It goes without saying that applying for a job means having to write out a resume tailored specifically for the position. Japan as a country and society has many unique aspects and writing a Japanese resume is one of them. Though there are two major hiring seasons, early spring and late summer, but it’s never too late to start perfecting your resume.
In Japan a resume is referred to as a rirekishou (履歴書). It literally means background information and it’s a formal document with a strict structure. Being aware of the fundamental different expectations of a rirekishou can be the difference between an unsuccessful application and an invitation to a job interview.
Rirekishou can be purchased at convenience stores and stationery shops for less than 300 yen for a set of 3, including A4 sized white envelopes. Templates can also be downloaded for free here.
There’s an unspoken rule that a rirekishou must be handwritten by hand with black or blue ink, with no use of correction tape. If any mistakes are made, the form must be re-written again. For those that cannot speak or write Japanese yet this can be the most challenging and frustrating part of the process as there are many Japanese companies that place importance in a handwritten resume. However, due to an increase of applications from foreign residents and exchange students, hiring boards have become more open to accepting rirekishou that have been typed on a computer.
Whether you choose to hand-write your resume or type it out on a word processor, each section of the rirekishou has specific rules on how it should be filled out. This comprehensive guide will take you step by step in creating a resume that will impress future employers!
The first section of any rirekishou will require you to fill in your personal details such as your name, birthdate, current age, gender, current residential address, e-mail added and phone number.
It’s pretty straightforward but there are a few things to keep in mind such as:
- Name – In Japanese the the surname comes first then the first name follows. Unless you have a Japanese name written in Kanji, use Katakana. If you’re not sure how to write your name in Katakana you can use this English to Japanese name converter to help you out.
- Dates – All dates should be written using the Japanese nengo calendar. Simply put the nengo calendar is the name of the era named after the current Japanese emperor of that time. You can use this converter to check what your birthdate is in Japanese. Another thing to note is that Japanese dates are written the opposite to Western countries – Year, Month, Day.
- Address – Often there are two lines for writing an address, 現住所 (current address) and 連絡先 (additional contact address). The order of how addresses are written in Japanese differs completely to how they are written in Western countries. Addresses should be written in the following order: Post Code, Prefecture, Ward/City, Town, OO Choume, OO Ban, OO Go If you’re applying with a foreign residential address, think largest to smallest when writing out your address. For example the address to Disneyland Park in Florida would be written like this: USA, CA 92802, Anaheim, 1313 Disneyland Drive Whether the address is a Japanese or a foreign one, they should all have readings written above or in the space provided in hiragana or katakana.
- Phone Number – For those applicants who don’t have a Japanese phone number, you can purchase a fixed line number on Skype as an alternative option.
In the top right section of a Japanese resume, there is always a blank square reserved for a photo. Attaching a photo to a resume is not a common practise abroad. In fact in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the U.S, it’s often frowned upon as it can result in discrimination based on gender, skin colour, appearance ect. However, attaching a professional headshot is a compulsory part of a rirekishou.
The headshot should be a passport-sized photo, taken with a clear background. This will be the first time hiring managers will be seeing you before the interview so put your best foot forward and make a positive first impression by dressing conservatively as if attending a job interview. Men typically wear a dark coloured suit and a tie with tidy hair. Women should ensure their make-up is natural-looking and those with long hair should have it tied up.
There are photo booths found throughout Japan that specialize in taking photos just the right size for resumes and passports for less than 700 yen. Much like the purikura booths they can remove any redness or blemishes on your skin and will print out a set of photos within a few minutes.
Academic Record 学歴
Most rirekishou templates will have two separate sections for the academic record (学 歴) and the employment history (職歴).
Some templates will combine the sections together, in that case start by writing 学歴 in the top centre line. Immediately below the header you can begin writing your academic information in chronological order, from oldest to most recent.
It’s common to start with the date of your high school graduation but if you have an extensive academic history (master’s, doctorate, second degree etc.) you can omit it. Each school should have two lines dedicated to it, the first showing the date of enrolment and the second for graduation. Write down the country and school name. If applicable you can also add the program title and level.
For tertiary education make sure to also write down the faculty and department. If necessary, a line can be inserted between the enrolment and graduation lines to list particularly majors and minors. To list a graduation thesis, it should be inserted between between the enrolment and graduation lines.
The format to use will look something like this:
Take note of how the date is written. In contrast to countries such as the USA, UK, Australia etc. the date is recorded in reverse chronological order -Year, Month. The year can be written either using the Japanese nengo system or the Gregorian calendar. Try to stick with one system throughout your resume.
At the end of this section, on the right side of the following line, don’t forget to write 以上 (end of entry).
Here’s an example of education background 学歴 section:
|平成25||9||シアトル大学 経済部 入学 (アメリカ)|
|平成28||6||シアトル大学 経済部 卒業 (アメリカ)|
|平成29||4||東京日本大学大学院 経済研究科 入学|
|平成30||3||東京日本大学大学院 経済研究科 卒業|
Employment History 職歴
Again if the academic record and employment history sections are combined, leave one line empty after the academic record entries and write 職歴 in the middle of the next line. Similarly to the previous section, your employment history should also be written in chronological order from oldest to newest positions. Do not include part-time jobs in this section.
Two lines should be dedicated per job, one for when you started the position and one for when you left the company. You should write a short and concise description of your previous roles. You don’t need to elaborate on duties and responsibilities of all your previous jobs as they are often discussed during the interview stage. However, it’s important to state the reasons for leaving a previous position.
Here are three useful and commonly used expressions for explaining them:
- 一身上の都合により退職 (left for personal reasons)
- 契約期間満了につき退社 (contract ended)
- 会社都合により退社 (left for company reasons)
But if you are still currently working at that company write 現在に至る. If you have no work experience, you can write 無し. Unlike most English-speaking countries abroad, having no experience can be a disadvantage but traditional Japanese companies tend to favour those applicants without any previous experience. This makes it easier for the company to train potential employees in the company ways and culture. Grad students and entry-level applicants can use this section to demonstrate any relevant internships or voluntary activities they have been involved in which may benefit the open position. There’s no need to write a reason for leaving or quitting such programs.
To end this section, on the following line write 以上 (end of entry).
Here’s an example of employment history 職歴 section:
|平成26||2||株式会社 シアトル物産 入社(アメリカ)|
|平成28||5||株式会社 サンフランシスコ物産 入社(アメリカ)|
Be sure to use the official name of the company and not its commercial name. If you are not sure you can check it out on the company website or Wikipedia if it’s a well known company.
Be prepared to answer any questions during the interview stage regarding why you left any previous position. Regardless of your reasons, do not badmouth previous employers. Japanese companies will not see this in a favourable light.
Qualifications and Licenses 免許・資格
This section is dedicated to listing any qualifications, licenses or certificates you have accumulated in your professional career. It’s recommended to mention only those that are relevant and practical to the position you’re applying for. Foreign applicants can take advantage of this section by mentioning their JLPT certification, Kanji Kanken level or Japanese driving licence. Japanese companies will be impressed by the effort the applicant has put in towards their education to improve their career.
The only exception is that your university degree should not be listed here.
Reason for Application 志望動機
This is the most important part of the rirekishou and can make or break your application. In this section there’s more room for creativity and to able to show your personal interests and skills.
In order to make the best impression to the hiring manager, keep these 3 main points in mind while writing your reasons for applying for the position.
- Be sure to add details specific to the position you are applying for, connecting them to your personal strengths, experiences and accomplishments.
- Express how your career has developed over time and where you hope to take it. Recruiters are interested in applicants that will stay with the company and fully engage in company projects and goals.
- Try to talk about the characteristics of the company and how you would fit in well within the company. You can find out more about the company either by looking at the job description or the company website.
When writing your reasons for applying, try to be aware of how you come off to the hiring manager. If you’re mention about wanting to gain certain skills at the company, it can give off the impression that you’re simply using the company as a step-up for your career. Traditional Japanese companies with long histories in particular, do not like it when their employees use them as a stepping stone for a better position offered in another company. These types of companies prefer to hire employees that will stay working for them for the rest of their natural lives.
If you’re applying for a specific position, take a closer look at the information provided about the job opening. They will often mention what makes the ideal candidate.
Requests and Miscellaneous Information
There are various different Japanese resume templates, some placing emphasis on skills or work history, but all will include a custom section where you can indicate any of the following:
Commuting Time 通勤時間
In this section you can fill in your maximum desired commuting time. Keep in mind that in urban centres like Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, it’s common to have an hour’s commute from home to the office.
Marital Status 配偶者
If you’re uncomfortable offering this information, it’s acceptable to leave it blank as it’s not necessary.
Number of Dependents 扶養者
If you have a spouse (配偶者) or a partner you need to support (配偶者の扶養義務) you can mention them here.
The final section of a rirekishou is another personalised section where you can state your expectations of the new role. Applicants can throw in a ballpark of what they hope to earn salary-wise, working hours, position, office location (if there are various offices available), etc.
It’s recommended to at least write something in this section. Leaving it blank can display a lack of interest for the position and company. You can at least write 勤務条件は貴社の 規定に従います which means you are willing to negotiate or accept the conditions offered by the company during the interview stage.
After completely filling out your rireskisou, place it in an A4 or B5 size white envelope. The form should not be folded!
If you’re sending in your resume by email, it’s best to convert it to a PDF file. This will ensure that the format stays clean. You can change a Word document to PDF easily. Simply select “Save As” and select PDF for the file type below the document name.
If you choose to hand-write your Japanese resume, double check for any errors. If there are any, do not use correction fluid, tape or cross the mistake out. This will not only look sloppy but will also give off the impression that you don’t care about the job and company that you’re applying to!
If you’re applying to a foreign or international company with a base in Japan, it’s recommended to send in both a Japanese style and a Western style resume. American hiring managers are known to skip over applicants that only send in a rirekishou. By sending in two style, it shows your dedication and interest in the open position and understanding of the Japanese working culture.