You’ve found the right job, sent off your 履歴書 (rirekisho, resume) and now it’s time for the 面接 (mensetsu, interview). Having written about your proficiency in Japanese, the prospective employers want to sit down with you and put that claim to the test.

Job interviews are daunting enough prospects at the best of times, but when faced with questions in a foreign language, the situation can feel even more 怖い (kowai, scary).

While it’s impossible to predict exactly what’s going to be asked, in Japan many companies take a 定型的なアプローチ (teikeiteki na apurōchi, formulaic approach), making it easier to prepare.


Yumi Taniguchi, HR and general affairs manager at watch company Audemars Piguet Japan, says she usually begins by asking about a candidate’s career.

She opens with “これまでのご経歴を教えてください (Kore made no gokeireki o oshiete kudasai, “Please tell me about your background”).

At this stage there’s no need to 無駄口を 叩く (mudaguchi o tataku, waffle on) about after-school clubs or college grades. A short and to-the-point response should suffice.

Taniguchi says a standard answer would be something like: 1998年に日本大学の経済学部に入学し (Senkyūhyakukyūjūhachi nen ni Nihon Daigaku no keizai gakubu ni nyūgaku shi, “I entered Nihon University’s economics department in 1998 and”), 2002年に卒業して、AB会社に入りました (nisen’ni nen ni sotsugyō shite, AB kaisha ni hairimashita, “after graduating in 2002 I started working at AB Co.”). AB会社では会計部でコンサル タントをやってました (AB kaisha de wa kaikeibu de konsarutanto o yattemashita, “At AB Co. I worked as a consultant in the accounting section”). She’ll then ask the candidate to もっと細かく説明 する (Motto komakaku setsumei suru, explain in more detail) what his or her job entailed.

Why this company?

One question that’s almost guaranteed to come up is なぜこの会社を志望しましたか? (Naze kono kaisha o shibō shimashita ka? “Why do you want to work for this company?”). The truthful answer might be something straightforward such as 高給だから (Kōkyū dakara, “Because of the high salary”). However, this response probably won’t be looked on favorably by employers.

Toru Takeda is a managing director at interior design company Cosmos More. He says that potential employees should say something along the lines of 貴社の理念に共感 する (Kisha no rinen ni kyōkan suru, ‘I get what your company’s trying to do’) and they should be prepared to 経験を活かして (keiken o ikashite, utilize their experience) to make a telling contribution to the business.

“It’s ultimately about judging whether they’re a good fit for your team. That’s more important than their qualifications,” he adds.

Demonstrating knowledge of the company is also important and that’s going to take some genuine research. If you plan to work in retail, for example, before taking the interview you should get to know things like the 標的市場 (hyōteki shijō, target market), よく売れる商品 (yoku ureru shōhin, top-selling items), and 新製品 (shinseihin, new products) coming out.

Selling yourself

One question likely to come up is あなたの一番の長所はなんだと思いますか? (Anata no ichiban no chōsho wa nanda to omoimasuka? “What do you think is your biggest strength?”), according to Masahiko Matsuo, CEO of candle manufacturer Becky Candle.

“Here you should give more than a マニュアル本に書いてあるような受け答え (manyuarubon ni kaitearu yō na ukekotae, textbook response),” he says.

All companies are looking for 勤勉 (kinben, diligent) and 頼もしい (tanomoshii, reliable) staff, but reeling off a list of cliched adjectives is unlikely to impress interviewers. Stick to strengths appropriate to the job. Accounting firms, for instance, will be more interested in your 分析技術 (bunseki gijutsu, analytical skills) than your 想像力 (sōzōyoku, creative ability).

Conversely, if you are asked about 短所 (tansho, weaknesses), mention ones that aren’t relevant to the position. The fact that you aren’t a good 演説家 (enzetsuka, public speaker) probably won’t affect your chances of becoming a chef.

FAQs and curve balls

Other common questions in interviews include あなたについて教えてください (Anata ni tsuite oshiete kudasai, “Please tell us about yourself”) and 短期的と長期的に何を目指してますか? (Tankiteki to chōkiteki ni nani o mezashitemasuka?, “What are your short and long-term goals?”). Then there’s the possibility of interviewers 変化球を投げてくる (henkakyū o nagetekuru, throwing a curve ball).

“I might ask something like 1日が28時間だったら、新しい4時間を何に使いますか (Ichi nichi ga nijyūhachi jikan dattara, atarashii yojikan o nani ni tsukaimasuka?, ‘If a day were 28 hours, how would you use the extra four hours?’)” Takeda says.

The question isn’t difficult, but it could throw candidates who’ve prepared for a standard set of questions. Non-native speakers will sometimes try to respond too quickly when it’s better to take time to think.

Also, if you need interviewers to repeat something, don’t be afraid to ask もう一度言っていただけますか? (Mō ichido itte itadakemasuka? “Can you say it again?”). Finally, finish things off in a polite manner, お会いできて光栄でした (Oai dekite kōei deshita, “It was an honor meeting you”). Hopefully you’ll be hearing from them soon.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.