a bad japanese resume

Common Resume Mistakes When Looking for a Job in Japan


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Having worked with multiple Japanese companies, our host Anthony is no newbie to receiving resumes for job applications. In this podcast, he will talk about some of the common mistakes people make when filling up their resumes. They might seem like common sense things, but you’d be surprised how many applicants actually make these simple mistakes that would reduce their chances of landing a position.

1. Having a bad photo

In Japan, it’s required to have a photo attached to the resume, and there are strict requirements to follow. What companies want is a passport type of photo where the image is from the shoulders up, and you look like a hardworking and trustworthy person for the job. Keep in mind that Japanese companies pay a lot of attention to whether they think you will get along with the other co-workers or not, even more than your actual skillset.

If they think you will stand out and perhaps disrupt the harmony in the workplace just by looking at your photo, they won’t hire you.

While it doesn’t sound overly complicated to take a photo of yourself, you’d be surprised at how many people get this simple task wrong. Anthony has seen photos of people wearing sunglasses, pictures with their friends, pets, or manga collection, all in hopes that their personality would shine through the image and land them the job. Despite your outgoing and friendly personality or love for Japanese culture, this won’t make the cut when it comes to your resume photo.

Here’s a tip, head on over to any of those photo booths scattered in malls and stations, and you can get an ID photo printed in the proper format easily. Make sure to do it within three months before sending the resume out and use a plain background. The most common resume photo size is 4cm x 3cm.

japanese bad resume photos

2. Sending your resume without a cover letter

This is another common mistake, especially when someone is applying for multiple jobs at once. For some entry level job a cover letter might not be required but if you’re submitting that resume to a corporate-level job or one in the higher pay scale, you will need a cover letter. So, if you want to stand out above the rest, write a kickass cover letter because most don’t include one.

3. Having a generic copy-paste cover letter

In line with writing a kickass cover letter, make sure you don’t send the same one to all the companies. In case you are applying for the same position across different companies in the same industry, you can copy-paste your cover letter but make sure you change the headers and information. Imagine applying for a position in McDonald’s, and your file name is titled Burger_King_cover_letter.pdf or worse, the details inside include Burger King’s HQ or their hiring manager details.

Keep your cover letter concise and avoid irrelevant details like your love for Japanese martial arts for example (unless, of course, you are applying for a position in the sports industry). What should you include in your cover letter? Something about the company and why precisely you want to work there. Mention any experiences or projects you’ve had in the past that improved business systems and processes and include how you will do the same for that company. Keep it relevant, brief, and straight to the point because the hiring manager doesn’t have it all day.

4. Your resume is either too long or too short

Some people write every job they’ve had since the beginning of their career while others only include their latest roles. A super short or massively long resume doesn’t bode well with a Japanese company. You need to understand the Japanese psyche and what they’re looking for in your resume. One is gaps in the years you’ve worked. It should be noted that in Japan, it’s not common to job hunt. Fresh graduates apply for a position that they will keep until they retire.

Therefore, a Japanese hiring manager will not understand that year or two where you took a sabbatical or traveled. They’re looking for a natural progression in your career through the jobs listed in your resume up until the one you’re applying for now. What they do love is studying. The Japanese love to study, so if you took time off work to study the cherry blossoms, for example, your stakes are raised.

Keep your resume to about two to three pages long or go back to the past ten years of your work history and make it relevant. Another tip to remember is to keep your resume as uniform as possible because Japanese resumes are very strict, almost like a government form that you have to fill out. When applying for a Japanese company, your resume design and layout should be more professional than aesthetic because they’re not after individuality but a robotic staff and stick to the process. Therefore, let your creative juices flow in the content of your cover letter.

5. Having spelling errors or poor grammar in your cover letter or resume

The Japanese study grammar and spelling when they study English in school, making them masters in this aspect of the language. They might not be able to converse with a native English speaker, but they can tell you the grammatical rules by rote. This transfers to your resume, so get three, four, or five native English speakers to check your content and even pass the document through grammar checking platforms like Grammarly.com.

6. Don’t exaggerate your Japanese ability

You might get away writing in your resume that your Japanese proficiency is at an N2 level when in reality, it’s around N4. However, your downfall can be during the interview when the hiring manager suddenly starts conversing with you in fluent Japanese. Avoid the embarrassment by indicating your current proficiency level in your resume. Keep in mind that there is a difference between casual, everyday Japanese and business-level Japanese.

7. Don’t talk about your love of anime, manga, sushi, or cherry blossoms.

Some people think that their love for Japan will get them the job. It doesn’t matter if your hiring manager loves One Piece or doesn’t care much for anime in general – this piece of information has no relevance on the job whatsoever. What they care for are your skillset and how that can be applied to the company. You can leave all of that information out of your resume, and maybe you can have the opportunity to do so during the job interview.

These may seem like very common-sense mistakes, but as Anthony confirmed, these mistakes happen over and over again. So, if you’re applying for a job and you see many applicants, avoid these mistakes on your resume and apply anyway. There’s a good chance that many of those applicants have made those errors, thus turning the table in your favor.

If you’re currently looking for a job, head on over to Jobs in Japan. They’ve got some of the best lineups of vacancies for you to consider.

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