'Be a blank slate' - The way to get hired in Japan?

By Fran Wrigley

As far as things not to say in an interview go, you’d think it’d be pretty high up on the list. But the young Japanese university student, rejected by all the other companies he’d applied to, was prepared to take the risk. “This company is the only option I have left,” he pleaded with the interviewer. “I’ll do anything!” An unusual strategy, certainly. But he got the job.

Japanese site Niconico News reports that the man is now entering his ninth year of employment with the company, so it seems the gamble paid off. But is the company’s positive reaction so unusual? Some Japanese employability experts are arguing that, for many companies, the ideal graduate recruit is a “hakushi” – a blank page that the company can do what they want with. When companies train new recruits extensively, an across-the-board willingness to learn is valued more than previous experience.

The process of job hunting that the vast majority of Japanese university students take part in is known as “shūkatsu” (from “shushoku katsudo” 就職活動). Unlike many other countries where students wait until their final year or after graduating to look for work, Japanese students take part in a rigidly-scheduled process which begins in their third year of university with a program of internships, applications, and interviews. By the beginning or middle of fourth year, most students have already been hired for the job they will take up on April 1 the following year.

Students are under an enormous amount of pressure to succeed in entering a company. With companies preferring new graduates, those who fail to find work during the set shūkatsu period can find it increasingly difficult to be hired as a “previous graduate”. Finding a job out of university is no longer the guarantee of employment for life it once was, but this pressure to secure a position as soon as you graduate is the desperation that leads some students to feel that any job, any company, any field is fine, so long as it’s a job. Having a specialised area of interest, therefore, can actually be seen as inflexibility.

Yoku Date, a businessman and academic who writes on employability, says that compared to an applicant who talks about their experience and skills up to now in specific terms, one who simply shows a willingness to accept and learn the company’s way of doing things will provide the blank slate which employers are looking for. To succeed in job-hunting, he argues, students must draw a line under their university experience and be accommodating to the challenges of the world of work.

But while some employers welcome the enthusiasm of those with an “I’ll do anything” attitude, others feel that it goes too far. Nobuhiro Kawaharasaki, CEO of web start-up logmi, blogged on June 15 that these kind of utterances show a lack of substance:

“When an applicant says ‘I’ll do anything!’ or ‘I’d give anything!’, just entering the company has become their only goal.”

Instead, he looks for a candidate who can work to take the company in new directions after they are hired. Their focus, he argues, should be one what they will do after they join the company, not only on the objective of finding a job. This approach is particularly relevent for startups, whose success will depend on innovation and intelligent risk-taking.

Of Japanese students who graduated this spring, 93.9% went straight into employment, taking up a position on April 1. That figure, however, doesn’t include students who went on to do master’s courses or who are repeating their final year (both common choices for students who haven’t received any job offers). When those students are factored in, the rate drops to 66 percent. The stress of the shūkatsu process, meanwhile, takes its toll on students, but the system doesn’t show any signs of changing any time soon.

Sources: Niconico News, Kawapara (Nobuhiro Kawaharasaki’s blog), Diamond Online

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japanese businesses anger universities by offering jobs to their students -- Free highway bus for students connects Tokyo and Fukushima for business or pleasure -- Advice for new employees in Japan: Never take your temperature

© RocketNews24

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Simply disgusting.

The photo caption should probably read 'Think and die'

2 ( +2 / -0 )

'Be a blank slate'

This article brought back memories. Some decades ago when I was recruited right out of university by a Japanese company in Japan I was specifically told that the company wanted a 'blank slate,' so that I could be molded to conform with the company way. I thought it was odd at the time, and it seemed to me that they felt threatened by anything a new hire might bring to the company from outside its walls.

The practice of hiring blank slates is/was but one Japanese business practice/strategy — along with just-in-time management, kaizen, kanban and frequent/relentless nomunication — that had much more credibility during Japan's boom years than is the case now.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Their focus, he argues, should be one what they will do after they join the company, not only on the objective of finding a job.

Much too logical, modern-day, and enlightened to catch hold in Japan. Blank slates just desperate for a job are much better prospects in Japan Inc. Which is why Sony and numerous other once high-flying Japanese firms are now struggling to stay relevant. How many folks who walked into Apple and said "everyone else has rejected me, so I will do anything" would get hired? Or Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc?

11 ( +13 / -2 )

If you are a blank slate and a just join a company you are damned to poverty. I suggest taking a risk, follow your passion regardless of what your parents or who ever tell you other wise. School teaches you to get a good job and not to make money or enjoy your life and cripples your ability to be creative. Take a risk I say.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

I actually think this "I do not have a mind of my own" works well. In Japan and Japan only. In the kaigai (as they so insularly put it), this does not work. Much of the reason for this hiring airheads is insecurity and old-fashioned thinking. I suspect many of the older members at any given company would feel threatened by challenging ideas and actually having to think while at work, perhaps even coming up with new ideas instead of iterations of old stuff. Of course, hiring only yes-men (or yes-women) does companies a great disservice but I think Japan is too far up its own backside to realize that until they are passed, one by one, by other nations.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

If they want blank slates then why do they bother hiring university graduates? Is this a tacit admission that all the stuff you learn at university in Japan is completely and utterly worthless?

I still use stuff I learnt at University every day, but I strongly suspect that most Japanese University students don't even know where the library is, never mind what it is used for, or how a few hours browsing in the library is going to be far more useful for their futures than going to a club every day.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

"Blank slates just desperate for a job are much better prospects in Japan Inc."

Very true. Scary and a bit dystopian, but true.

It seems like the days of choosing a panel of companies where one wants to work, applying to them, and joining one of them right out of college are all but over. For one, firms just don't treat new recruits as well these days--there's less job security, poorer wage structures, and less mobility in general. And, also, I think students on both sides of the Pacific are starting to become a bit more idealistic and individualistic. (Selfish, dare I say?) Instead of kowtowing to monolithic firms and begging for a job, students are taking more time to get graduate educations, work abroad, and take more time for themselves.

That's a good thing, I say. Becoming a corporate drone can wait.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This picture alone is just so depressing.

It kind of reminds me of that old joke: 5 women apply for the same job, they have the same qualifications, the same dress code and they answer the same questions with the same answers. Which one do you hire....?

Thats probably not even a joke in Japan.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

I actually feel sorry for Japan

7 ( +10 / -3 )

The hiring preferences of the employers, as described in the article, are simply disgusting. This is only my personal opinion of course.

The photo caption should probably read 'think and die' rather than 'think or die' to more accurately reflect the preference by these employers for not thinking for one's self as described in the accompanying article.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

an across-the-board willingness to learn is valued more than previous experience. at that about sums up what is wrong with Japanese companies, if im a boss and am hiring and i have an experienced worker who knows the job campared to an newbie who needs to be trained. with both workers prepared to work for the same money its not difficult to see who to employ. experience brings new ideas and added benifits to a company. hiring another clone wont enhance a companies performance. unless there a robot on the factory line.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I heard a story some years back about a pre-interview briefing session for a company's short-listed recruitment candidates, all in their final months of university.

At the podium, the CEO seemed to be creating a friendly, laid back atmosphere, and told the audience of candidates that they were free to take off their suit jackets. Once a number of them did so, the CEO then announced that those who had taken him up on his offer would not be hired, so were free to leave.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

any field is fine, so long as it’s a job. Having a specialised area of interest, therefore, can actually be seen as inflexibility.

And that's why they are called "sarariman" and not graphic designers, accountants, directors, editors, etc.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

And this is one of the reasons Japan is rapidly losing it competitiveness and relevance.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I read this as Be a Blank Stare... I guess it's much the same thing.


Becoming a corporate drone can wait.

Not in Japan; there's no waiting in Japan. Do it when you're supposed to or suffer the consequences. Even if you're a year out of college with no job, companies probably won't hire you as you're 'late.' If you're five years out of college, well, just ask a 45-year-old that has been laid off how easy it is to find work; even entry-level work.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I quite like how Japanese companies are willing to hire "blank slates" because it shows a willingness from companies to actually invest in training and development of new staff. It also breeds loyalty; apparently that is a bad thing. Give it a decade and soon in the west without a masters degree companies will not even look at a new applicant.

Also the jobs that they hire "blank slates" for are very seldom for really creative or specialised positions. They are more for your basic company positions, which do not require that much innovation.

The Japanese system is far from perfect, but I do think we forget about all the nonsense we have to go through back home just to wait tables, eg., I am a passionate hard worker who loves to interact with people etc.

1 ( +6 / -5 )


When they say 'blank slate' it is not shorthand for someone who has a willingness to learn the ways of the company. They are specifically rejecting any outside ideas as being poisonous and treat those with any outside experience as being 'unclean'.

I think you fail to realize how destructive this has been for Japanese companies.

See the documentary below about new recruits to Fujifilm from 1989 for an example (especially around 8:30). The system certainly hasn't helped Fujifilm stay innovative. I recently showed this to someone who started working in a large company around the same time as a bit of nostalgia, but they said that it was exactly the same in their company today.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The crazy thing is, it doesn't end at 'blank slate' hiring. I've spoken to countless middleaged business professionals here and they entered the company as, say, an accountant - only to be shifted into the marketing department a few years later. An accountant heading the marketing department - think about it for a moment. Would probably explain the state of the "cookie cutter" / "bandwagon" advertising industry in Japan.

The insanity knows no bounds...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's not just companies with regards to the "I just want to be here" attitude. Entrance exams... the students all have cards that states which day and room they will take their exams(s). This year many students were taking at least three exams at my university. One full day of exams to try and get in. They don't care about the dept, they just want to be able to say graduated from X university because it will help them when they job hunt. Which means, you've got students who failed to get into a dept they might be interested in but passed and got into a dept they have zero interest in. It will get them into the university so they such it up and spend four years on a topic they don't care about. Hence when they graduate, they are not interested in whatever it is they studied so want something different when it comes to work - good thing majors here mean very little when it comes ot job hunting, eh?

Personally, I don't see the point of uni here when people aren't hired on their majors and the knowledge they have - unless they are engineers, doctors... If all else fails, many have taken education classes "just in case" and will become teachers. Does "wonders" for the education system. Cough, cough.

3 ( +6 / -3 )


It is interesting that you chose Fujifilm, because they have been incredibly flexible and innovative over the last decade and continue to make a profit, despite losing their main source of income, which was film. I think Sharp would be a better example of a company that has failed to adapt and change with the times.

Because what Fujifilm did was to look further than simply moving to digital photography from analog. Instead, the company tapped its chemical expertise for broader uses, such as drugs and liquid-crystal display panels. Cosmetics, as well, they also made major changes to their company. But according to you there is no innovation at Fujifilm.

However, the great Eastman Kodak company their main competitor twenty years ago filed for bankruptcy protection two years ago. I guess all that American innovation did not help them.

The system is far from perfect in Japan I want to stress that, but I do think people are a touch to quick to criticise. For every Sharp or Sony (Sony still is not that bad) there are Honda, Toyota, Uniqlo, YKK and Kyocera.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I feel so sorry for these kids...They are simply on a production line which takes away their dreams and abilities. this might be the culture of the country, stay on the one path, don't look left or right. For one I will be sending my kids back home to University where they will have the chance to chase their dreams and the freedom to realise them in their own way and time without the pressure of shūkatsu.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Nothing new. Big companies are preferring zombies that have no intrinsic opinion or ideology, also called corporate whores. Since they live to work instead of work to life, they could also just as well have been born into slavery and it would have Ben fine with them.

0 ( +1 / -1 )


Fair points about Fujifilm and perhaps its unfair to criticise them (but see below). I chose them simply because they are the subject of the 80s documentary about new recruits.

This does raise another point though, Japanese companies hiring new 'blank slates' are spending huge sums of money training these recruits up from scratch. The reason that most western companies prefer experienced talent is simply that they don't want to spend money on extensive training when they can find experienced employees at no extra cost.

Regarding Kodak vs Fujifilm, you cannot automatically say that Fujifilm is a better company than Kodak simply because Fujifilm still exists and Kodak is bankrupt. You have to look at how shareholders fared taking into account all the dividends over the life of the company. Fujifilm has spent huge sums of shareholder's funds in training up its employees and buying factories to diversifying itself into a conglomerate to ensure its survival. You have to ask yourself whether shareholders would have been better off letting Fujifilm spend this money to diversify, or whether they would have better if Fujifilm had returned the profits as dividends, letting the shareholders themselves invest in other companies already in those industries without incurring any additional start-up/R&D expenses. It's the portfolio theory of investment that usually makes conglomerates bad investments. I also imagine that Kodak paid substantially higher dividends during its lifetime than the average Japanese corporation. In other words, company survival doesn't automatically equal shareholder success. If Kodak had hoarded profits, then maybe they would still be around. You have to crunch the numbers to find out.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Japanese economic model just doesn't work well any more and hasn't for a long time. We all know that. I suspect it might be because of a dearth of genuine risk-takers. Japan doesn't need any more salarymen, OLs, teachers or civil servants. It needs risk takers to start businesses, fail and start again.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I have a lot of stories of this crazy Doctor at a company I worked for, but my favorite story that I've ever heard about him is this: One time, he took a bunch of resumes and threw them in the trash without even reviewing them. His assistant asked him why he did it, and he replied "I don't want to hire unlucky people."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan will very much stay a spoon-fed nation until they employ younger people in government who have been thoroughly educated overseas. Many Japanese complain that they never really 'learned' English rather, they were told to read it and write it and answer questions but were never really taught to think for themselves or ask questions, off the bat. This sadly, typically describes the way people are and are expected to be, when it comes to employment. Prior to the 'bubble era', companies would search for that one 'genius' and invest all and everything into that person, like a queen bee, of sorts. But, unless Japan changes its ways, most of the next generation as well, will continue robotically working their way up the scale and the rest, will simply move overseas where they can use their brains to their full potential!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Anna Louise has said it all. Japan's business sector, civil service and banking industry continue to reject employees with creative ideas, willingness to take and question 'why'. Rather, let's follow the old ways and disregard the need to move with the times. Even many universities operate this way in their instructional methods. Very sad indeed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is what it is.

I think it's very easy for outsiders who aren't Japanese, have other life options and don't fully understand Japanese life, to cast aspersions and pooh pooh the system, but to me that's some kind of cultural imperialism and an ignorance of the way other cultures work, and the values and customs that drive the system.

Not everyone can be amazing. Not everyone is capable of anything. Scarce few 'get to the stars'. Plenty may not want to. That's Western Egocentric propagandist fairyland rubbish. Lots and lots and lots of people in the West live very, very ordinary, garden variety lives. That's just reality.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Be a blank slate?? Just why Japan is in so much trouble. Be a Zombie and you'll do well in Japan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Who are the zombies, those that are blank when they arrive and spend the rest of their lives learning and growing as a human, or those that define themselves as an accountant, editor, director etc and spend the rest of their lives dying as they nail themselves to a word? Creative? It is not for nothing that everything is made in East Asia, other than words. It is not for nothing that Japanese are so much more fit, youthful and in my eyes happy though they not brag (more words) about it themselves. The downfall of the Japanese economy corresponds to the period during which they started to use non-Japanese employment practices.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I have been on an interview panel a number of times, as I always do I always give my preferences to the one that just enter the workforce. My argument was, how did the experience candidate gained his or her experience at the beginning, if we don’t give the under graduate a chance or the opportunity to gain his or her new skills. Young inexperience should be encourage not discourage. Once the opportunity is given to them, the rest of it is up to them to make it a successful career. Opportunity!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites