Sunday, 1 June 2014

Finding work in Tokyo - Part 3: Job interviews and lowered standards

Time to post about some of the job interviews I had in Japan.

Internet business

The first and most promising one was at Hivelocity, a Japanese online marketing and social media company. Again, the connection came via Verena and Internship Japan. Fabian, originally from Peru and in Japan for over 10 years, was looking for someone to assist with marketing and sales and posted about it in the LinkedIn group Internship Japan. We agreed to an interview date even before I left Germany. Fabian is a nice guy and definitely a party animal, which we soon found out after going clubbing together.

The interview itself was quite interesting. I was given a colorful and impressive company presentation, completly in Japanese. I didn't understand anything because I couldn't read shit at that time, but Fabian explained it to me as well as what the company was looking for. The interview quickly became more of a chat than an actual interview. He sure knew how it feels to be a foreigner in Japan and having to work under tough working conditions in addition to the language and cultural barrier. I told him what I did in the past and what I can do in the future. It was all Internet talk and I really enjoyed it. They had a pretty impressive tool in use and I was quite curious what I could do with (see: Hubspot). He definitely saw some potential in me but not in the originally drafted internship position. I told him openly that I'm more a consultant than a sales guy, even though I believe you always have to play both when you work in IT. He, in fact, was looking for a wingman, a partner, a guy who he could work together, and not a inexperienced subordinate. Needless to say, I liked that idea more than being an intern. I even ended up doing some free sales strategy consulting for him, basically giving him ideas on how to gather potential customers from their database and how to go forward with their future projects.

At the end of the interview however, we weren't sure on how to work together exactly. Would there a position for me or not? Could he convince his boss to facilitate my skills or not? Fabian gave me some homework, which was a Hubspot publification on How to find the perfect inbound marketer. There were some pretty private questions but I felt obliged to answer them all. Some of the questions were:
  • Who was your favorite teacher and why?
  • What is your "super power" that would be crazy not to use?
  • Tell me about an important project and the outcome the project drove.
  • What was one of the most difficult decisions you've ever made?
  • What or who is the most inspirational thing in your life?
  • How do you inspire and motivate others in your everyday life?
It was a pretty interesting self-discovery trip and looking at my answers now after 8 months in Japan is even more. I tried to answer them all, even if I didn't really want to answer some of them. But I wanted to work in this company, with this tool and with this guy. It had the perfect balance of things I knew already and things I would have to learn, so I felt that this could be the perfect start for my time in Japan.

In the end, it was the prototype example for the honest intentions of a nice guy who couldn't convince his boss to follow through. Instead they hired a WordPress programmer or something like that. Quite a bummer. But at least we enjoyed some great party nights together after, haha.

From dishwasher to...

The second interview was at the German restaurant "Zum Einhorn". Not only Verena but many other Germans worked at this restaurant before. Noda Sensei was quite a famous chef in Japan, well known for his German cuisine and knowledge about Germany. His restaurant was definitely upper class, the location in Roppongi Ichoume alone was speaking for itself. Mercedes-Benz was in the same building too.

I spoke almost only Japanese during my interview, which was good. But I didn't bring my CV, which was bad. The chef seemed like a super nice guy though and like a young grandfather or older uncle. The interview was short but ok and I was rewarded with a suprise call the very next. They asked me if I could work at a party and of course, I said yes.

Being November already, it was rather cool outside and that always seems to trigger the average Japanese person's instinct to blast the aircon on hellfire mode. Or in other words, I was sweating in seconds because of the heat in and around the restaurant and because I wore way too many clothes on my body. But at least I looked rad in the kitchen uniform. Everyone thought I was a cook, not just a dishwasher.

My face when I was told not to WHISTLE at work...
Oh yeah, that was my primary work. I washed dishes. Well, I pre-washed them mostly, then put them in the big automatic dishwasher and then dried up the dishes, glasses, pans, whatever. If we had a full restaurant and larger groups, this meant a constant flow of dirty dishes and cooking utensils to be handled in time. If I was too slow, the whole process was delayed, so I had no time to waste.

Team Unicorn
Putting everything back at the right place was quite a challenge, finding things they needed was also one. I got a hang out of it after a couple of days but after a two-day break I already forgot where this dish was stored and that pan should go to. First time working in a kitchen guys, give me a break. The breaks were actually the best part because I was served a huge German meal before I started work every time. Meat and/or fish, rice or noodles, salat or soup, I never started to work hungry and I never left the place hungry. There were so many leftovers to eat, I was seriously putting on weight after a couple of months.

Soon I was even allowed to help with some basic preparations like the starter salad. Even though the chef was always changing a detail, I could pretty much do it on my own. I learned how to properly cut onions and how to make icecream. I washed around a million potatoes and tossed a lot of salad. Wait...what?

Working was still a bit hard if I sum it all up. The constant steam of the dishwasher, the strong soap, the sharp knifes, the stress that some certain cook couldn't handle so well and tried to vent on me, the dull work in general and my lack of Japanese communication skills did not make me love this job very much. I usually worked from 5pm to sometimes 11pm, so I was pretty beat up afterwards, not really in the mood to study or up for other activities. The kitchen was also a bit too small for me. Well, I am obviously too tall for Japan, I know. But still, it was nice to work there and people were generally super nice and friendly. My other German colleagues made it worthwile too. Katja (in the picture above) even ended up being a language student at my school by my recommendation.

Oh and they had the best self-made chocolate cake ever! That alone was a reason to work there sometimes.

Mein erstes Essen im Restaurant

Who needs the Kwik-E Mart?

Around December, without making ends meet for months already, I became somewhat desperate and even considered working in a konbini, a 24 hour convenience store like the thousands of other under-qualified workers and foreigners in Japan. One of my housemates who improved her Japanese greatly by working in a konbini kinda talked me into giving it a try. Again, Verena was making the connection, just as before, so I thought I might as well try it.

So I dressed not too smart, not too casual for the interview and went to the store. The talk took place in a cramped backroom / office and pretty informal. I stumbled through the interview with my nervous Japanese, not really impressive but still ok. Two huge surprises though. For working in a konbini I had to shave my beard, completely! No way, I thought. He even showed me the page in the store manual stating this rule. Also, the manager seriously believed that the Japanese cash registers are far more complicated than actual personal computers. He kept stressing the point that there are soooo many features and even though I assured him that I have used cash registers in Germany before (in addition to the hardware and software skills I have anyways) and that I'm pretty confident in knowing how to use them, he still felt it might be too difficult for me because it's Japan and things are more complicated and complex here, right? Sure, whatever. In the end he was giving me his thumbs up and wanted me to talk to the main boss right away. So we took a short bicycle ride to the next store and I had the same talk with the female boss.

That second talk wasn't so good. She was a super hectical and nervous women. She mainly had a problem with my Japanese level and that customers wouldn't be patient enough to wait for me to understand. I told her I'm still learning it and that there is no better place to learn it here, i.e. polite Japanese (敬語). While talking she kept waving her hands in a dangerous manner, almost hitting me once with her gestures. In my guts I felt that she would be a really bad boss and probably super moody. We didn't click at all and the longer we talked, the smaller my self-esteem became and the less I wanted to work there. I felt bad that my Japanese level wasn't good enough yet and that I couldn't convince her that there wouldn't be a problem, not with my working hours, not with my Japanese. She was definitely making a mountain out of a molehill there.

Before I left she said in a jokingly manner "Don't shave your beard just yet, we will call you tomorrow about the job." They didn't. They just send back my CV without a note or further word. No surprises there.

I keep telling myself that I probably would have become crazy at this place, saying the same stuff all over and over again, hearing the doorbell and repetitive music and basically being an obediant faceless drone for a bunch of ungrateful customers. But then again...

Next up:How I reluctantly became an English teacher