Inside Japan Podcast

Your career in Japan starts on a hill.

Dispatch companies get a pretty bad reputation online. Go to almost any corner of the internet and you can find people complaining about this company or that company. Here is what you should do to improve your situation.

Imagine it as a bonsai covered, guarded-by-a-statue, extremely “Japanese-looking” hill, if that helps. Mine looks something like the image above.

You are one of the thousands of other foreigners in Japan facing that incline, walking at different speeds to keep your spot against the pull of gravity.

Above you, things look nice.

The terrain doesn’t get any more forgiving, but the grass is a bit greener and the trees sure do look nice. There are fewer people like yourself up there. You’d love to have a spot next to the statue. Or maybe to go even higher than that.

You want to get up there, but your current walking speed is really just keeping you at the same elevation.

Now you have to ask yourself a question: are you ready to get rolling? Ready to get to the higher parts of this hill, no matter what the costs? Ready to beat out the 1000s of other people all around you?

The following are some ways that you can get yourself power-walking up that hill, no matter how far down you think you might be at the moment.


#1 – Improve your Japanese.

Your Japanese level determines how many career doors are open to you. While N5 on the Japanese Proficiency Test might open a few doors for you, N2 or N1 on the same test (or the equivalent Japanese level, the actual test isn’t that important) means basically every door is wide open and just waiting for you to step through it. If you’re serious about working in Japan for the long haul, it’s time to stop making excuses and make it a priority.

#2 – Never Stop Job Hunting.

No matter how great you think your job is now, you should be looking for a better one all the time. Set up email alerts, go to job fairs, network your ass off, and find your next step up. Besides the possibility of finding a better position outright, every interview, interaction, and email you send is valuable practice for future opportunities uphill.

Send resumes to every job you are even remotely interested in, take every interview you can, and level-up your job hunting skill set so that when the right opportunity comes along, you’ll be ready. 

#3 – Learn More.

While your Japanese level is the biggest determining factor regarding which jobs are available to you in Japan, the total number of “things” you can do is a pretty huge one as well. You probably know that, though, from having sought any job ever in any country. Your CV still needs to be strong.

There is virtually no limit to the number of things you can learn by yourself thanks to the Internet. You can pursue a graduate degree, learn how to code, work on your conference call skills, or any number of other developmental tactics. It’s a pretty simple formula: increase your skills, get a better job.

#4 – Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

If you’re really interested in advancing your career, most of your non-working time should be filled with item numbers 1, 2, or 3 above (or a combination of the three). There’s always something you can be doing to find your next job every second of the day.

So, you really have to take a self-audit of how well you’re using your time. In the interest of serving that mentality, give yourself this little quiz whenever you’re unsure if you’re maximizing your efforts:

  • Are you passively waiting for a better position to magically appear?
  • Are you expecting the perfect job opportunity to show up in your email?
  • Are you hoping that you will meet the right professional contact at a gaijin bar?

Filling your time with things like these (or even less productive ventures, like binge-watching Netflix for example) will only ensure you stay cemented in your current spot, digging a deeper and deeper hole at the bottom of that beautiful, bonsai-covered career hillside.

So what will it be, my fellow foreigner in Japan? If you’ve read this far, you’re probably willing, so get rolling. And be sure to say hi to me if you pass me on your way to the top…unless I get there first, of course.

Peter Lackner is the Managing Partner at and has had management-level positions at major job boards in Japan including:, GaijinPot, CareerEngine and currently the managing partner at

Running a job board gives Peter the opportunity to speak with employers and job seekers every day and find out why some are successful and others are not. Speaking to both employers and job seekers has given Peter the ability to be able to see both sides of the hiring process. This is why exists - to help job seekers find the jobs they want and employers to find the candidates they need.

Peter is active in the ETJ (English Teachers in Japan organization), a member of JALT’s School Owners SIG and currently on the Executive Board of the Tokyo Association of International Preschools.

You can often find Peter speaking to groups on how to get a new or better job, and to employers on how to avoid making a bad hire.

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