In this article, I’ll dive deeper into the interview preparation part by sharing some questions that I was commonly asked and giving advice about how you can prepare for them. Although I’m sharing this from my perspective as a QA Engineer, much of this advice is generally applicable for tech interviews in Japan.
My own experience interviewing for a tech job in Japan
Job hunting is a painfully arduous process. Out of the 80+ applications I remember sending, I was able to land around 30 or so interviews. Less than ten of those landed me a second interview, and as my patience was starting to wear thin, I finally got a job offer from the company that I’m working for now.
All of those seem to be just statistics now—it’s a numbers game after all—but at that time, it was dizzying. I wasn’t that picky with the type of company or the job title, but I did want something that aligned with my career path. So I applied for positions such as QA Engineer, QA Lead, Software Engineer in Test (SET), Software Developer in Test (SDET), Tech Lead, Test Engineer, Bridge Software Engineer, and R&D Engineer. This was despite recruiters trying to force me to go back to being a Software Developer even when I clearly stated my career goal of getting a position relating to QA.
I tried applying to almost any type of companies you could think of—Fintech, IT Solutions, Human Resources, Video Streaming, AI, Crypto, Ed Tech, Mobility Solutions, Inhouse Software Development, Testing, Robotics, Real Estate—all of them. I also applied to big companies, but most of my applications have been focused on startups, mainly because I wanted to be able to feel my contributions actually affecting the company. It was a different kind of challenge, knowing that for most companies I applied to, there was no existing QA team.
Off the top of my head, 70% of the interviews I did were conducted in Japanese, 25% in English, and 5% was a mix of both. Despite being extroverted and multilingual, I still found myself grasping for straws trying to explain technical terminologies in Japanese. As if coming up with the words to describe myself and my work ethic wasn’t difficult enough to do in English, doing it in Japanese without some kind of template to follow gave me such a rough time that I had wished I had a more concrete guide to follow.
The Interviewing Process
There are usually around 2-3 rounds of interviews for most tech companies–the first being the introductory part, where the applicant introduces themselves and the company also gives the applicant an idea of what they’re looking for in an applicant. With this interview, there are normally 1-2 people joining the call.
The second interview is usually technically focused, where the interviewer will ask questions that are specific to the job role. In some cases, they would require a coding exam (usually timed and mostly using online testing software) and then have a call scheduled after that to ask you more in-depth questions regarding your answers and why you chose to use a specific approach.
Sometimes there’s something called a “Culture fit” interview where the company would try to see if it’s easy for you to adjust to the company culture and work with the existing teams, but this is quite rare.
There are also cases where the HR would conduct interviews to ask you about visa status, expectations, etc., and talk to you about the company’s perks so that you’re typically on the same page with the company. This doesn’t ensure that you’ll be getting a job offer, but in most cases, this usually means that they are considering giving you a job offer.
Lastly, there’s the “job offer” portion, where they would discuss the annual salary they would like to offer you if you will be taking the position. In Japanese job boards, the salary range for the position is often included, so it’s easier to keep a certain range minimum and maximum range in mind before going into this part of the interview.
However, if the offer doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s still okay to have a discussion with the company and negotiate your salary. You should have three numbers in mind: the minimum amount you’re actually willing to accept for the job, the maximum salary that is initially offered, and something that’s a little in-between your maximum expectation and the company’s offer to ensure that you’re not being low-balled.
Etiquette and Dress Code
But first of all, some tips regarding interview etiquette.
Nowadays, companies have adopted the online video-conferencing style of doing interviews instead of having applicants go to their offices. Of course, this is much more convenient for everyone involved, but it’s still important to look like you’ve dressed up and prepared for this interview.
I’m not saying you should go out and rent a three-piece suit, but something of a business casual or smart casual would do.
Look presentable. Ensure your clothes are ironed and there aren’t any loose threads, stains, or missing buttons on the clothes that you’re wearing to the interview.
You don’t have to get a haircut just for an interview, but looking neat is a helpful bonus. If you have long hair, tie it up so it doesn’t look like a mess.
Especially in more traditional companies, they observe your conduct when walking to and from the venue and how you present yourself to the interviewers. This is on a much smaller scale for online interviews since you’re typically just appearing on-screen.
Of course, the golden rule of all job interviews is to always be on time. For me, I typically opened the interview meeting room link 5 minutes before the call so I can just check that everything is looking okay on my end.
Make sure that you are in a quiet room and that all your peripherals (e.g. headset, webcam, etc) are working properly beforehand so that you don’t have to waste time troubleshooting in the middle of the interview.
A nice tip that someone shared with me is that you have to always be centered in the video while still creating some distance between you and the camera, typically showing the area right around your shoulders. This is so that you don’t look too big or too small in the video output.
Just like in face-to-face conversations, make sure that you maintain eye contact with the interviewer and that your eyes don’t roam around the room.
These are questions that I typically encountered for all of the companies and positions that I applied for, so it would be helpful to prepare for these questions, especially for the first interview.
1. Self-introduction （自己紹介)
Not all companies require you to speak in Japanese, but it’s definitely a plus if you can converse in Japanese, or at least introduce yourself in Japanese.
Don’t make your introduction too long and only emphasize the important parts, like your name, where you’re from, how long you’ve been in Japan, and your current role. Around 2-3 sentences should be sufficient for this.
2. Reason for applying for a new job（転職理由）
If you’re trying to leave your current company because of bad working conditions or a toxic work environment, make sure to never mention this in the interview. This may come off as rude and you might just look like you’re complaining. It may also give the interviewer the impression that since you’re freely badmouthing your previous or current employer, then you might start badmouthing them too once you leave the job.
In my case, I mentioned that I wanted to skill up and explore more opportunities for myself that weren’t specific to the product that I was testing currently.
3. Reason for wanting to join the company（志望理由）
It’s important to check out the company’s website and social media pages to get an idea of what the company values are. In most cases, companies have a “Vision” and “Mission” page. It would be great if you could align your personal goals with these vision and mission points.
4. Your strong points（得意ポイント）
It’s important to base your strong points off of the list of qualifications provided in the Job Description. Having around three strong points to differentiate you from other applicants is a good advantage to have
5. Your weak points（苦手なポイント）
Of course we all have our weaknesses, but don’t highlights ones that are crucial to the position you’re applying for. It also helps to soften the blow by adding how you’re working on improving your weak points by studying, getting mentored, etc.
6. What are your career goals?
How do you visualize your career path going forward? If you think the company could help you achieve your goals, you can also mention that.
7. What have you accomplished since you started your career?
It’s not necessarily about certifications, but also how you helped your current or previous companies with their internal processes, etc. You can also mention projects that you’ve participated in.
8. Tell us about your current job
Most companies (especially those who are looking to hire Mid-Senior Levels) are looking for applicants who already have the years of experience related to the technology their company is using. Make sure to familiarize the contents of your resume itself to support how you’ll be answering this question.
9. Why did you previously switch jobs?
This is usually only asked if they see in your records that you’ve previously made a job switch. As I said previously in the “Reason for applying for a new job” section, you should never badmouth your previous company.
10. Failures that you have experienced at work
Of course it’s not always possible to bring 100% at work. For this section, you could bring up one instance where the weakness that you mentioned at an earlier point of the interview could be the cause, but also make sure to mention how you were able to resolve this. Japanese companies also take into consideration how you’ll be able to work alongside their current employees (a culture fit, if you will), so if you’ve received help from your boss or coworker, it’s important to highlight how teamwork served you in this scenario. Just make sure that the experience you will be mentioning is not detrimental to the company in any way
11. What did you learn from your time in college?
This is usually asked for fresh graduates, so even if you’re not part of your classes top rankings, you could mention values that you’ve learned and projects that you’ve worked on, especially if you’ve also been working on side projects.
12. How would you contribute to the company?
Aside from the gap in the company’s workforce, of course they also want to have employees that could give contributions to the company’s process. You don’t have to be applying for a leadership position to help implement constructive changes in the company, but you shouldn’t also be forcing changes down their throats. You could also consider mentioning how you can help out teammates that are stuck and communicating with the team in order to create a seamless workflow, among others.
13. How many companies are you applying for right now?
If you’re in the interviewing stage with other companies, it would be good to mention that to them so that they could speed up the interview process for you in case they’re considering you as a candidate.
14. What would make you accept a job offer?
Usually a follow-up to the previous question, but you could bring up a good point that the company currently has for this portion.
15. What do you think our company can offer you?
Usually, companies who ask this question are startups, so you don’t usually need to worry about this question coming up for bigger companies. However, if you do want to work at a startup, a good point to bring up is that working for a startup (especially one that’s just at its beginning stages) could give you more room to contribute to the company and see actual changes being implemented.
16. Is there anything you want to ask?
Always come prepared to ask them a question. This shows that you are actually interested in the company that you’re applying for. If you’ve seen any gaps in the information they have posted on their website, you can ask them about those. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but if the information could already be found in the job posting, don’t ask them that question again since it’s already been provided to you.
It’s so hard to find a job these days, no matter the number of years of experience you have under your belt or your fluency in the language. The same sentiment was true back when I lived in my home country, and the same is still true now that I moved to a country miles away from home, whose culture I’m still trying to navigate around.
The entire process can be taxing physically and mentally, so it’s important to have a circle of people who have your best interests at heart.
I’m glad that there are welcoming communities like TokyoDev which has a group of people who are glad to be of help giving interview advice, resume reviews, and cheering you on.