline in ability to function in keigo, etc.)

    As for media reports of not enough students studying abroad, I recently saw Kiyotaka Fujii (President of Better Place Japan: http://japan.betterplace.com/) talking about the challenges Japan faces in terms of global competitiveness and I thought one of his slides was extremely illuminating: of the total number of students from India studying in the U.S., 69% were at the Graduate level; of the total number of students from China studying in the U.S., 59% were at the Graduate level; from Japan, only 21% were at the Graduate level.

    Obviously, what’s lacking is the feeling or the drive that Japanese students should go abroad to EXTRACT scientific and technical knowledge and bring it back to Japan; they feel content to go overseas for the experience or a bit of language school, but not for anything “serious”. I don’t necessarily think that everyone needs to go abroad or that it has to be a serious endeavour but the numbers are, at some level, very telling.

    (sorry, a bit of a long-winded reply, but I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately)

    • Dear Tokyololas,

      thank you very much for your comment, I truly do appreciate it.
      I do agree with you that Japanese business etiquette is definitely not a strong point of new graduates, or then even returning graduates. Sometimes I am really surprised about the rather rough behavior in a business setting or the choice of words in meetings.
      Additionally I think the reason for many young Japanese being less “serious” and just focus on some language study abroad is based on the fact that Japanese kids or teenager are allowed by the society much longer to depend on others. From my perspective I see very little pressure in the Japanese society for young people to become independent and take their lives in their own hands. So going abroad might be less of a career decision, but a fun experience.

      Thanks again for all your time spent on this blog,

      Sibylle Ito

  2. Call me dreary, but I think that when a Japanese company looks to hire a Japanese coming home with a foreign degree, they are looking to fil the kind of position that succeed with the least amount of employee comraderie; after all, it is fairly common knowledge that the Japanese returnee is regarded by coworkers with coolness and distrust.

    • Dear Saul,

      welcome back!
      I believe integrating a “returnee” in a business environment is truly a challenge in Japan. No matter what the outsider will cause tensions and changes in the existing team, to much a larger extent than just a new hire. Not feeling then really welcomed in the team the “returnee” might overreact by pointing out his importance to the team by showing off his capabilities, plus then combined for the new hire the reversed culture shock makes the whole story even more complicated. Making it truly a successful experience for everyone involved can sound like an impossible task.

      Best regards,

      Sibylle Ito

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