Time to Re-consider Japanese Shuukatsu (Job-hunting) System

(written by: Willy Yanto Wijaya)

job hunting in japan

Every year during the shuukatsu season, which lasts roughly from January till April/ May, crowds of students who are going to graduate next year become very busy. Lots of things to do: attending the setsumeikai (companies’ seminars), writing endless entry sheets and resumes, taking the written examination or web-test or exams at test-center, doing the kengaku (study visit to the company – usually for the engineering students) or short internship, and of course having mensetsu (interviews) which are usually conducted at least 3 or 4 times.

If the student is going to just apply for several companies, that’s fine. But imagine if the student applies to 10 or 20 companies, how much effort they have to spend on those recruiting steps mentioned above! Surprised? Hold on, that’s nothing.. in reality many students especially from the social studies usually apply for more than 50 companies. According to Rikunabi, last year average number of entries (applications) per student was about 76. Only in Japan you can find one student applies to 76 companies simultaneously. This is crazy! To make it even crazier, consider this, some companies require you to write entry sheets or resume by hand-writing!

Without doubt, the shuukatsu season is a very chaotic and crazy period for job-seekers. Many students have complaints about this, but they are helpless. As far as I know, only two countries adopt the early job-seeking period: Japan (1 year before graduation) and Korea (6 months before graduation). Most other countries, including US and other Asian countries, job-applications usually start within the graduation period (starting from after final presentation, or even after graduation ceremony).

Not only students complain about the shuukatsu processes, lecturers and staffs of academic institution also do. Then why Japan has this kind of early job-seeking period? Does it give significant benefits? Let’s take a deeper look and analysis.

These shuukatsu processes in intensive and short period (within several months) has been long hailed by the Japanese companies as an efficient way and in-line with the Japanese spirit of preparedness. In fact, it is specifically true for the HRD (Human Resource Department) of the company. The HRD personnel works extremely hard, but just during the short shuukatsu season, thus in other periods they can give other trainings to the company employees, and therefore they think it is efficient and good. Furthermore, they think that soon after graduation, students already have jobs to do, and therefore no idling time. This is good and productive (according to Japanese companies).

At a glance, we might see that the early shuukatsu system is indeed good for the companies. Is it so? Before answering that, let’s take a look on the students’ (job-applicants’) perspectives. Based on my own experiences as a job-seeker in Japan, shuukatsu is a period which really consumes not only time, but also energy and money (such as: transport fee to attend numerous seminars). This is again because students have no choice but to apply to as many companies as possible. Why? Because there is no guarantee that the company which the student really wants to work for will hire him/her. And the trouble is that all those companies hire at the same period. The next trouble is that the shuukatsu season is already fixed; if the season is missed there is almost no more chance to get job and risk to become a freeter (person with no regular employment). This kind of anxiety and uncertainty eventually push the students to apply to as many companies as possible.

Besides, students have to sacrifice their precious several months (which actually should be used for study or research in the university), just for wasteful shuukatsu processes. Why I say “wasteful”? Because eventually they will just choose one company, and discard the others.

From the perspectives of the students, certainly there is almost no merit of the early shuukatsu system (sacrifice precious time for study, and waste time-energy-money for companies which actually they don’t really desire to work for). Perhaps, in term of financial, there is just a little merit that the students can get job directly after graduation. But after discussing with some of my Japanese friends, in fact, they don’t really think it is a significant merit. They even think that a short break (not working for a while) after graduation is appealing!

Well, we can see that today’s Japanese shuukatsu system tends to give merits to the companies rather than students (who almost get no merit). But again, is the current shuukatsu system really advantageous to the companies? From the above discussions regarding efficiency for the companies, it seems so. But is it really so? Many of the companies do not realize that the demerits they cause to the students eventually affect negatively back to them. Firstly, they have to process mountainous number of applications (many of which come from the students who don’t really want to work in that company). This is in fact, an additional work burden for the HRD staffs. Secondly, the students they will hire have lost several precious months which otherwise can be used for study, thus the quality of the employee-candidates to be hired has been somehow sacrificed as well. These two considerations should have already made Japanese companies to re-think about their recruitment strategies!

Imagine if the shuukatsu processes are more flexible (not densely intensive in a certain short period of time), and year-long applicable (whenever is fine for the student to apply for job), then students can try to apply first for their first-priority companies, then the second-priority, and so on.. then chance is that company will also get employees who really have passions for their jobs. In addition, the HRD staffs also don’t need to process mountainous number of applications anymore, and thus can more carefully select and consider the qualifications of the applicants. Furthermore, if some students decide to take some break after graduation (while sending applications to companies they really wish to work for), what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong for the companies to recruit employees who are several months older (or even one or two years older)? They didn’t sacrifice their precious time for study in the university, moreover some breaks after graduation might serve as a refreshing period to re-charge their energy and mind.

Now is the time for Japanese companies to re-consider their policy of shuukatsu system which they think is beneficial for them (although there are actually many indirect demerits).

Yes, we might argue that for many decades this early and intensive shuukatsu system of Japan had proved successful to bring Japan once ever to become the second biggest economy in the world. Combined with the life-time employment system, everything seemed very good and effective.

But time changes..

It was good in old times when Japan had significant domestic growth. Everything rest assured. But now things are changing. In several decades ahead, we can expect huge domestic market decline in Japan. Not only that, at present, the course of global competitions also undergoes turbulent and rapid changes. Recently, we just heard the huge losses of famous Japanese electronic appliances maker (Sony, Sharp, Panasonic), and bankruptcy of Elpida, a semiconductor maker. Japanese traditional business models which proved to be very successful in the past, are not effective anymore.

Japan has to challenge its orthodox and conventional way of doing business if it is going to survive. This holds true not only for the business models, but also shuukatsu and employment systems.

Considering the arguments above regarding the merits and demerits of present shuukatsu system, now is the time for Japanese companies to challenge their conventional way of doing recruitment. They have to pay more attentions to the beneficial sake of the students. They have to ease the rigid tensyoku (changing job) system of Japan (since companies now cannot guarantee life-time welfare anymore). They have to be wake up and realize that the shuukatsu system that served so well for many decades, could one day becomes ineffective and need to be abolished.


Final notes:

Since companies are always trying to recruit the best candidates, some of above suggestions regarding late (after graduation) recruitment might not sound appealing in the perspectives of some companies (because of being afraid that early recruitment of other companies have taken away the best and brightest candidates). Thus, the author thinks that eventually Japanese government needs to make regulations for the companies’ recruitment processes, so that each company will have a fair and just system to be carried on.


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