Monday, November 5, 2012

A Japanese American's Reflection of the 2012 Boston Career Forum

The Boston Career Forum is a big career fair held in Boston every year in October/November for Japanese-English bilingual speakers looking for entry-level jobs in Japan (some were hiring for their subsidiaries in China and Southeast Asia). Many of the companies were in the fields of finance, accounting, and consulting, but all sectors were adequately represented. This year it was held from October 19-21, 2012, and 190 well-known companies were represented at this event. With approximately 9000 students coming from all over the United States and abroad, competition was fierce to say the least. The stress and anxiety of the properly-dressed students were definitely palpable and even stifling within the enormous convention space.

How much Japanese do you need to know?
Honestly, most companies are looking for NATIVE LEVEL Japanese and business level English. This means that the ideal candidate speaks and reads impeccable Japanese, and consequently, many at the fair were Japanese students currently studying abroad in the United States. One fellow I befriended was a grad student from Keio University who had come all the way from France where he was doing a short-term study abroad session. I grew up speaking Japanese at home but have limited formal training in the language, so I found the interviews to be a challenge and would not have done as well if I hadn't prepared in advance. For one consulting firm, I was asked to take a quantitative analysis test which was half in English and half in Japanese. 

Pre-fair Preparations
Like I said before, my Japanese reading and writing is pretty terrible, and my speaking may sound natural but is severely limited in vocabulary and formality. Knowing this, I did not go to Boston with high expectations, so for me personally, I found this experience to be fulfilling, and I was forced to familiarize myself with business-level Japanese by preparing for and participating in the 3-day career fair. In general, the bare minimum preparation consists of making an account on the BCF website ( where there will be a big list of participating companies, templates to build a Japanese and English resume, and online applications. As the date gets closer, about 8 weeks prior, companies will open up their online applications where you can submit your resume and responses to several short essay questions. If you're lucky, you will hear back from some of these companies requesting you to reserve an interview slot. 
Even if you do not hear back, do not be discouraged. Many booths allow you to sign up for a "pre-interview," which if you pass, grants you an actual interview slot. Every big company receives hundreds if not thousands of applications, so the right mindset is to be aggressive and approach all booths you find interesting.

On a final note, I personally did not find it necessary to make a traditional Japanese resume - rirekisho - but for the more traditional firms - the ultra competitive banking firms for example - preparing one may be a good idea.
For me, the more booths I approached and the more interviews I conducted, the more confident I became, and by day three, I was not too nervous to walk-up to company representatives and express my interest in the firms.

At the fair
The 3-day-event is very fast-paced, and you'll be busy the whole weekend. Don't bother making plans for sightseeing unless you decide to give up and leave the convention early :( 

By Sunday 1pm, you will most likely be free to meet your friends in Boston, go eat JP Licks' ice cream in Harvard Square, and do whatever else you desire.
If you take advantage of this stressful opportunity, you can easily have 2-3 interviews lined up even without securing any reservations beforehand, but getting past it is the real challenge. If successful at each step, your job hunt should break down in the following progression: visit the booth, pre-interview screening, interview#1, take a test and/or interview#2, receive dinner invitation, interview#3, and job offer. Of course, the scenarios vary, but make sure to KEEP YOUR PHONE WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES (bring your charger to the fair!) because this will be the main way for companies to reach you during the fair. Usually, the final interview is conducted after the fair is over - be warned - this often occurs in Japan.

Final Thoughts
I do not think I could have done as well or could have enjoyed the 3 days if I had not gone with my very good friend. It is always good to have a friend's support, even if both of you are competing for the same jobs. On the first day of the fair, as drained as we were, we explored Chinatown and ate greasy Chinese food, which helped melt away the first day's tensions.
In regards to preparation, I spent almost every Friday and/or Saturday since early September to get ready for the fair (translating my English resume into Japanese, writing responses to the short essay questions, creating "scripts" for potential interview questions, and practicing how to properly introduce myself). Procrastination is not recommended.
Also, although the career forum advertises that it seeks "global chanllengers," the companies are seeking students who will be able to easily acclimate to the Japanese work culture and hold a proper conversation in Japanese...with that being said, I am not sure if this is really aimed at students who are simply "Japanese Language and Culture" majors. You really have to be a decent Japanese speaker to get anywhere.

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