One of the things that impressed me when I first got to know some of my students at the women's junior college where I teach was how many of them had already started their job search back in the second semester of their freshman year. When I was their age, the only thing I was seriously looking for was a steady girlfriend and a cheap place to drink beer.
And now, only two months into their second (and final) year, a number of my students have already received job offers. This is a testament that even in today’s severe job market, a person can still find the job she wants if she has a clear goal and is doggedly persistent in pursuing it. So, stick with it!
Those in my second year writing classes will have already heard this, but the nature of job-hunting in the United States differs greatly from that in Japan.
In Japan, there is a ritual of sorts. Armies of students, their hair dyed black and wearing black “recruit” suits, attend lectures conducted by company representatives who talk about their company’s merits and explain the application procedures. Interested students then submit a hand-written application, take a test of “general” or “common” knowledge which can ironically delve into the arcane, and, in the event they clear this hurdle, participate in a series of group discussions and interviews designed to whittle down the number of applicants to a dozen or so candidates. The whole process can take several months, but once hired the student is able to kick back and enjoy her remaining days in school.
In America and I would venture Canada, as well, the situation is quite different. At better universities, company scouts sometimes recruit students right on campus, but most students are left to their own devices. They must contact companies on their own, send out resumes and set up interviews with employers who, unlike Japanese companies, are generally not interested in hiring new graduates because they lack experience. This is where the popular phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know” comes to mind.
Connections are important when looking for a job. They can help you, both figuratively and literally, get a foot into the door. Because of this, your more aggressive student will take part in internships during his long summer vacation. A former student of mine who has just finished up his first year at Yale (I taught him everything he knows) is currently in Tôkyô doing an internship with the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. The internship not only provides a student with valuable experience, but also enables him to widen his “network” of people who might be able to help him when he starts looking for work.
And speaking of starting one’s job-hunt, another striking difference between our countries is that while most Japanese students will start looking a year and a half prior to graduating, there is no such uniformity in the west. Most students are far too busy studying in their final years at college to even think about their future career options. Many won’t begin seriously looking for work until after graduating from college.
I lucked out personally when I was a student. I had a number of part-time (and not-so part-time) jobs when I was young, one of which was as a lab assistant at Oregon Health Sciences University, home of the medical college I was thinking of attending for graduate school. The head of the laboratory took a liking to me and offered me a full-time position once I graduated. I accepted and worked there until shortly before coming to Japan.