Hiring Practices in Japan and in France: Search for a first job begins one year ahead of graduation in Japan while in France it begins after graduation (1)

Mr. Hiromasa Suzuki
Emeritus Professor, Waseda University
Associated researcher at IDHE-ENS-Cachan, France Fellow Researcher


After long school years, the search for a first job is a test time for many university graduates or future graduates, since they have little contact with the real business world. It is a big jump from a cocooned environment to a competitive one. This is often an occasion for them to assess their capabilities and personality. This period is also illustrative of how labour markets function in each country. In order to see the institutional differences of this process, we will compare the Japanese process with that of France.


In Japan, on April 1st, most large enterprises and public organizations are busy with their induction ceremony for newly recruited employees. As school year finishes at the end of March, fresh graduates from universities or high-school are appointed on that day to be members of the enterprise with an open-ended contract. In most Japanese enterprises, the entry point is restricted to April, just like school enrolment. In the case of a large enterprise like Toyota motors, newly recruited employees (university graduates and high-school leavers) amount to more than 1,300 every year. A consequence of this practice is that university students have to begin their job search well ahead of their graduation, often more than one year before obtaining diploma. This practice of yearly hiring appears to have been institutionalized during the high growth period (1950-1975), when conditions of the labour market were particularly tight, and when many expanding enterprises recruited a large number of high- school leavers and university graduates. In order to secure huge numbers of suitable candidates, the human resource department of large enterprises tried to retain future graduates with the formal promise of a job position well ahead of the contract day, which is invariably April 1st. Since then, the entry point of new employees (regular employees) is limited to this Spring hiring.


The selection of suitable candidates is a time-consuming process to which every human resource department devotes much of its energy and time. As newly recruited employees are expected to stay with the enterprise for their entire professional career, it is essential to carefully select candidates. Criteria of selection appear to give much weight to the personality and motivation of candidates, since candidates are not chosen for a specified job but for their long-term career prospect in the enterprise. For this reason, hiring activities are often centralized to the HR department which has a wider view of career prospects than the department of production units. The selection process is generally based on personal interviews. In typical cases, three to five interviews of different level will be necessary before delivering a formal promise of employment (promise of employment is given a binding force by case law).


From the viewpoint of students, to join a well-known enterprise is of crucial importance, since most of them would spend all their professional career in the same enterprise. Therefore,  it is no surprise that students try to come into contact with prospective enterprises as early as possible. Today, this search period begins at the second half of the third year (out of 4 years for undergraduates), by attending meetings that a number of enterprises organize for students to make known their activities and career prospects. Individual interviews generally start from Spring until September. In recent years, the ministry of education and employers’ organization tend to fix a date to begin individual interviews in order to reduce the negative impact on university education. However, as many students apply for twenty or thirty enterprises and each enterprise organizes several individual interviews before giving formal promise of employment, students are so busy with job hunting that they tend to skip the attendance of classes during this intense period of job search.

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