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Job interviews - 'Fools using a foolish method to pick fools'

48 Comments

"All right, please tell me something about your strong points. You have 60 seconds."

"Hai." [Clears throat] "My strong point is the ability to act as a leader. I served as sub-leader of our school's tennis club. Through planning weekend retreats and so on, I learned about the difficulties of getting people to work together. I feel the leadership I gained from my experience will also be useful at your company."

Very impressive, writes Shukan Gendai (Feb 18). Except that the student candidate was almost certainly only mouthing what he'd memorized and had been rehearsing for days in front of a mirror. What's more, the "sub-leader" position was an exaggeration. Actually he'd just been a rank-and-file member of the tennis club -- but who ever takes the trouble to check such things?

Grunting an acknowledgement, the interviewer pretends to scribble down something on his note pad.

"After listening to dozens of job seekers, an interviewer knows when he's being fed a line," says a personnel manager in the IT sector in charge of human resources. "If he presses for more details, the candidate usually lapses into vagueness."

Shukan Gendai describe the whole charade as "Fools using a foolish method to pick fools," and is convinced this system will ultimately be responsible for bringing the country to ruin.

Don't just blame the students: the people entrusted to conduct recruitment interviews are mostly rank amateurs who don't know what they're doing either.

"If the companies only ask the kind of questions that candidates have prepped for, they'll get no insights into their character or ability to use their minds," points out Taiichiro Tsuji, a recruitment consultant. "So they try throwing curve balls, with batty questions like, 'If you were to describe yourself as an animal, which one would you be?' It's like asking a stage comedian to 'Tell me a one-liner,' at a casting session, with the subject's fate decided by his or her ability to come up with a glib response. This serves as proof of interviewers' dismal abilities to ask relevant questions to candidates."

In one of the more extreme examples, an interviewer glanced at a candidate's resume and noticed that he happened to be a fan of a certain singer. So he asked, "Do you like this singer? What's your favorite song by him? I also happen to like his current album…"

"The first and second rounds of interviews are conducted by company staff from outside the personnel department, who might receive two hours of orientation," says the aforementioned IT personnel manager. "You could say nearly all of them are amateurs. Their general response to any remark is usually to say 'Hmmmm?' They can't stick to the main subject of the conversation or come up with any penetrating questions. This is bad for the students as well. To be frank, the whole thing is pathetic."

"These days, all job seekers will tell you is how great they are," says author Ayako Sono. "Job candidates reply to questions with the same cookie-cutter responses. With the exception of their being asked concerning topics that demand some specialized knowledge, there's no way of determining how well someone has been educated, his personal character, and his individuality. With the system as it is now, you're never going to obtain any understanding of what he or she is really like."

"During students' first two years in university, they can goof off, and then from their junior year they embark on job hunting," says mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara. "That is no way to get an education.

"Japan's politicians and bureaucrats are in the same boat," Fujiwara adds. "Even for those who score near the top, the system is set up to create only people who know how to react to symptoms, but who lack any long-term vision. Isn't that why today's Japan is drifting aimlessly?"

© Japan Today

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48 Comments
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wow. absolutely correct. im glad some japanese people are finally starting to notice what weve always have known. first step is the most difficult. recognizing and admiting there is a problem.

11 ( +12 / -2 )

This interviewing style goes back at least to JHS students applying for high schools. I've been there, watched them do it. Everything is rehearsed, down to the very detail of knocking on the interview room door. Waste of time (and money). The school / company probably has already decided (or easily can decide) who they'll take. Good article, this!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What a perfect summary of why this country has been drifting for 20 years. You get rewarded for performing a ritual accurately, rather than for demonstrating any kind of competence or vision. Give the correct response to a shibboleth, and you're in.

Don't worry about ability - you're just going to be sitting silently in meetings and "making the document" at your PC with an earnest look on your face for 14 hours a day. Perform your script well in the interview and the job's yours.

7 ( +9 / -3 )

this problem isn't only in Japan it's in Europe too

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Reading articles like this one just reinforces my theory that some of the laziest people you will find on the planet are here in Japan. HR "professionals" who just go through the motions of caring. Students who more or less just write down the same thing, wear the same clothes, and spout the answers they think some shmuck on the other side of the table wants to hear. Companies enable this all of this to happen by not really caring what an individual can "bring to the table" as said individual will be assimilated into the "hive". Wish it weren't true, but I know people working in HR in major Japanese corporations and their backgrounds and qualifications would shock you! One guy I know has his Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences, couldn't cut it in R&D and was dumped into HR. Makes sense to someone, I guess. For him, he gets paid and that seems to be all that matters.

On the other side of the coin, I know recent graduates who have gone through this agonizing process and they've had to toe the line for fear of looking like a trouble maker. As students they had wonderful critical thinking skills, were bilingual, bicultural, with backrounds in the sciences, and they shared with me how denigrating, mind-numbing, and stressful the whole process was. Every once in a while we hear from Japan Inc. - "we need free thinkers, the education system is failing Japan, young people have no dreams, etc..." and I wanna say STFU to these two-faced liars as they know full and well that is the farthest thing from the truth. Even if someone in HR hired someone with real ideas and creativity, she pisses off her boss or her boss's boss, and she knows full and well she may never have a real job for the rest of her life. What a sad state of affairs for companies in Japan! Sorry for the rant. HAGWE everyone!

11 ( +14 / -3 )

This is not a Japanese thing, this is a worldwide problem. Moreover, this is more than a job interview problem. The same insanity goes on within the companies among all the employees and execs, from within political circles up to the health service industry. Everywhere.

The world seems to lose their common sense, running out their intellectual and moral reserves and get lost in "the trust in the mechanism".

The mechanism has already been created and put to use, talentless and unproductive careerists can easily find their way to safely and skillfully navigate within the mechanism while developing safe, effective, and villain methods to kill off the talented, the capable ones, unless they are smart enough to trick them out by playing the stupid and allow themselves to be exploited, to be used and robbed of their hard work and intellectual power, by accepting living a very modest life while their lords enjoy all undeserved luxury of life.

Once the trumpery is in, especially in the chair of the exec, they take good care of only the even more chintzy can get a job, those who will never be able jeopardize or take their position. That refers to the HR , too.

Result; multinational giants are in red, demonstrations against capitalism, growing unemployment, unrest, crime rate and possibility of wars, negligence lead to disastrous consequences like Fukushima, greed, senselessness, losing of sense of reality, producing newer and newer parasite generations, while the hardworking, the talented are wasted and go down the drain.

Humankind has been going against nature and robs out our planet all natural reserves. It has always been like this for the last 5000 years but it is just recently when they got extraordinary technological backup and became successful creating this almighty self-destructive mechanism.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

How times have changed. In the 70s, jobs found you. I can clearly remember sitting in a couple of interviews and at the end, telling the interviewer at the end; "lemme think on this and I'll get back to you." I actually said that ...

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The other problem is when you already have a job but you check out jobs that you are interested in. When you start quizzing the employer about the job they look at you like you have just asked them for a kidney. How long do employees usually last here? What is the best thing about working here? Is there ongoing training? And of course after a lot of smiling and nodding the big one has to come out - Can I ask about remuneration? The jaws start hitting the desks - like you were lucky to be even given a call back.

If you want to employ someone who already has a job, you have to sell them the job and a big part of it is salary. I am not going to walk out on a job only to find out the new one pays half as much, there is so much bitterness in the workplace and I am not allowed to take the holidays owed to me.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

“Japan’s politicians and bureaucrats are in the same boat,” - Got that right!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Dentshop- I don't think any company will be impressed if you talk salary at the first interview. The answer? Could well be that it depends on how good you are and that's not necessarily gonna show at the first interview. I don't know about this interview, if you're hiring a hundred or more new grads with no work experience and you get literally thousands of applications... How else can you pick them? Get rid of any with obvious errors in their written application, meet the ones with the best SPI scores etc and then ask meaningful interview questions. With a new grad, you're taking a punt anyway because performance at school isn't really a measure for performance at work

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Typo- I don't know about this article* not interview

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I don't think any company will be impressed if you talk salary at the first interview.

Well, that was the whole point of my comment. And I dont understand why it isnt discussed. If the money isnt good enough, I dont want to waste their time or mine on a 2nd interview. That isnt arrogance, that is just the way of the market. Companies want a commitment out of you and start talking about when they want you to start but still wont broach the subject of pay. I realise this article is about grad students but my issue was just something else that annoyed me in interviews.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think asking about the salary has become a faux pas in the first interview... people say it comes across as money being your only motivation... and I'll be perfectly honest, in my job, money IS my motivation. Why do we work? to get paid.. we can't buy groceries with "the feeling that we accomplished something at work today." Thankfully I don't totally hate my job but if I was in that position.. don't know what I do

that being said, there are probably subtle ways to ask about $$$ if the salary isn't posted on the job description. My favourite line when they ask me if I have any questions about the job/company: "Whats the compensation structure like?" You aren't blatantly asking how much will I be paid (but you kinda are) and at the same time it sounds much more professional.

Failing that, you could probably google what the average salary for this typical position is.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

This is too bad. If some interviewer were to actually get to know who is it they have in front of them, they'd have a real conversation and get real positive employees.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Agree with comments above. If the salary isn't worth it, I am not helping the company by wasting both theirs and my time by not asking about it. You don't even have to be specific, just within the industry range what range is it and where on the scale is it? If they don't value you, why should the interviewer?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Interviews are so 20th century, have the person do some simple paid work for a week or so, see how she works with the team, and things she accomplished, let the team have lunches with her, get to know her. But then again, in the world of corporation, an employee is not viewed a person, more like a paid slave.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I have been involved with quite a few interviews here in Japan. Where I have worked (at several companies), first the person (foreign or Japanese) inquiring about a job opening has to pass a test. Then the best 10 job-seekers are brought in for interviews. With the way the economy has been going in the past decade, sometimes there are over 100 applicants for one position. First we weed out those who definitely cannot fill the job position, then comes the test, then the interview, and if necessary, another round of interviews in making the final selection. And even if we ended up with only one person, sometimes we questioned if that person would be the right one. If not, the search continued ...

I wonder how many companies actually do what is described in the story above? If so, no wonder some companies get lunkheads for employees ... and they end up on the garbage detail.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I go to interviews with a clear mind, I am 48 and ex manager for positions of Maintenance, Facility, Management, however during the interview the person who is giving such, will ask me if I am capable of taking orders from someone younger then me, I say of course, pride is something but it is not suitable for ones wallet.

I served in the Marines, lived here 25 years, speak 3 languages, have many traits, so my resume looks like a book, the reason I am unemployed with a good firm is my last company went Bankrupt, so my position was how was it said? Oh Redundent.. so now I am working part time because no one wants a 48 year old who knows a lot of the Japanese Business since because again they think I am to well trained, experienced..

Its funny,, you have to much training.. or at a interview for Burger King,, why dont you start your own company?? But when you have two children, bills to pay, food to buy.. I just want a decent JOB!!

Tezbo

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Interesting article, however completely irrelevant if you're not getting interview requests to begin with

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

There's a lot of evidence to show that putting applicants into a group scenario and asking them to solve a particular problem together, and then observing how each member works, is far more effective at determining character and people skills.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Most jobs people are interviewed for do not require skills beyond what most people have. The interview process mentioned is a cost effective way to identify complete ineptitude.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well at my interview for a foreign company (engineering position), I've been grilled on hot charcoal for about two hours by two guys (both senior engineers), and a hr guy. I was convinced they were interested (otherwise they wouldn't spend 6 man hours on me, and two weeks later I was informed that I got the contract.

There was not even one"standard interview question" during it, making me to understand that people who write books about how to do good at interviews did not so well themselves...

5 ( +6 / -1 )

@Godan, this is not just a Japanese problem but a worldwide problem as much of employee motivation and engagement depends on the culture of an organization. It seems more prevalent here as group-think and peer pressure is much stronger than some countries. And the culture of an organization is built first and foremost through the hiring of the right people, putting them in the right seats, and firing those who are in the wrong bus.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The whole hiring process here is pathetic. Black suit? Check. Black hair? Check. Minimal make up? Check. Practiced interview? Check. Paid cash to uni for job interview seminar? Check. Attended numerous job hunting fakes/seminars? Check. No idea what job you want to do but will kiss butt at the interview? Check. The whole process is silly and needs to be done away with. Just follow the script and hope you get picked. I have no idea how they decide who to hire when they all look the same, sound the same...

0 ( +4 / -4 )

i hate all recruiters, headhunters, HR people..all the same to me.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

“These days, all job seekers will tell you is how great they are,” says author Ayako Sono.

Not me. I always said I was a lazy woman, only seeking to find a husband, and to make some Yen so I could buy more Gucci bags and accessories.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Don't worry, as long as you can "prepare the document" then you're the right person for the job! Remember kids, "preparing the document" is what adult life is all about, until you prepare your final document and go to the great conference room in the sky...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Top Grading (Google it) is the best way to find and recruit real talented and productive people. Only choose A's and maybe a few B's in non crucial positions... http://www.amazon.com/Topgrading-Leading-Companies-Coaching-Keeping/dp/0735200491

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

typo above - a few B's (not a fee B's).

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

An experienced Japanese interviewer of my aquaintance, and quite a few books in Japanese on this topic, say that the interviewers are largely looking at non-linguistic cues which are spread out in space rather than time, and can be read within the first 30 seconds of the applicant coming into the room. And that does not mean that they use only 30 seconds, but if that is the method that you are using (rather than the CV, which might be bs start to finish) then that may be all you need. If Shukangendai really did write this then I think it was a case of fools using foolish methods to write foolish headlines, but my guess is that Shukangendai's article was more balanced. Does anyone have a link?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If Shukangendai really did write this then I think it was a case of fools using foolish methods to write foolish headlines, but my guess is that Shukangendai's article was more balanced.

timtak@It looks to me like you are implying that the original Japanese article was nuanced differently from the English that appears here. I don't know what sort of quality control JT exerts on translators, but I would suppose if the translated contents were fabricated (or unreasonably tweaked to give an intentionally negative perspective), word would have got back to them one way or another. As far as having a link, I don't think any of the vernacular weeklies put up their stories on the Web.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Munya TimesFeb. 11, 2012 - 12:01PM JST This is not a Japanese thing, this is a worldwide problem.

Exactly. Interviews have been criticised since the 1960's for lacking any ability to predict if someone is going to be good at the job... yet half a century later here we are still relying on interviews when there are much better ways to select people (like psychometric tests, job tests, inbasket tests, etc).

I was interviewing for jobs about 6 months ago and I applied to several "big name" recruiters for foreigners... the first stage was always an interview. Of the ten companies that interviewed me not a single one tried anything more sophisticated. I'm an HR professional and frankly it showed that most of the big name recruiters in Japan don't have a clue. Of course this isn't just in Japan, its internationally, and shows just how riddled the HR profession is with people who are glorified salespeople, long on talk, short on skills. Ironically, had they been applying for a job from me, their choice of interviewing as a selection method would have disqualified them.

Not that interviewing doesn't have its place, it is good as a final step for assessing intangibles like how future colleagues will react to the candidate. A candidate can score very well and just be a poor fit with their colleagues.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Virtuoso I think that JT articles are (at least in the large majority) based upon articles from other news outlets but they are not translations, or at least not verbatim. JT is free to choose what part of the article they wish to present. The start of the article is at the link below, and the translation above is accurate but unable to read to the end of the article it is difficult to judge whether Shukangendai gives the same overall impression. http://kodansha.cplaza.ne.jp/wgendai/article/120206/top_06_01.html In general I think that any prevalent way of doing things in Japan is unlikely to be particularly stupid since Japan works well as a society. If something appears stupid then it is probably because it is different. Alas Japanese people have for some time now internalised frames of reference which are not their own and even sometimes see themselves as stupid. I see Japanese interviews as being realtitvely geared towards non-verbal communication and as such no worse than Western interviews.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

timtak@that link you posted sent me to an ad for wrinkle removal cream, so unfortunately for whatever reason I'm unable to read what it was supposed to have said.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Underbar characters are converted into itallics here so I have created a shorter url to the first part of the source article http://tinyurl.com/shuukangendaibaka

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

「では、あなたの強みを教えてください。1分以内でお願いします」

“All right, please tell me something about your strong points. You have 60 seconds.”

「はい。私の強みは、みんなをまとめるリーダーシップがあることです。私はテニスサークルで副部長を務めていました。合宿の企画や引率などを通して、人の意見をまとめることの難しさを学びました。サークルで培ったリーダーシップを、御社でも役立てたいと思っています」

“My strong point is the ability to act as a leader. I served as sub-leader of our school’s tennis club. Through planning weekend retreats and so on, I learned about the difficulties of getting people to work together. I feel the leadership I gained from my experience will also be useful at your company.”

As far as I can tell, that translation is pretty idiomatic. Of course we can't assume just because the translator gets the first two paragraphs right, he can do the same with the rest of the story. But on second thought, maybe he can...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The translator is quite competent.

Japanese HR department is very unique and special. It is something we relish jealously as part of a unique business culture. In this unique HR department, a manager has a special role. That gives an authority in concern to other co worker. An interveiw is first opportunity for candidate to meet HR person and HR interview man will be able to ask questions to the candidate. That is the way. Often the question is rehearsed and as are the asnwers. Many people may not like this method, but it is very significant in Japan. Part of being good employee is ability to memorize and repeat information, the correct information, without burdens such as independent thought or creative idea. So company HR interview man knows [Ah, this candidate san has practiced this answer many times. He will be good to drinking beer after work together.] HR interview man knows that in Japan all corporate culture are very similar as we do not like things to be a difference or not be predictable. So a rehearsed answer is the correct.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

j4p4nFTW

So where do we start with this strangely typical attitude.

Japanese HR department is very unique and special. It is something we relish jealously as part of a unique business culture.

Yes very unique and very special. You also forgot words like inept, boys club, poorly led and organised and backward.

In this unique HR department, a manager has a special role. That gives an authority in concern to other co worker.

Yes he has a very special role to sit there and spy on his workers to make sure they are towing the company line and to crush any independent thought that may surface. As for calling him a manager that is a title that is VERY loosely used in this country as the position is not gained through knowledge and demonstrated skill but rather length of service and boy club rules.

An interveiw is first opportunity for candidate to meet HR person and HR interview man will be able to ask questions to the candidate. That is the way. Often the question is rehearsed and as are the asnwers. Many people may not like this method, but it is very significant in Japan.

Yes it is a first opportunity for both parties to meet, it is also the chance for both parties to evaluate each other based on the others performance. Rehearsed answers by the candidate show a lack of depth and poor skills. You should never stick to just positives in an interview but also give examples of errors and negatives so long as you can give examples of how to recover and avoid them. This shows a candidate that can learn and adapt. As for the interviewer, if they are poor performed this could reflect on the company as a whole. Would you work for a company that sends a first point of contact that is a bumbling script reading fool? I sure wouldnt.

Part of being good employee is ability to memorize and repeat information, the correct information, without burdens such as independent thought or creative idea.

And that statement is going to be the downfall of Japan and a lot of Japanese business. Where you as a nation do not tolerate free thought most successful countries thrive on it. To have employees that challenge the norm is to have a business that will succeed. The Japanese way leads to stagnation and loss of opportunity.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@j4p4nftw

Love your posts! Keep them coming!!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

j4p4nFTWFeb. 15, 2012 - 05:41PM JST Part of being good employee is ability to memorize and repeat information, the correct information, without burdens such as independent thought or creative idea.

Why then do leading Japanese companies like Toyota emphasise ideas coming from the shop floor then? Toyota's quality circles, group leader and team leader programmes are a large part of their competitive edge, and all three of these programmes emphasise ideas, improvements and creative solutions coming from the shop floor up.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Who can blame those JP student job seekers? They (we) have not met much opportunities to think about their (our) career building in undergraduate days, but just instilled "should you slik, use that sample answers." You will see, if you in somewhere in JP, that many thousands of COOKIE-CUTTER job seekers in innocuous black suits visiting job-interviews! Who can encourage them (us) to say, wear something different among that stereotypes!

..... So poor we are! :-(

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I agree this foolery isn't limited to Japan, but unlike the West, where people have started to question its effectiveness, it seems largely accepted.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@Cletus You are right on the money. I sometimes wonder what Japanese companies think of the success of the iPhone, which is killing the Japanese cell phone market since the iPhone 4 has been introduced. A company like Apple making those great products just wouldn't be possible in Japan.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@HansNFranz There are many companies making products with a much higher market share.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@j4p4nFTW Maybe, but Apple is the #1 company of all companies, and Apple in Japan would not be possible to have come to this position because of the way Japanese companies work.

Also, Japan is on the way down - Samsung is making better home entertainment products, and Hyundai sells more cars. The cheap brands from China will kill the Japanese market by price, and the high-end brands like Apple will kill the Japanese market with ideas and quality. I do not see any major market in which Japanese product is still #1 in the world.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I do not see any major market in which Japanese product is still #1 in the world.

Every single Apple computer contains some parts made in Japan.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I sometimes wonder what Japanese companies think of the success of the iPhone, which is killing the Japanese cell phone market since the iPhone 4 has been introduced. A company like Apple making those great products just wouldn't be possible in Japan.

You may as well wonder about the other manufacturers overseas. Besides iPhone, the mobile phones overseas were crap compared to Japanese ones before the iPhone came out. And the basic phones are still crap compared to the Japanese ones.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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