Monday, 9 December 2013

The master plan (part 1)

If you know me, you know I'm a planner. I like to make plans in detail and organize everything in advance. I do this for various reasons, but mainly to feel safe and secure with the things ahead of me and make decisions based on informations not emotions. It took me years to realize and admit that I'm actually super emotional and spontaneous with my decisions, but I still favor a good plan rather than jumping head over heels into the unknown. My current life in Japan is the fruit of my labor so to say and so far everything works according to plan (it just takes bloody longer than expected).

Soon after I returned to Germany after New Year in Japan, I felt a little sad and questioned my current life (and love) situation. In some way, I had it all. I had a well-paid job with a future, a cool car, a spacious and cheap appartment, a nice TV, I was debt-free and had good friends in Berlin and all over the world. Well, I had no girlfriend or partner and occasionally felt alone and my recent love encounters all ended in me being heart-broken more or less, but honestly I couldn't say I was unhappy. I was happy. Kind of.

I wasn't fully happy. I wanted more. Or to be precise, I wanted something else. I wanted a challenge. I wanted a change.

On my last trip to Japan I met incredible people again, each of them with their own story about why they wanted to come to Japan. Most of them had less work experience, less Japanese language skills, less money, less of everything compared to me actually, but they had a lot more of Japan compared to me. They lived here and I was just visiting. So I figured, if they can do it, why can't I? The answer came quick; because I didn't even try yet.

So back home, I thought: if I want change, I have to start changing. I have to put myself out there, go to Japan and really do some stuff, not the half-hearted attempts and fun tourist visits in the past, I really have to be in Japan. Of course I wanted family, more sooner than later. But because that wasn't working out so well, why not try it somewhere else? I might be some years too late for it, but I'm not old enough to do it now. Now or never.

I went public on FB, like I always do.
So my first idea was to find work in Tokyo from Germany. Or something similar, like working for a German company here and living in Tokyo. I was open to anything actually. With all the people I knew already, all the contacts from and related to Japan, I thought there must be a way for me to land a job there. That's what I thought at least. I thought about taking my time for the job search and leave home around summer or autumn 2013. Being loyal as I am, I didn't want to leave my co-workers alone and give them enough time to find a replacement instead. I was still unsure on when exactly I would drop the bomb on my boss, but it happened shortly after during a car ride back from a business trip.

I could hear the dissapointment in his voice, but he took it like the good boss he is. I made it very clear, that this was my sincere intention but until I haven't made a detailed plan with reliable results, there's no need to hand in my notice.

My first steps then were to contact my friends in and from Japan. One of them even used to work in HR. Lina provided me with a lot of email addresses and valuable advice. What I did then was to update my CV. I think I only updated my CV twice in my whole life, simply because I only needed it twice so far. Every interview I did in the past got me the job, so I definitely had to put in some work into updating. More important, I needed an English version of it. Lina suggested a Japanese version too, but I was neither fluent enough to write one nor did I focus on the Japanese (speaking) companies at that time.

It took some weeks to finalize a flashy CV with all the things I wanted to be in it. Next step was to send it out, with a neat and convincing cover letter. I gathered 24 email addresses to send it to, but 10 of them bounced back and guess what, maybe one or two of the remaining 14 ever replied...

But there were other options of course. I searched the internet, following suggestions from friends and put the bigger, English speaking companies into focus. I sent an online application to Rakuten, who supposedly changed their internal communication language fully to English. They were also hiring on general qualifications at that time, not necessarily for certain positions. I also tried VMware and HP, mainly for full-time consulting jobs, even when they were requiring a higher level of Japanese than mine. None of them worked out. Some sent me an automated negative reply, some didn't even care to reply.

We're now in March 2013. My intention was still strong, but I was wondering how I can really achieve what I wanted to. So I decided to increase the level of difficulty. I booked a flight to Tokyo for mid August, one-way ticket. I was pretty excited at this time and my friends and family all encouraged me in my plans. I don't think ther was one single person who doubted me or expressed their concern of possible failure. All of them believed that I can make it, even my boss. It was the best compliment ever, but also put so much pressure on me because I knew that failure would not be an option, neither to myself nor to the expectation of the others.

Funny enough, after posting about my booked flight to Tokyo, most people thought I already had found a job and began to congratulate me. So I had to tell them to be patient, but again it was a huge compliment and kept me going.

Some days before I booked my flight I have had a phone interview with Patrick, an American recruiter/headhunter in Tokyo. He was a friend of Daniel, the half American, half Japanese guy from Kobara senseis dojo in Kisarazu. Hooking me up with Patrick alone was proof to me that it's all about the contacts and connections in this world. The talk was pretty good but I was literally running out of breath because I was talking fast and walking about the flat during the phone call. But it was a promising phone interview and kept my spirits up.

The second phone interview I had was with a German recruiter working at another company in Tokyo. He was around my age and we had a nice chat about my plans and experiences. He assured me that my approach is quite legit and that he was around the same age when he did the same. He ended up as a recruiter though, which I heard many foreigners do apart from teaching. It seemed to me that he wasn't fully happy with his job, but money doesn't stink, right? The many compliments he made made me raise my eyebrow a little. Was he simply trying to sweet-talk me or was I really such a promising candidate?

I began to re-activate my account at LinkedIn, now that I had an English CV. Putting in all the information in English, especially my 13+ years of work experience was quite annoying, but it had to be done. Also, LinkedIn has a horrible site navigation and layout. That's why I wasn't really interested in using it, but with all the English speaking contacts and companies there, I simply had to start using it.

It soon proved to be a wise decision. I will tell you why in the 2nd part of my "master plan" :)