Manabu Time · V/Blogs

Preparing for your Japanese interview


I did not expect this to be the first write-up under Manabu Time, but it’s where I am right now, so we might as well cover the topic while it’s still fresh on my mind.

I recently interviewed for a Japanese-speaking role under a multi-national company, and this being my first corporate interview in full-on Japanese, I have to let you know how intense the preparation was for me. I have never used my Japanese language skills for work before, and unfortunately, my current circumstances demand that I apply my skills without so much as a warm-up. All I know is that I need to conjure my Japanese language-knowing self in order to get through the interview process.

To clarify though, this is not my first time using the language since I have had opportunities to live in (for a semester) and visit Japan many years ago. But to say that I am fluent would be totally incorrect. I mean, of course, not being able to use the language for a long time would render anyone incapable of easily recalling vocabulary words or even recognizing Kanji characters. It can be frustrating. But I guess I am just grateful that before the pandemic–just last 2019–I re-enrolled myself for Japanese language classes, so even without using the language for work every day for the past five years, I was able to at least re-establish some extent of proficiency–though I still seriously need constant practice and exposure. For the interview, I guess I was banking on all the previous Japanese language courses I’ve taken, all the interactions with natives during my travels, my time spent with my beloved host families during my exchange program–basically, all of my previous experiences in Japan combined. There’s still a lot more prep work though since my experiences neither involve business or the office setup.

If you can relate to my situation, or are planning to apply for a bilingual position in the future, then I hope you find these tips helpful. 🙂

First and foremost, do your research. For every interview–not just for a Japanese one, you must know information not only about the role you are applying for, but also the company offering the position. Is your current experience relevant to the position? What does the company do and how will you fit into the organization? If you are transferring to an entirely different industry, are you qualified for the role? These may be examples of simple questions you can ask as part of your research, but these are vital in the process of your application. It will be your primary motivation as you go through the selection process.

Which bring us to even more important stuff: Anticipate interview questions and construct your answers. For this part, I have to admit I read a ton of articles and watched a number of videos on Youtube just to have an idea how a typical Japanese interview would be like. For one, I am incredibly thankful for this article by KIMI (https://kimi.wiki/jobsearch/japanese-job-interview-questions). I based my interview guide sheet around the questions they’ve compiled. I did re-arrange some parts, combining portions which I think would complement the interview flow and process, and then slowly constructed my answers.

If, at the outset, you have trouble composing your answers in Japanese, I suggest answering them first in English or Filipino–whichever language you feel most comfortable with, and then once you are satisfied with what you’ve written, you begin translating your answers into Japanese. Mind you, it will not be perfect and not everything will be translated word-for-word, but you will force yourself to go about answering the Q&A based on your proficiency, because you would only answer the questions with words, phrases, and sentence patterns that you already know. If there are terms you are unsure of or those you need to confirm, then I suggest you check the dictionary for that. In my case, I have a Japanese dictionary app on my phone. I compose my sentences in mind, type it down, read it aloud, and if there are missing aspects to it, I check the dictionary and edit what I made. Actually, I kept editing until the last minute, but I made sure that whatever I wrote are my words and that, more importantly, they would get my thoughts across. You don’t want to simply copy other people’s answers, right? To each his own. You are here to show the interviewers you are capable of doing the job. Prove them that, starting now.

I can probably say that my Japanese language classmates and I consider listening (聴解) as the most difficult part of every exam. It’s something we cannot easily prepare for considering we are not in Japan, and we don’t often come across people using the language in our day-to-day interactions. Nevertheless, it’s a skill that will be put to the test when you undergo your interview process. So, to remedy this problem, I suggest you put those Japanese playlists on loudspeaker. I never said this to any of my classmates before, but every time we have our exam, I would have a week (or at the least two full days) wherein I would play Japanese dramas on repeat, nonstop. It’s a tough competition between Good Morning Call or Itazura na Kisu, to be honest. I just let it play–sometimes I watch it, sometimes I don’t. But the entire point is, I just let my ears listen and let my mind process what it is that I am hearing. I admit I don’t understand everything that I hear, but I noticed that this technique eventually helped me pick up keywords in between conversations. Also, I can already identify the pronunciation of the words as they are being said, the syllabic nature of the language clearer than it was before I even started this technique.

For the interview, I played episodes of Itazura na Kiss (Seasons 1 & 2) over an entire weekend. When I felt like I needed a break from Kotoko and Naoki’s story, I switched to a typical JLPT Choukai CD. I actually tried playing a JLPT Choukai Task first, but I figured since this will be an interview where exchanges of ideas would take place, the JLPT setup might not be the best choice as it has a more structured content–one where I can easily identify the breaks in between test items. What I was aiming for is understanding keywords between actual conversations, so a Japanese drama might be a better option. If you know a Japanese drama with a workplace plot, where characters will engage in business or be situated inside an office, that would be great to play as well. I don’t know any so it’s Kotoko and Naoki for me, haha.

Once you are set with your interview guide, it would advantageous if you go over it repeatedly, creating outlines and understanding the highlights of your answers. I do not suggest memorizing. I mean, it will help with your delivery, but for your answers to be more genuine, you have to know what you are actually saying. So, focus on your keywords. If you get asked about your strengths and weaknesses, for example, you do not want to just read from your interview guide. Remember: you are talking about yourself here. It does not give a good impression if you are reading off some document about what could easily be answered based on what you know already about yourself. What you want to do instead is remember the outline you’ve created so even if you forget about the initial answers you’ve typed, you can easily come back to your highlights and convey them using your own words.

So at this point you’ve already ticked your writing, reading, and listening skills. The next one to work on is your speaking skills. Now, we want to see if all the steps you’ve previously taken can be of use to you. So, you do a mock interview. For this part, I kind of insisted my boyfriend to help me–emphasis on the insisted. (And again, thank you, love.) If you can have a family member, a sibling, or a friend assist you in this stage, that would be great. If they cannot speak nor understand Japanese, do not worry. That’s not the point here. What we want is for you to be able to respond to the cues given by the interviewer. Your friend can ask the questions in English, and then you answer in Japanese. It would also be good to orient the person assisting you about the position you are applying for, and allow them to ask you questions outside of your interview guide sheet. This way, you are not boxed in your document, and you can also become comfortable in answering questions you have not prepared for. Remember, this is only a mock interview. Make as many mistakes as you can, discover questions you have not considered before, and learn how you can better prepare for the real thing.

As you go through this entire process, I hope you remind yourself that even the smallest of steps can contribute to the big picture. Practice. Practice. Practice. Do not underestimate the power of continuous practice. You might be pressed for time in your preparation, but this stage is not one you can skip.

Last but definitely the most important, in my opinion, is: Get ample of rest before the big day. Actually, looking back at the four days I was given to prepare for the interview, I would say that every time I finish whatever progress in the answers I have made for the day, I would go to sleep for at least one hour afterwards. Sometimes I would even take three hours pf sleep–whatever is enough to make my mind feel rested. Scientifically, it is proven that our minds remember things better when we combine it with good sleep. Interestingly, sleeping allows the mind to recuperate and form stronger neurons which will benefit you for longer. You would be wasting time and energy anyway if you insist on working on your guide sheet without being in a good condition or in the proper frame of mind. So, don’t be afraid. Give yourself a break if you feel like it.

Alright, so those are just a few steps you can consider as you prepare for your Japanese interview. Before I wrap this up, I just want to share as well the links to Youtube videos I’ve watched in my prep work. Very helpful videos, if you ask me. Mao Yamamoto and Learning Japanese with Taka offer more videos about Japanese interviews, so I recommend checking those too.

During the big interview day, I also have these tips for you. I’ll make it short because these don’t require a lot of explanation. By this time, you should have done most of your preparation behind the scenes–days before the big day, so I wanted to focus more on that.

  1. Be on time. Remember that the Japanese people are strict with time.
  2. Prepare your interview space. Check your audio and video. A big NO to cluttered spaces. It doesn’t reflect well on you.
  3. Be presentable. This is a business interview, so a business attire would be best. Even if it’s a work-from-home setup, you still have to appear professional.
  4. Listen carefully and be sure to catch the keywords. It will be an advantage if you have a good headset (a noise-cancelling feature is a two thumbs up) as this will help you focus on what you’re hearing, you know, despite your nerves.
  5. Think before you speak. If you are nervous, take a deep breath before you start speaking. Should you need to stop and think a moment, use speech fillers just to let your interviewers know that you are thinking.
  6. Enjoy. It might be weird to be told to enjoy the experience, but in the end, this is still a conversation between you and the interviewers–just more formal. You already did what you could have done to make this interview a success, so might as well enjoy every bit of it.

There are no failures, just learnings. If you fail to pass one Japanese interview, be back right up and prepare harder for the next ones. I’m proud of you for even considering to take this step. ❤

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