Japanese College Student Job-Hunting System in Transition (1)

January 31, 2018 [No.61-2018]

Prof. Yoshio OKUNISHI
Faculty of Business Administration, Hosei University


In Japan, college student job-hunting - called “shukatsu” - is conducted in a fairly coordinated manner. Every year, “Keidanren” (Japan Business Federation) issues a guideline on recruitment, and many domestic large companies seemingly follow it. It has a long history, and the schedules have been changed many times (and it was once abolished). Despite many criticisms, it has survived for many years probably because there are some merits rather than demerits. In October 2018, however, “Keidanren” decided to withdraw from stipulating and administering this guideline. For the graduates in March 2021 and thereafter, the government is to play that role. In what follows, I will explain the main features of the current job-hunting process of Japanese college students.


The academic year starts in April and ends in March in Japan. Most students start their job-hunting activities in the middle of their third year, and finish them in the middle of their fourth year. Currently, the official process is as follows. (i) At the end of the third year (i.e., in March), firms are allowed to hold briefing sessions on their business outlines and recruitment plans. (ii) Then, in June of the fourth year, they can start selection of applicants - most importantly job interviews. Soon after this, unofficial promises of employment - called “naitei” - are made. (iii) At the beginning of October, many firms have ceremonies for those who got “naitei.” (iv) If students can graduate at the end of the fourth year, they start working in April all at once, regardless of the timing of “naitei.”


The actual process, however, is much more complicated. First, since the official process is based on the guideline stipulated by “Keidanren,” non-member companies do not feel obliged to follow it. Indeed, foreign companies or newly-growing companies may start and finish the recruitment process much earlier - say, by April of the fourth year. In contrast, the process of relatively small companies who have difficulty in hiring new graduates tend to be later or prolonged up to the very end of the fourth year.


Second, even among the member companies of “Keidanren,” the compliance is not perfect at all. For example, the hiring advertisement activities of firms start well before March of the third year. They may take the form of a short-term internship, in which even pre-selections could be made. Furthermore, at the time of the stage (i) official briefing sessions, applicants are requested to submit application sheets - called “entry sheets” - and to take some sort of aptitude test. Thus, informal job offers may be made to promising applicants before stage (ii) the official start of selection.


In addition, I will mention some “peculiar” features of the college student job-hunting system in Japan. For example, the “entry sheet” is similar to a résumé or curriculum vitae in western countries, but not quite the same. In Japan, the format is specified by each company, and usually it must be hand-written. When I talked about this to foreign students in my class, they were really surprised, saying “It’s a waste of time!” My answer was that companies would like to restrict the number of applicants to save selection costs by putting a burden on applicants.


Another question was “Why are aptitude tests necessary for college students?” My answer was that the pool of applicants was quite diverse even though they were all college students and that having uniform test scores would be helpful to select them. Then they commented that companies could use the information of schools and academic grades of each applicant. I agree. But here’s an interesting point. Although Japanese companies do use the information of schools in selecting applicants (probably more so than individual academic records), they don’t want to openly admit that. So, using an aptitude test by the third party can be a reasonable detour.


Still another question was posed by a European student. He said, “I can look for a suitable job by myself and at the best time for me. So, I don’t like to follow a predetermined schedule set by others.” This is a fundamental question, and I want to discuss it next time.


There is a feature which even Japanese may feel unreasonable. If students cannot get a job from companies they want to work for, what do they do? An annoying thing is that many Japanese companies do not class those who have already graduated from college as qualified applicants in the same way as newly graduating students. So, some of those students may choose to delay their graduation on purpose, i.e., repeat the fourth year, to get the status of a “haenuki shain” (purebred employee) instead of a mid-career hire!


The Japanese college student job-hunting system, good or bad, is closely related to other elements of the country’s total HRM system, which I want to discuss next time.


Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.