Sam the Newbie attended the 2010 Boston Career Forum to find a job in Japan. He put together this writeup of his experience, so I’m posting it here so that everyone can benefit!
Feel free to post any questions that you may have in the comments and Sam will come back to answer them!
About the Boston Career Forum
Boston Career Forum (CFN) is run by Disco International, a Japanese HR company. They hold a few different job fairs throughout the year in LA, London, and Tokyo. But the Boston event is by far the largest (I met a few students who flew from Tokyo to attend the event!!). For anyone who’s been following this thread, it’s extremely difficult to get work in Japan when you’re in the US. CFN is definitely the best way to do it! The Boston event is targeted mostly at undergraduates, but there are all kinds of positions for mid-career, MBAs, and other grads.
I started preparing for Boston Career Forum through their website probably 3 months before the event. It’s free to register with Disco and free to register for each of the events. After registering, the first thing you do is fill out your resume in English and Japanese using their form. You can’t upload your own resume in DOC or PDF format, so this can be a little time-consuming.
Basically, how it works is each company will post their information on the website: their company profile, what positions they’re hiring for, what majors they’re looking for, what Japanese/English levels they require, etc. So search for the companies to which you want to apply and start doing research. Each company will have a few screening questions, either in English or Japanese or both, that you are required to fill out. These are questions like: “why are you choosing this company? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Describe a difficult situation?” Standard interview questions basically. So you’ll submit your resume and the answers to these questions. This should be viewed as the first step of the application; so be sure to put your effort into this step.
Depending on the company, they might acknowledge your application with a response through the CFN email system or to your personal email address listed on your resume. Some companies won’t reply at all, so it really is a case-by-case sort of thing. Other companies will ask you to apply through their own internal application system, where you’ll be invited to complete online assessment tests and other screening questions. So again, it depends. Just to be sure to stay on top of your email, and check the CFN website often. In my case, a few companies contacted me for phone/Skype interviews prior to the actual event. But from talking to other applicants, this is pretty rare.
About one month before the event, companies will start contacting you to set up interviews for the actual event. Based on previous year’s statistics, most people are able to schedule a few interviews before the event. I was in this group. Again, I think it depends on the company. So if you’re not contacted for interviews, don’t be discouraged! The vast majority of companies accept walk-in candidates at the event. But, of course, if you do get an interview scheduled, that’s a good sign!
So the strategy that I took was to apply to all companies that I was interested in, or that I met the requirements for, get a few interviews scheduled and focus heavily on preparing for those interviews. Other people will focus on one sector (finance, IT, retail) and do research on all of those companies and try to walk-in interview with all of them. I think it depends on how much time you have and what your personality is like.
Navigating the Career Forum Battleground
The actual event takes place on the third weekend in October at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Friday and Saturday are the busiest days, with Sunday being a bit slower because a lot of companies leave on Sunday. So, if you’re doing walk-ins, try to do them as soon as possible. That being said, I didn’t find it necessary to arrive as soon as registration opens (9AM) and wait in line with the other 9000 people (true!) to be the first one into the venue. It’s fine to get there at 9:45, 10:00 AM and just walk in on your own pace.
The venue can be a bit overwhelming. It’s held in a large open room, with thousands of people running around in suits. One on side of the room, there will be all the company booths, registration tables, office supplies desks, computers and copiers for printing out resumes, etc. On the other side of the room are individual interview booths that are enclosed with white curtains. You’ll get a map and other information when you arrive for registration.
Overall, the event is, in traditional Japanese fashion, very well-run and efficiently organized. There is free Wi-Fi in the building, a lot of eating options, and plenty of room to sit and prepare for your interviews. The only issue that I observed was the dearth of power outlets. So if you’re bringing a laptop, be sure to charge it before you go.
Once you get in there, you are free to walk around and do walk in interviews with any company you want. The vast majority of companies will accept walk in interviews. It works like this: the company will have a person greeting applicants. Go up to him/her and introduce yourself, explain that you’d like to do a walk-in interview. They’ll probably ask you to submit a resume, likely the English version. Then you’ll probably have to wait for a chair to open up in front of the interviewers at the booths. Some of the more popular companies, you’ll have to wait 30 minutes to get to the front of the line. But that should give you more time to rehearse your answers! Other lines will move more quickly.
Handling the Interviews
The first interview takes place at the company booth, in the open, in full view of your fellow applicants. This can be a bit intimidating; but it’s the only way for the companies to get through so many applicants in a single day. After you’ve left the booth after the first interview, the company might contact you (most likely via your cell phone) to schedule a second interview with a more senior employee. They’ll set up a time and ask you to come back to their booth. At this point, the two processes (walk-ins and pre-scheduled interviews) look the same. When you go back to the company booth, check-in with the greeter and tell him/her your name and interview time. They’ll escort you back to the individual interview area where you’ll sit in a chair outside the booth and wait for the interviewer to call you in. The same call back process will take place if the interview goes well. I personally was called back twice (3 interviews total) by a few companies all on the same day. So your schedule can fill up pretty quickly. Pace yourself!
In my case, the interviews were about 50/50 English and Japanese. Again, it depends on the type of position/company/location you’re interviewing for. In one case, an interviewer gave me a Japanese newspaper and told me to read out loud. Other interviews were all in English. So it depends.
Wine and Dine
If all the interviews go well, (some) companies will invite you to attend dinner with the employees and other applicants at night. From my point of view, these dinners are an opportunity for the interviewers to observe you in a more casual environment and see how you interact with other people. So you should be on your game for these dinners, even if it’s very casual. That being said, you don’t need to be in total interview mode. It’s ok to have a couple of drinks and get relaxed a bit. Just make sure you don’t drink too much!
That’s a Wrap, or, The Big Wait
So that’s a basic rundown of the pre-event and event details. I can’t tell you too much about the post-event situation, because I am still living it! It’s been about 5 days since the event finished and I am waiting to hear back from the companies with which I interviewed. I didn’t receive a timeline (i.e. “we’ll let you know within one week”) from any of the companies, so I am keeping my hopes up. Of the applicants that I spoke to, only one received an offer of employment at the actual event. So I think this is a very rare case (look at the statistics, only 16% get offers in Boston). So to any participants who are reading this now, let’s keep our hopes up for good news!!
Feel free to post if you have any questions or comments.
– Sam the Newbie
Photo Tour of the Career Forum on their official site.