Many people dream of studying abroad in Japan, but what if that goal has already been achieved? You might find yourself lost in your hectic student life in Japan, wondering what the next step would be like. Whatever your decision might be, one thing is certain: you need all the information you can get unless you want to regret your life choices later on. Don’t worry, Schoolynk is here to help! To give you some idea of what it might look like to find yourself a career in Japan, I reached out to Natalie to get to know her and find out what she thinks about her career in Japan.
Natalie was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. Upon her high school graduation, she received the MEXT scholarship in Japan through the Royal Thai Embassy’s recommendation. She moved to Japan roughly five years ago, in 2014. After spending a year learning Japanese at Osaka University, she moved to Tokyo to pursue an undergraduate degree in Control and Systems Engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Recently graduated from college, she is now working as a software engineer at an investment bank in Tokyo. What’s her secret to having a successful job hunting in Japan? Without further ado, let’s hear her story.
The moment you discovered that you were selected as a MEXT scholar, how did you envision your future? Did you see yourself staying in Japan, even after graduation?
To be honest, I had no idea that I would be where I am right now. When I got the scholarship, I thought I might end up getting a job at a Japanese-owned company back in Thailand, managing a local branch of some multinationals, or doing something related to Japan and Thailand, probably in Bangkok. Back then, I thought that might be what I would be doing in the future, but *spoiler alert* that’s not the case! (laugh) I am working here in Japan at an international company, doing something that is totally different from my graduated major. I haven’t imagined that at all.
The life you’re living right now is quite different from what you’ve expected. What changed your mind?
That’s quite a long story! In college, I studied robotics, which is mainly focused on mechanical and electrical engineering. I had some free time and I felt like doing something different. With my knowledge of engineering alone, I would not be able to make an impact on this world. I couldn’t make products that would not only improve people’s lives but also generate profits at the same time. With that in mind, I realized that I should try something new. I felt really lucky to attend an event called Slush Tokyo – a startup and technology conference that was held in English.
At that time, I wasn’t really fluent in Japanese, but I wanted to explore the start-up scene and discover what’s trending in the tech world to help decide my future career. I had a chance to meet with people in the startup community and became interested in launching my own business. The following year, I joined the organizing member and became the finance officer of the team. I became interested in finance and how the capital gets transferred around the world. It was around that moment that I thought finance or business might be something interesting to learn about in the future.
I applied for an internship at an investment bank at the end of my third year in college. I got an offer to join the internship program, so I decided to try it out. Ultimately, I got an offer for a full-time position as well, so I decided to join this company where I interned.
Does that mean you discovered Slush when you were a second-year student? That’s great!
Yeah! I was a sophomore back then. It was really an eye-opening moment for me because I really got to see what people were doing out there in the real world outside the classroom. You can see all the cool things like VR and gadgets everywhere.
What’s the main thing you learned from Slush?
I learned a lot of things, and the most important lesson that I learned was: “You can do anything if you really really want to.” As I mentioned, I never imagined myself working anywhere outside Thailand, but then I realized like, “Wait…I don’t have to go back and work in Thailand. I can be anywhere in the world, and still helping the country!” Another major thing I realized was that I didn’t have to be an engineer just because I majored in engineering. You can be anything; You can do anything; and if you genuinely help other people, you can make the world a better place.
It feels as if the limitations that you had imposed on yourself were completely gone!
Yeah, that’s true!
When you finally got rid of the limitations, what were the steps you took to realize your dreams?
First of all, I conducted comprehensive research on possible future careers. At the beginning of my Junior year (around June-July), I attended a huge career fair that had all the big companies from different industries – all of them were there! I liked talking to people, so I just went there to talk to the people from different companies to see what they do, what was out there, and just simply learn from the people who are actually from those companies. By doing these, you can get an idea of what you might want to do in the future.
At first, my scope was really wide and diverse, but then I gradually narrowed it down to only finance and engineering, as I was still open to opportunities in the area I specialized in college. In the end, I got offers from two companies, one was an engineering position in securities broker team at my current company, and the other was at a car manufacturer. In the end, I decided to choose finance.
Was the career fair held in Japan, or was it the famous bilingual career forum in the US?
There are many ways to get in touch with companies that you are interested in. The career forum I attended was just a typical career forum in Japan. Personally, I think career forums in Japan are as good as career forums abroad if your end goal is to work in Japan. It is fine to attend either one of them or even both. It all comes down to which works better for each person.
How does it feel looking for jobs in Japan as a foreigner?
Initially, I was surprised that there were certain ways that you have to be dressed – you have to wear some particular types of shoes and carry some particular types of bags to the interviews. It doesn’t quite make sense to me. In terms of communication, I had an advantage because I learned to speak fluent business Japanese during my time at Slush. Because of that, I didn’t find any difficulties in interacting with recruiters or interviewers. The one I attended was very early as well, so there were no formal interviews. Rather, the career forum served as a platform that allows companies and students to connect. Companies from various industries provided info sessions to students who wanted to get to know them better. It was more casual in the sense that you can just go there and find some useful information for yourself. In this type of event, you don’t have to stress over it too much. It’s more about you discovering what is out there.
Did you apply for many different companies after that career forum?
No, not really. I was more interested in internships because I wanted to experience working at the companies, so I only applied to those that offered them. I got into three internships that lasted a couple of weeks each. One was at a multinational engineering company where I got an opportunity to work on the project developing an automobile braking system. They sent all the interns to Vietnam, where we could observe the actual work. I met so many people from different countries through that internship. Another internship I went to was at my current company. I worked at the front office as a sales and trading staff. This internship lasted for two weeks, and it was a great way to observe how the company operates and to get to know so many talented people at the company.
You also spent a few years working at a startup company as a student. Why did you choose big firms over startups?
Actually, I have always known that I want to launch my own company someday, but I feel that I should learn from many different perspectives while I’m still young. Having worked as a small team at a startup, I wanted to experience a different working culture and see things from a different point of view. Working a corporate job, I can learn more about how to structure a corporation and how things work there, and maybe try to figure out the best way to run a company on my own.
Is there anything you found surprising/ unexpected living a life of a young professional?
The experience working at a big company can really vary, depending on the small team that you work in. Even though it is the same company, the experience of each new employee will be very different. It totally depends on the people you interact with on a daily basis. As a recent graduate taking on my very first job, I felt that I really underestimated that. I want to tell the readers that it’s okay to have a gap between expectation and reality – it’s not the end of the world. It’s good that you recognize it, so you can develop a clear picture of what you want to become.
Also, don’t limit yourself only to where you are right now. There are plenty of opportunities out there for you to work your way towards your dream. I regularly check-in with myself to keep myself on track of where I want to be in the long run. As I transitioned from student life to career life, there are plenty of things that can change you and might cause you to divert from your original goals. To put it simply, my advice for first-time job seekers would be – stay informed about the companies you might want to work at, be flexible if things don’t turn out the way you expected, but also stay true to yourself even while you’re living a busy life getting ahead in your career.
Any advice for people who want to have a career in Japan?
I would say that it’s not easy working here, but I think you can learn a lot from it. There will be things you don’t understand, but you will be able to adapt and get through it. Coming here has helped me to adapt to a different culture. Thanks to the hardships and occasional setbacks that I have experienced, I learned to get back on my feet and become stronger. It’s a great experience that tremendously helped me grow as a person.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s very common to work in a field that is different from what you learned in college. Even at my company, there are people from all kinds of backgrounds. When you look for a job, it’s more about your interests and what you can see yourself doing in the future. There are no limitations that you need to have a specific degree to get into the companies.
Interested in having a career in Japan? Learn the DOs and DON’Ts for job hunting in Japan here.