Anonymous on job-market barriers to NJ graduates of J universities: The “IQ Test”


Hi Blog. Feedback from a reader about prospects of finding work in Japan as a NJ despite graduation from a J university. According to the author, barriers are put up at the entry level all over again to prefer native candidates–or at least how they get tested by IQ. Read on:

Hello Debito. I am a reader of your blog since I came to Japan the second time in September 2006. I am a Master’s student at [an extremely prestigious Japanese university] and do research on “national identity” in Japan. That is why I was interested in your homepage in the first place.

But now I feel discriminated the first time and wanted to ask you for some advice.

I started searching for a job in Japan because I will graduate next year but I want to stay in Japan. I started as early as the japanese students, visited countless fairs and setsumeikai, and bought all the expensive books on business fields, tests and self analysis. In short – I didn’t do anything wrong. But now all my J friends have a job contract and I still don’t what is extremely frustrating. Because I put more effort into it then most of them and I don’t think I am less smart, but still I did not get even one serious offer.

The reason for this is a stupid old fashioned IQ test like test which is quite the same at each company. It is not so difficult but the time limit for each problem is very strict, which is a major disadvantage for NJ graduates. Once I did the test in English at ONE out of 35 companies which provided the same test in English for NJ applicantsand passed easily, although English is NOT my mother language. I am German.

(I failed at the second interview though. Partly because I was inexperienced and nervous. It was my first and last opportunity for an interview)

I think this test is extremely unfair against all NJ, because it needs far much more preparation than for J students to master it and even then you have less chances to pass. In other words, even with the best preparation it’s a gamble.

It would be much better for the students (and the companies who waste talent) to provide the test in English and add an extra test for the Japanese abilities of NJ students. The English test for the J students is quite meaningless because its far too easy (I finished it 10 min. before the time was over and had everything right). But it is not enough to compensate the lack of speed reading skills in Japanese which need 12+ years of J education system.

I think if Japan wants to keep the students who studied here and want to contribute something to Japan’s society they should think these recruiting practices over, or they will loose well educated brain power in a world wide competition.

Anonymous (who is serously thinking about going to the US or back to Europe…)

COMMENT: When I got my first non-Eikaiwa job in Japan (back in 1989), I too had to take an IQ test–the same one meted out to regular entrants, and in Japanese. Well, I failed–after only a couple of years of classroom and street study, my Japanese wasn’t good enough yet. So the boss administered other tests, such as having me read the newspaper aloud etc, making it a language test. Up to that point, I had been trained more in Japanese the Spoken Language (Eleanor Jorden’s text), not written, so I didn’t do well enough for him again. He was about to deny me the job when I did what I do best–talk persuasively in Japanese. I convinced him the test wasn’t representative of my real abilities nor would it reflect accurately upon what I could do for his company. I passed that test, as I got hired, and from that point on became much better in Japanese working for a year at an intern in a software company. But this was Bubble Japan (and companies were looking for ways to “internationalize” themselves; plus I took a big pay cut), and I clearly got far more rope to explain my way into a job than the above author, who has far more ability and experience (and a degree from a world-class Japanese university) yet got stopped for lack of “measurable IQ”.

This is an issue that deserves attention, so others with experience should feel welcome to comment. For in the poster’s view (and mine), these sorts of barriers only hurt Japan when educated candidates want to stay and contribute. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

9 comments on “Anonymous on job-market barriers to NJ graduates of J universities: The “IQ Test”

  • What kind of companies are these? There are NJs working at companies all over Japan who never had to take an entrance examination. I happen to be one of them but there are many others like me, especially in the Tokyo area, and this is at both J and NJ-owned firms.

    The way I see it, it’s hard to claim that an exam is discriminatory when it’s testing language ability. If you’re getting rejected from jobs targeted for people with a native level of Japanese, perhaps the question is whether you’re the right person for that sort of position.

    Besides that, if your company is not used to hiring NJs, you’re going to have an uphill battle on many more fronts (housing and immigration matters come to mind right away).

  • sorry but this isnt discrimination..

    you can make a case that if they are looking for people with different skill sets then there should be different testing standards,but at the end of the day you were tested to the same system as everyone else.

  • Well, putting aside the stupidity of employing ‘IQ’ tests in this day and age – it may be discriminatory. They are looking to measure the job applicants ‘IQ’ with this test. It is inarguable that the NJ graduate’s ‘IQ’ is not being measured by this test – only his Japanese reading/comprehension skills.

    Whether that can run in court is a matter for J-Lawyers.

  • german_guy says:

    I am the one who sent the mail to Debito.

    Maybe it is not discrimination, but it keeps the entry level job market very exclusive.

    I’m not the only one who thinks so, but my french, chinese and korean friends don’t know this page.

    To give a little more information on my case.
    I applied for many (35) of the really big J corporations who all state that they “actively hire” foreign graduates.
    I have JLPT level 1, passed the entrance examination to one of the most prestigous university’s grad school and write my thesis in Japanese.
    I also wrote my applications in Japanese and at the one company, where I got an interview they told me that my Japanese skills are more than enough for the job.

    But the test is designed to measure your intelligence, logical thinking etc.
    and that is unfair, because native speakers don’t have to do the extra work of thinking in a foreign language.
    This test should be provided at least in English to balance this disadvantage and instead of the far too easy English test, which is taylored for J student there should be a Japanese test for foreigners.
    I don’t think it is real discrimination, but it shows some ignorace of corporations who pretend to be global and diverse.

    I didn’t just send this to Debito because of sour grapes, or just because I want to complain.
    There are still chances and I take the responsibility for my failure.

    I just think the system is not fair and could hurt the Japanese economy and society.

  • The test is SPA and I think it is some thing about high school math. I had same situation. I am an engineer and graduated from the most famous Japanese university in Civil Eng. I was stopped by this test and even one of friends passed it, they asked a second test which was writing a letter in Japanese and request something from bochou! Finally I gave up to enter from front door and I entered through Hakken Company which usually secretary or technician are hired. After entering the same company, they have assigned me very serious national projects and even once my manager tried to change my contract to regular employee but I heard that president of company directly opposed.(Keidanren official policy to not hire permanently).I think they are desperatly in need of qualified employees but they won’t do the same mistake that british and american did and they want to keep grip on their companies.
    There are some companies which are hire a few foreigner (Like Nissan, Mitsubishi,Toshiba) but mostly don’t(the worst is construction industry). I think the number of foreign regular employee on a company is a good index. I wish some one make a list.

  • I’m also in the same position as german_guy (I’m currently earning a Master’s at a good Japanese University and hope to stay and work here. I’ve passed the Level 1 Japanese exam and speak fluent Japanese) and completely agree with him.

    The following has been experienced by me firsthand and confirmed by the head of a Japanese human resource agency who I discussed my situation with. It is very hard (almost impossible) for a NJ to get into Japanese companies the Japanese way, i.e. applying just as any Japanese person would for a Japanese entry-level position and going through the application/interview/ability test process. Even companies that claim to be looking for NJ employees rarely ever accept them at the entry-level because they believe that the NJ are relatively harder to train and control. The only real clear path for a NJ to enter into a Japanese company is to transfer in from another company.
    The bottom-line is that 99% of Japanese companies are only looking for Japanese entry-level employees and no on else.

    With a declining population growth rate and talk of increasing immigration in the future, Japanese companies must become more open to hiring NJ at the entry-level, especially when they are as qualified as german_guy and myself.

  • here is the list if the index of the companys that hire regular foreign employees
    1. ECC
    2. Nova (now bankrupt)
    3. AEON (going bankrupt)

    THE big 3,, not much chance in japan for good jobs,is there???

  • The problem with finding a job in any country is finding a position where you fit the company. You have to ask yourself what they want, and what do you want. Its not about trying to get in cuz they are big and famous, its about finding a good match. A lot of companies only want certain kinds of gaijin and that is up to them to determine. It sucks that less qualified people get jobs and the rest of us have to make do with things that we have to do to feed our families. Prejudice sucks!

  • Michael Weidner says:

    I’m not sure that this is really discrimination nor is it a case of being unfair to NJ people. From the description of the situation, it seems like they didn’t hire german_guy because of his inability to speed read the Japanese in the IQ test. I’m not sure about other people, but for myself, thinking in Japanese and thinking in English are no different to one another; I find each one just as natural as the other. I think that by making Japanese companies have an IQ test in English for NJ people it again makes us not equal because we have to be given a separate test, meaning we need special treatment. Yes, it’s hard to do a placement test in Japanese when you don’t have the time that you need to think it through. It’s the same thing when Japanese people have to do the same sorts of tests back in my native Canada. I honestly don’t think that by making a test in English will help any of us NJ achieve the level of equality to regular Japanese that we soo despirately are looking to achieve.

    Does this suck? Yes. If you are looking for unfairness in the system, I would look more towards this: I’m currently an AET but am looking to actually become a real teacher in my school. I’m going to go back to univeristy to get my BEd in Elementary Education and I’m looking to do so here. Here’s the bad – Even if I were to get my teaching degree from Tokyo University (which is the most prestigeous University in the country and being a grad from there pretty much guarantees you a job), I wouldn’t be allowed to take the baord exam to become a teacher, because I’m not Japanese. So even if I were to do everything the same and be just or if not moreso qualified than other people in my field, I wouldn’t be able to enter that job because I am not Japanese (not even remotely ^^;; ).


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