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School brand name when job-hunting in Japan – Pt. 2 Spoiler: Your school name alone is not enough and how to go beyond it

In a previous article – I explored how your school name can affect your job-hunting chances to a big degree. Some of you who read it may have read it with relief or even glee. Some of you maybe with horror and despondency.

This is the follow up article to tell you that both these sentiments are misplaced.

As mentioned previously, school name is one factor but far from the only factor. In this article I will be explaining a bit about how other factors may apply. It is precisely because of these other factors that even if you belong to a “good school” – do not be overconfident. Job hunting is brutal – even for top school graduates. And overconfidence often leads to self sabotaging by being overconfident and then being late. But there is another reason for why you may be overestimating the leverage your school name gives you which I will explain below.

On the other hand if you do not belong to a “top school” be aware – as stated in the previous article – that there are companies which may immediately drop you from selection. However, this is not every single company – including many so called “top” companies in the world. The point is that you need to have enough to prove that you are better than your school name and I will explain how this works. These are the same tips as applicable for “top school” candidates too.

The curse of a “good school name”

I need to scare you first
I need to scare you first

Let’s start by me scaring those of you from “good schools”.

There’s a very common pattern in shukatsu depression that good school students face when they job-hunt. The problem is that “good school” students are most probably going to aim for “good companies”. Think about the Big 4, the big internationals like Google and the big Japanese companies in the Mitsubishi and Mitsui conglomerates. It’s very normal right? After all, having a good school name, you stand a good chance.

The “chance” in “good chance” is not wrong. The “good” though is overestimated. Let’s look at some numbers here in terms of the numbers of undergraduates the top (“SS” and some “S” rank in previous article) schools accepted in 2021.

The total for the above is 23,347 undergraduates which matriculated in 2021. Ie. 4 years down there will be around 23,000 people graduating and probably just as many in each year from now to then. One thing for many top schools is that a big proportion of their graduates will head to graduate school so let’s remove 1/3 of them.

This means that there are already around 16,000 job-hunters from the SS and S tier schools (and that is not even considering the other S schools and the graduate school job hunters).

Compare this to the fresh graduate hiring numbers for some “top names”:

For further reference, each of the Big 4 do (roughly) hire a few hundred a year. On the other hand the applicant to hire ratio for Google is around 100:1. Ie. only one person out of 100 applicants will get hired.

You are (probably) less special than you think

Pretty much how job-hunting is
Pretty much how job-hunting is

The point of the above is to tell you that there are far more “good school students” than there are “good company places”. And in addition, if you actually look at data that companies declare in terms of the schools which they have previously recruited from, you’ll see not only ‘SS’ and ‘S’ ranked schools but ‘A’ and ‘B’ school names too.

This is the reason why a good school name alone is nowhere enough to get you into a “good company”. It may not even be enough to put you through to interview stage – I know a case of a Kyoto University (‘SS rank’) who was rejected at document screening for one of the big 4 consulting firms.

And before you start to think that you have an edge because of your student club or because of the work you did in your seminar remember that the majority of university students are part of some sort of student club. And for most Arts and Humanities students will have a seminar that they will ostensibly would have worked hard in.

One other thing that many foreign students will try to fall back on is language – after all the majority of applicants can’t speak English (or other languages) that well. But firstly, beware of overestimating your Japanese ability – even if your Japanese is strong, quick-fire responses during the interviews or the SPI test can be challenging. And don’t forget especially for the top internationals that you will be facing competition from many bilingual natives who are Japanese returnees.

For everyone: So what do you do?

As you can seek, job-hunting competition is definitely tough, even for people from so called “top schools”. You basically have to differentiate yourself aside from just your school name.

The thing is that these methods are pretty much the same for everyone – and pretty much explain why ‘B’ grade and ‘A’ grade students have a chance and have gotten hired by some of the most competitive companies. As mentioned above, you can check the schools companies have hired from previously through their hiring websites. In addition, one particular case of someone around me is someone who graduated from somewhere which – by normal social standards – is considered a C grade university. The person was however able to secure a job at a big foreign multinational company here in Japan – one of those that everyone has heard of.

This was not luck. Aside from being a very strong business Japanese speaker and an English native, she also did long-term internships previously before shukatsu and therefore got how society (and the working world) works. I would assume that that kind of experience actually producing work for companies signficantly made her resume as well as her interview answers different from her competition – and allowed her to beat even ‘SS’ and ‘S’ grade applicants.

Things to do

Checklist

So what’s there to be learnt? Actually there are no job-hunting tips specific to “good school” graduates nor for those from “not-good schools”. Job-hunting best practices apply to everyone because in the end it’s all about proving your worth to your future employers.

But here are some best practices for everyone:

  • If you have the opportunity and still are before your shukatsu calendar, consider joining internships – of both short-term and long term kinds but especially the long-term ones.
    • Other ways of getting social experience eg. volunteering are great too.
  • Back doors: linked to the above is that sometimes your network will be crucial in introducing you to companies you wouldn’t otherwise know about or even send you directly into interview stage through a recommendation. Therefore build your network – see the network session of this article for more.
    • This may be particularly important for people from lesser-known schools who may get filtered out if applying through the front door.
  • Ensure that you have good resume / CV and interview technique. What’s most important is getting feedback from working people for both – but you can see this article for CV pointers.
  • Upskill – especially in fields where there is a shortage. Programming is an example. Not only can proof of such skills be much more valuable than your school name but also show that you are learning by yourself – a very good sign.

Hope is good, complacency is not

With all this I want to say that it is good to have high hopes with your job-hunting. After all, you can’t get somewhere high-up without aiming high in the first place.

But this definitely does not mean that you should expect good things to come to you just because of your school name. And if you do, well the reality of shukatsu will probably teach you otherwise anyway – as it has for so many people.

For both “good school” and “not-so-good school” students, be aware that Shukatsu each year is a many-months-long marathon with apparently around 400 thousand participants in total. It doesn’t mean you can’t place in the top 1000 but you have to train, fight hard and perform well to get there. The advantage from the school name is significant, but because of how many competitors there are it isn’t enough to get all the way to the front and it’s not significant enough that people who don’t have it are automatically eliminated.

So either way, work hard. What’s important is doing your best, good school name or not!

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