“A good job is hard to find” sounds like the title to a short story.
One where the hero leaps various hurdles until at last plucking the perfect position. Or in a sad twist, ends up out on the streets with a pair of empty pockets.
Because getting a good job isn’t easy. And not just in these tough economic times. Finding the right spot — or any spot — has always been a hard-nosed endeavor, one tied to effort, connections and luck.
For those returning home after long stints in Japan, the hunt can be even harder. For the Japan-side experience doesn’t always stand out on the resume. In truth, it can be more of a black hole, sucking in and devouring all the job candidate’s chances.
Maybe not so for those on tours of duty with their companies. For such individuals are not truly here at all; they are with their companies and can go back as if never having been away. And not so for short-term visitors either. A year or two in Japan can add a touch of the exotic and make the job seeker seem intriguing. The interviewer might even recall the time he/she dropped raw fish down his/her best suit at the local sushi bar. They can share a giggle over that.
Yet, for those of us who have — on our own — invested fat chunks of time here, the responses can be different. More than laughs, the candidate might draw stares. With the unspoken question perhaps being . . .
“What have you done with your life?”
Well, what have we done? What do we have to offer a potential employer upon returning home?
“I can speak Japanese,” I might tell the interviewer, with my fingers crossed that I won’t be quizzed. Yet, in my hometown, such talent is worthless. I might as well say I can communicate with rabbits. In fact, that would go better.
“And I can read Chinese characters.” (Um, some of them anyway.)
So . . . “Why not go look for a job in China then?” might be the response. “I hear they’re hiring.”
Wait! I can do more! Like . . . Like . . .
Like . . . I can pick up beans with chopsticks. And . . . I can slurp tofu straight from the tub. And then ask for more. Plus I can peel a tangerine clean and toss the peel in the waste in a single piece.
Yet these are only party tricks. I have other skills too. Like . . .
I can get completely lost and not panic at all. Just don’t ask me to get unlost.
I can pry my body into a sardine can of passengers and ride a commuter train for an hour or longer and think nothing of it. I am good at thinking nothing.
I can sit in an incomprehensible meeting for almost forever and pretend to be listening, while all the time imagining everyone in the room to be naked. I can learn that a destination is a 10-minute walk away and think, “Gosh . . . how close.”
Yet, none of this will impress my interviewer back home, especially the walking part, as most people there use cars to cross the street.
And would I gain some ground if I explained I can mesh smoothly into group dynamics? In America? The land of spit-in-your-eye individualism? Maybe not. Especially when I admit that, as an outsider, Japanese groups have often left me pampered, marginalized, or both.
“So . . .” my interviewer might say. “Don’t call us . . .”
But wait. There is more.
After decades in Japan, I can get by with being different. I can carry the weight of probing eyes and subtle criticism and keep going.
In the same token, I can abide with others. Being a minority has taught me the value of the individual. And as I have been so often helped by strangers, I take pleasure in helping one back.
I can adjust to change. I can deal with shortsighted bureaucratic whimsies, knee-jerk decision-making and chokehold rules, which might flip-flop from week to week. I can weather storms.
I can take on problems where I can’t even communicate well what the problem is. And dig up solutions. I can bear the day-in/day-out, year-in/year-out grind of cultural pressure — the kind of numbing stress that other employees might have never faced — and yet do my job.
The significance of loyalty has been etched into my soul. I return favors. I remember friends.
That’s all too vague and sentimental to print on a resume. And most interviewers wouldn’t understand it anyway, for they have nothing to measure it against. I can just hear their response . . .
“Yeah, well . . . tell me some more about those naked meetings.”
What have we done with our lives? Something the resumes can’t hold . . . because they’re limited.
Getting a job — in these times or at any time — still needs luck. Yet to me veterans of long years abroad are well worth the hire.
In the end, the luckier one might not be the newly employed.
But rather the new employer thereof.