Job Hunting as a Junior Developer in Japan

Photo of Ismael Rekik

Ismael Rekik

Contributor to TokyoDev

One word: satisfaction. This is how I could accurately describe my feelings when I achieved my dream of finding a software engineering job in Japan. But my dream had almost turned into a nightmare, as I had faced countless rejections for almost a year.

Throughout my experience, I made mistakes and learned things related to job hunting as a junior developer. I believe that sharing what I learned could help other developers in a similar situation who are looking for employment in Japan.

My experience

First, I’d like to share my own story. As someone who didn’t come to Japan as a student, or come later in their career and get hired from overseas for senior positions, I’m a bit of an outlier. If you’re in a similar situation, it might help you understand the challenges you’ll face.

Coming to Japan

I came to Japan right after graduating from Concordia University in my home country of Canada to experience a new life far from home.

I had a bachelor’s degree in software engineering and had interned at two companies for about a year. I could understand a bit of Japanese, but could barely speak it. My professional network in Japan was nonexistent.

As a Canadian national, I was fortunate to have access to the Working Holiday Visa (WHV), a 1-year visa available for nationals of 29 different countries. The WHV was the perfect visa for me, since I wanted to experience life in Japan before making a bigger commitment.

When I first arrived, I was just enjoying my time in Japan while putting minimal effort towards finding a job. However, after a few months, I realized that achieving my goals might be harder than what I imagined and decided to dedicate more time to job applications, attending networking events, and engaging with the software engineering community in Japan.

A difficult job-hunt

My efforts didn’t pay off, despite how hard I tried. I was rejected over a thousand times. There was always something preventing me from finding a job: lack of language proficiency, not enough work experience, the ephemeral nature of my visa, or the absence of specific skill sets.

Despite receiving so many rejections, I had also had my fair share of interviews at multiple companies. In total, I had at least one interview with over 10 companies.

I had applied for mid-level positions at international or Japanese companies that operated internally in English. This put me at a disadvantage, as I was up against more experienced candidates.

With about half the companies I interviewed with, I reached the final interview stage. For one of them, I even got an offer, which ended up being arbitrarily rescinded and given to another candidate. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find a job in Japan. I thought of giving up, packing up my stuff to go back to Canada, and accepting defeat.

… but then I met somebody …

After all these struggles, I finally met somebody who offered me a job… in a restaurant! A drink, a Manchester United football game, and a short discussion with the right person—that is what I finally needed to achieve my goal.

I met a developer who had lived in the UK for a few years and is now working for a Japanese tech company. We started discussing football, then tech, and he ended up forwarding my resume to the CEO of his company. Two interviews and a coding test later, I was offered a System Engineer position at the company.

My onboarding as a junior software engineer

The first few days consisted of setting up my computer, filling out forms and building a basic web application project to assess my level. That project went successfully, and so I was tasked with a second one to develop and deploy a blog web application. Again, everything went smoothly, and so I got to skip the usual training given to newcomers. Three weeks after joining the company, I joined the main project and started doing actual work.

While I did not go through technical training, I was still required to attend a business etiquette course to learn how to properly collaborate with customers and other stakeholders. This covered topics such as speaking politely, exchanging business cards, seat assignment in a meeting room, and more.

However, after speaking with other newcomers, I realized that my case is uncommon. Other newcomers followed a 6-months training plan that covered both technical and non-technical skills.

Completing my probation period

When the developer forwarded my resume to the CEO of the company, he emphasized on my technical skills to convince him that I could compensate for the lack of Japanese language ability and that I would be able to perform my tasks independently. In other words, I was expected to show results quicker than other newcomers. The company was also expecting that my Japanese language proficiency would improve over time.

To assess my progress during the probation period, my superior was in charge of filling a performance review based on my accomplishments during the first three months. This performance review was used to assess my technical and non-technical skill sets and to confirm my full-time offer. Since they were satisfied with my performance, I was offered a full-time position after three months instead of six.

My work today

Since passing my probation period, I continue to work as a software engineer. I write code for the current web application product, produce documentation, improve code contribution process and development methodology, teach programming to new employees, and more. I consider myself lucky because I found a position that helps me grow as a software engineer.

Tips to find a job as a junior software engineer in Japan

From my own experience, here’s some tips to maximize your chances as a junior developer looking for jobs in Japan.

Move to Japan

The best way to find a job in Japan is to already be in Japan. If you are a candidate overseas, it will be hard to land a job as a junior candidate. Though there are occasionally junior positions that accept overseas candidates, these are very rare and extremely competitive. The local candidate pool for these positions is often big enough to avoid looking for overseas candidates, given that hiring from overseas often means extra paperwork, administrative fees, and the risk that candidates might go back to their home country.

If you don’t have at least three years of experience, you may have to move to Japan on your own, and then look for a job. This is what I did. I had a Working Holiday Visa that allowed me to work in almost any field with no limit on the number of hours per week. This allowed me to physically be in Japan to attend networking events and made companies more likely to hire me since I could start working immediately. Working Holiday Visas issued in Canada do not require the visa holder to leave the country to convert them into a working visa, so I was able to request a conversion to an Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa without issues.

Besides a Working Holiday Visa, other possible paths include the student visa to learn Japanese at a language school or the J-Find visa for eligible candidates.

Learn Japanese

From my experience, junior positions tend to require a higher proficiency in the Japanese language . Learning Japanese will facilitate interviews with many companies and ultimately help you secure a position in software engineering. Even if the position does not require Japanese language proficiency, this skill set will always be appreciated in your career and will help you in your day-to-day life.

Software engineering positions for English-speaking candidates exist in Japan, especially for senior developers, but they remain relatively rare at junior levels. From my own experience, most junior-level job openings will require Japanese Language Proficiency Test levels N3 or N2.

In my case, my company requires proficiency in the language to be able to speak with the development team. I never went to a Japanese language school or studied on my own. I mainly practice Japanese by talking to strangers at social events and gatherings, but I must admit that my current level is still not enough to perfectly communicate with coworkers.

Working in a Japanese-speaking environment has substantially improved my spoken and written language skills. I went from barely speaking Japanese to conversing and writing in Japanese daily.

It is also worth mentioning that my language proficiency in English, French, and Arabic was seen as a “plus” for my current company, since they intend to expand to other countries and to become more international; this can apply to other companies in similar situations, as well.

Build your network

As a junior developer, you must look for opportunities. Networking was what kept my dream from becoming a nightmare. Join a tech community, offer to give tech talks at meetups, write articles for tech-related blogs, contribute to open-source projects, attend events sponsored by Japanese tech companies, and meet their recruiters. When I was still looking for a job, I often had questions answered by members of the TokyoDev Discord server and would highly recommend it. By making yourself more visible, you are working on your brand image, and it can only be beneficial in finding a job.

Sharpen your skills

Many companies will assess the skill levels of their candidates with online assessments or coding interviews. I was asked during interviews to solve algorithms and software design problems and believe that the time spent practicing for these questions was useful. Spend some time solving coding problems, read books about software architecture, schedule mock interviews with your peers. Improving your skills should be a continuous quest as a software engineer.

Expand your professional experience

The more relevant professional experience you have on your resume, the more callbacks you will get from recruiters. If you are a university student, take advantage of the internship programs that are available. I did this, and while the year of internship experience wasn’t seen the same as full time employment would have been, it still gave me valuable practical skills that helped separate me from someone who didn’t have it. Even working in a non-tech related position in a Japanese company can also be seen as positive since it showcases a foreign candidate’s ability to adapt to Japanese work culture.

Reconsider your salary expectations

TokyoDev found that the median compensation for developers in their community with less than a year of experience was 4.5 million JPY. A survey of software developers across Japan conducted by the Japanese government found the average to be 3.7 million JPY. In other words, if you are a junior developer looking for a job in Japan, you will probably have to wait a bit more before you start seeing those big bucks roll in, especially if you work at a more standard Japanese company.

The proposed salary for my probation period was below my expectations, but I was able to negotiate a raise of 20% after the probation period since I had a positive performance review from my superior. The transition from probation to full-time employee (正社員, seishain) was also shortened from 6 months to 3 months since I was able to demonstrate that I could work independently and would not require a training session unlike every other new employee at my company. TokyoDev has tips on negotiating your salary in Japan.

Persevere and be patient

Landing a job in the tech industry has become more challenging, especially for junior developers. Give yourself enough time to succeed. Persevere. Be patient. Evaluate your success by the small progress you make. Understand that continuous effort leads to success.

Wrapping Up

My experience as a foreign junior software engineer looking for a tech job in Japan helped me understand the different challenges that might be encountered during the process. It helped me build important skills and knowledge that will be useful throughout my career.

Going through that journey allowed me to identify key elements to maximize your chances of realizing your goals. The experience was very enriching and I do not regret making the move despite the hard times I went through.

For those who genuinely want to achieve their dreams of living and working in Japan, I recommend preparing yourself well and giving it a shot. The experience can be very interesting from both a personal and professional perspective.

More about the author

Photo of Ismael Rekik

Ismael Rekik

Contributor to TokyoDev

Ismael, a Software Engineer from Canada, moved to Japan in 2023. He likes staying updated on Japan’s tech industry and sharing his journey to inspire others. He aims to progress as a software engineer in Japan and to start his own company one day.

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