Friday, 9 May 2014

Finding work in Tokyo - Part 2: First "job" / Early business suit business

My first "job"

Sometimes it's all about the people you know and to be there at the right time. My 1st actual job wasn't a job I applied for or thought about in the first place. A friend of mine, Hirofumi, who happens to be a talented Jazz guitarist (see his blog and schedule here), contacted me on Facebook and asked if I could help out a friend of his. It was about a medial research and they appearantly needed some Gaijin for a study about some facial cleaning or exercise device. I was a bit sceptical at first but the 19.000 Yen for doing work from home told me to look into it.

I was contacted by his Japanese friend and we quickly exchanged the necessary details for the study and I got registered with their web system. It was all in Japanese and I barely had an idea what it was about. After I was approved I was told to come to their office for an initial screening. When I was on site, I needed help from the Japanese staff who could speak a bit of English, without her I would have been totally lost and given up on the intial questionnaire already. I tried though. To take a picture with Google Translate and translating the Kanji-heavy text did the trick most of the times...well, sometimes. Given the nature of this questionnaire (like: "Do you understand Japanese?" or "Have you had any major operations in the last 12 months?"), I had to answer it precisely correct...well...you get my point.

Before I was given the plastic abstrusity I had to use every night before going to bed from then on, my face was photographed from different angles thoroughly. They had me smile and say "weeee" all the time, so they could see how my cheeks and wrinkles look like. The "weeee" part was the funniest one, especially because they asked me to do more "weeeeee" all the time. もっと!もっとウイイイイイください!It was like the "more cowbell" joke.

The device I was given was hillarious. It was like a mouthpiece looking propeller with exchangable weights at both ends. I had to put it in my mouth, hold it with my lips only (don't bite it) and then move my head up and down so the weights at the ends would wiggle and excercise my face. If you made it this far without laughing, congratulations. Unfortunately, I didn't keep a picture of it or the description I was given. If I'll find one, I'll upload it. It just looked too silly ^_^

I was meant to use it every single day for before going to bed and check off a short questionnaire online after, 2 months in a row. Altogether I think I used it maybe around 10 to 14 times but then just left it in the bag and filled out the questionnaire each night instead. Well, not even each day. They reminded of my missed days every bloody time by email. But how would they be able to tell the difference if I used it or not? It was a useless product anyways. Maybe it wouldn't even work on Gaijin, hehe.

Do I feel bad about not using it and basically cheating on the study? A little actually, yes. But seriously, do they really expect people to use it and even have visible results?

Given the situation I was in, money-wise, I had no real regrets. I used it when I could, filled out the daily questionnaire and went to the "photo-shoots" ("weeeee") before finally giving the device back to them. I still receive a lot of invites every month for various research studies and maybe one day there will be another one I can do.

Early business suit business

Before I even arrived in Japan I had two business events scheduled. One was an event of the Deutsch-Japanischer Wirtschaftskreis and the other a business party of the large LinkedIn group Business in Japan.

The first event was more face-marketing, showing myself and getting to know the German players in the Japanese business world. Unfortunately, I had no business cards ready at that time, but I hoped I would leave an impression anyways.

It felt like being back on the sales grind in Germany. Important looking people speaking about important things and patting each others backs more or less. I didn't like it much. Some speeches/presentations were quite interesting though, but afterwards ruined by long questions from a certain Japanese business guy who liked to hear himself speak in English, basically not even asking a question but only showing his insight on the topic.

Being in the room with a lot of top notch companies working with or interested in working with German companies made me hope I could get some contacts for my future career. Talking to them wasn't easy at all. Verena, who accompanied me pointed out some faces to me, most of them German of course and she even introduced me to some of them. Soon however I was left alone and had to find people to talk to again. Boy, that's why I hated my old job somethings. With the pressure of thinking "I have to talk to them and make a good impression" I wasn't relaxed and felt uncomfortable, so it was even harder. I did meet some nice people, one being a sophisticated German guy who worked in the stock exchange. Quickly after exchanging facts about ourselves, he offered to show me the "real side" of the Tokyo nightlife and I wasn't really sure what he meant by that. Needless to say I was intriuged.

In the end I collected a couple of business cards, met a couple of interested people and plundered the buffet. The beforementioned Japanese business guy made another speech later, praising the glorious economy and future of Japan. I'm not sure if this was meant to be a motivational speech or if he really believed in what he said. To me it sounded a bit far from the truth and very typical for Japan. But what do I know about the Japanese economy?

The second event I went to was a fancy business party at club Le G.A., organized by the LinkedIn Group Business in Japan. Before coming to Japan I reached out to one of the co-founders and most active members of the group, Jason Ball. I was looking forward to meet him in person too since he kind of seemed to be somewhat of a foot in the door into the Japanese IT business sector.

Because I arrived way too early and ended up being one of the first guests, I was approached by another early bird named Johan (Dutch, web-developer, in Japan forever, came for a woman) and we ended up talking a looooong time about many different things. It was a business party so there were drinks too, which clearly helped me in relaxing a bit more this time. The speakers did a better job this time, but unfortunately the later the evening, the less people in the audience cared about the presentations and no one could understand a word anymore. But at that time, everyone was happily mingling and mixing. The overall topic was "On the way to 2020", meaning what business opportunities there are in the future with the upcoming Olympics coming to Japan again. I even had a few chats in Japanese with familiar faces from BiJ. Jason hooked me up with a seemingly random IT contact of his after I told him what I could do and what I need. One interesting thing he said was that my timing to come to Japan is perfect. One year before, he wouldn't have said the same, the opportunities were rare and the possibilities declining. Anyhow, this guy's body language and other responses clearly showed that he wasn't interested in a part-time worker / language student combination. A common reaction in the next months...

One of the Japanese guys I talked to introduced me to an attractive HR lady from one of the bigger players in Japan. She seemed interested in my background but confused me when she asked why I would wear a business suit tonight. As in "You don't work yet, why do you come in a business suit?". After a moment of confusion I replied "Uhm, because I look good in a suit of course. Why would I wear jeans and t-shirt for a business event like this?"

I still don't know why she had asked that question...

After 3 drinks and the bad feeling of wasting my money (entrance fee was already around 2000 Yen inlcuding a drink), I left the scene. I collected some business cards and met a couple of people, that was it. Contacting them later didn't help much. The HR lady lost her interest the second she realized I couldn't fit into one of her categories, meaning she couldn't "sell" me easily. Another common reaction in the next months...

I left the party relatively early because I saw no point in staying there and mingling with the others. I didn't feel part of it and I wasn't outgoing enough to throw myself and my professionality at them...yet. But at least I looked fly in a suit.



Another business suit moment was the Daijob Job Fair the day after in Akihabara. A couple of interesting employers had booth there to speak with interested applicants. The Japanese job world consisted of distinctive groups, one being the pre- and new-graduates and the mid-career people. The pre-graduates were basically college students without any work experience who started their job hunt sometimes 20+ months before they would graduate. It was like a race, thousands of desperate boys and girls (literally) in black suits would join job fairs, send out resumes, attend complicated, multi-level interviews to find that one company and job for the rest of their lives. It was the most stressful time for these young minds, for some it proved even fatal if they couldn't get a job within a certain time. But more about that in a later post.

I counted as a mid career person, even though I didn't have a job. This job fair was particulary targeted at bi-lingual people, so international companies were present as well. Best of all, it was free! I surely wouldn't impress them with my Japanese so I focused less on job/internship hunting but instead on the task that I was asked to do by Verena, namely to hand out flyers for the Internship Japan idea of hers and talk to companies who would want to join the cause. A promising cause it was, but my part in it was rather small at that time, but would ultimately change during the upcoming months.

After registration I did some rounds in the mid-sized fair hall. All companies had booths with at least two seats behind and two to eight seats in front of their booth table. Ralph Lauren had the most of them, people were lining up and waiting for over 40mins to hand over their resumes and have a 5min talk with the HR people at the booth. Some other companies had bigger booths with many small tables for closer conversations. I sat down with a couple of interesting companies and had chats about Internship Japan, getting mixed reactions. Of course I did some promotion for myself, talking to a Spanish guy who ran a solar cell and/or renewable energy company.

I noticed a booth by Mitsubishi FuSo/Daimler, which is one of the bigger companies with German ties in Japan. The HR lady in front of the booth had a German name tag, so I approached her and did my best professional flirting (as in trying to get a job, alright?). She was pretty nice and we talked for more than the polite 5 minutes It turned out that the IT department of FuSo/Daimler might be the perfect spot for me to do an internship. The company culture, work environment, the Head of IT and everything seems like a perfect fit. On top of that, we connected on a professional level with how we approached our mission in Japan and so on. This felt very promising!

Being back home, I emailed her, registered myself on their job web-portal and submitted formal applications for the IT Controlling internship starting January 2014. I kept my fingers crossed and stayed in close contact with the HR lady over the next couple of weeks.

But in the end, it was all hot air and one of the poorest ways of communication I've seen. The HR lady couldn't give me any updates because the Head of IT didn't get back to her about me. Even the sophistaced web-portal they used for the application wasn't any better. The status of my application was unchanged for the whole time. After 3 phone and 2 email inquires over 6-8 weeks I decided to give it up. During the last call she said "actually, but we already had some interviews, but we haven't decided yet". I wasn't even invited to one, but no one bothered to tell me if I'm still a possible candidate or not. Very dissapointing and quite unprofessional communication, in my honest opinion.

Fast forward to January 2014. I just came back from Taiwan after a short break over Christmas and New Year's Eve. To my surprise, the Head of IT emailed me, apologizing for not coming back to me earlier. He wrote (quote):

Dear Mr. Meyer,

Sorry for not being able to come back to you on an earlier timeframe. The reason for this is that we didn’t have any open internship positions at the time.

I would like to inform you that we have a position open at the IT Controlling department. I was wondering if you’re still available for an internship.

I would like to attend you that if you want to be applicable for this internship you have to be enrolled into a University. If this is not the case I’m afraid that you can’t apply for this position.

Please let me know if you’re interested.

Kind regards,
XXX XXX

Now that was a serious surprise to me. I was kind of happy that I still had a chance and kind of annoyed in how poorly they communicate with each other and the candidates. But I wouldn't leave this opportunity pass me by, so I replied:

Dear XXX XXX,
thank you for your message and a happy belated new year to you!

I am still very interested in a paid internship position, yes. However, I am not enrolled in an university but a private language school in Tokyo. Technically I qualify as a student since my visa status is also that of a student (留学生).

Maybe I am not the right candidate by your internship rules and regulations but with my 13+ years of work experience in the IT business I might be the better candidate for your company after all. Since my intention is to stay in Japan with a full-time job later, chances are also higher this internship would benefit the both of us in the future. I leave it up to you to decide that of course.

Thank you again and hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards

Michael Meyer

Guess what happened?

Nothing...

No. Reply. Ever. Again.

Even after I sent another reminder, there was no reply again. In my book, this is an absolute no-go, especially in IT. Definitely not worth my time and energy. So I had to move on with a bitter feeling inside me.

Part 3 will cover four various job interviews. One of them got me my first real part-time job in Japan. One got me really close to it. Stay tuned.