I’m often asked how to write an IT resume for the Japan market.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve read thousands of resumes written by IT people from all over the world. I’ve edited and reformatted many of them before sending them to my clients. Each time I hope the feedback will be an interview request and I firmly believe that the quality of the resume, not just the content it contains, influences that feedback. When it comes to resumes, first impressions do count.
There are no hard and fast ‘rules’ to writing a resume for a tech job in Japan. It is subjective. However, I believe there are some basics and, if you stick to them, you will increase your chance of getting an interview (which is the whole point of your resume in the first place).
Before we start, please bear in mind that I’m talking about a Western-style resume or CV here, not the Japanese ‘rirekisho’ format, which includes your photo. (You can find English language guides to rirekisho online, such as this).
If you’re applying to a global company, to a recruiting agency that focuses on the gaishikei (international) company market, or for a job in a Japanese company that operates in English (such as Rakuten), you’ll need a Western-style resume in English, perhaps a direct translation of it in Japanese, and maybe a rirekisho too. (Job hunting in Japan is not kind to trees).
Here are my top tips, from the outside in.
Stick to a Microsoft Word document or a PDF. Resumes written in Excel are pretty close to a crime against humanity. You may love your Mac and its Pages format, or a rich text document, but stick to Word or PDF and you can’t go far wrong.
Agencies often need to edit resumes to remove candidate personal information, add logos, and so on, so I’d send them an MS Doc. For direct applications to companies, I’d send a PDF.
Use a basic full-width format for the document, as it’s the easiest format for the recipient to import into their recruiting database or applicant tracking system (ATS).
You might think a sidebar with lists of your skills or certifications looks good on paper (and maybe it does), but most agencies and hiring companies are using a database or other electronic system to manage candidate information, and sidebars usually mess up the resume import (perhaps not even importing the information you mean to highlight). Save the recipient 10-15 minutes of frustration from trying to fix your data in their system and make a better first impression on them.
The same goes for avoiding graphics, such as images of bar graphs to show skill or language levels. Keep it simple with text.
“But how will my resume stand out?”, I hear you ask.
Believe me, clean, simple, full-width text with good content will stand out against the graphic design monstrosities used by the cool kids.
Fonts & Style
Keep to a simple Arial or Times New Roman. No need to use different fonts for headings, sub-headings and text. You might think it looks good but it doesn’t. Send me something with Arial 10 for text, Arial 12 for headings and Arial 16 for your name at the top, and you’re my new best friend.
No need to bold keywords or use underlines everywhere. (I’ve lost days of my life trying to remove dividing lines from resumes in Word that turn out to be borders and section breaks and other ungodly formatting.)
“How many pages should it be?” is the question I’m most often asked by candidates about resumes. For most IT people, I think 2-4 pages is about right (more on this later when we discuss content).
I often receive one page resumes from North American candidates. These are generally too short to highlight your skills and experience enough. So, no need to use Arial 8pt to squeeze everything onto one page and have me reaching for my magnifying glass.
It’s not usual for candidates from countries such as India, where attention to detail and thoroughness are prized, to send me resumes of 8 or 10 pages (I’ve received 18 page resumes in the past). This is just way too much information and I’m sorry to say, it won’t be read.
As we’ll see below, summarising and shortening appropriate information will help you keep to a 2-4 page format in most cases.
I like to stick to a pretty simple structure, as follows:
Name & Contact Details
Technical Skills or Skills (depending on your skillset)
Let’s step through each of these in turn.
Name and Contact Details
Your name, centred, with your contact details directly below in a smaller font (phone number and email address). Write the city & country you reside in. Add your Github or LinkedIn here too. Avoid putting your contact details in the header as they may not be imported properly into a candidate database.
This is your elevator pitch. A short introductory paragraph highlighting your key professional experience. Its purpose is to capture the attention of the reader and make them want to read the rest of your resume and give you an interview.
For best effect, customise the ‘Summary’ based on the job you’re applying for.
No need for an ‘Objectives’ section. Your only objective is an interview for the role you’re applying to.
If you’re non-Japanese and have a visa which allows you to work in Japan, this is a good place to mention it.
Technical Skills or Skills
Again, I like to keep it simple and easy to read & import, so no tables or images. For example,
Programming: Java, C/C++, C#
OS: Windows, Mac, Linux
If you’re non-technical or want to highlight skills, use a simple 2-column or 3-column matrix, e.g.
Project Management | People Management | Stakeholder Management
The meat and potatoes of your resume. Here are my thoughts on writing about your work experience.
Write in reverse chronological order, i.e., your most recent job first.
Keep to a simple ‘Company name, location, dates employed, job title/team’ format for the header of each role, such as this:
ACME Consulting, Tokyo Jul 2017 – Present
Software Developer, Front-End team
For the content, please don’t just paste the job description for your role in here. Job descriptions are usually very boring and often not what you actually did.
The point here is to give an overview of your role (not every last detail) and show what you achieved in the role (to show the reader that they should invite you for an interview).
Also, don’t write paragraphs of text or prose. They’re hard to read.
I recommend something like the following, using bullet points for easy reading:
- 1-2 line overview of your responsibilities
- 4-5 lines with more details of your role & responsibilities
- 1-3 lines of your achievements in the role
For example, for a desktop engineer:
- Desktop engineer providing bilingual 1st and 2nd line support for 850 users in a team of 3
- Received calls from end-users in the Tokyo and Osaka offices and provided phone, remote or on-site support, as appropriate
- Responsible for escalation to offshore 3rd line support (e.g. network team, server team) while maintaining ownership of the ticket and end-user communication
- Supported Windows 7, Windows 10, Office, Outlook, Dell hardware, Lenovo laptops
- Created and maintained a wiki-based knowledge base to ensure a consistent and fast response to common user problems
- Maintained an average end-user satisfaction rate of over 90% (highest in the team, measured by end-user surveys)
- Rated as ‘Excellent’ on performance reviews each year I worked at the company.
Of course, the number of bullet points depends on your role and experience level, but try to keep it compact. I’ve received resumes with 30 bullet points for a role and fallen asleep by point 22.
If your role involves project-based work (e.g. in development, as a PM), and you have more than 2 or 3 projects per role, consider collating them into a ‘Projects’ addendum at the end of the resume and just give an overview of the role itself. However, if there are only 1 or 2 projects, keep them in the main text for ease of reading.
Also, for projects, show the start and end dates, not just the duration, so that the reader can understand when in your career you did them. If you’re a PM, show the budget and resources managed, so that the reader can understand the project scale.
In IT, your most recent experience is often the experience you’re relying on to get your next job. As a result, I tend to focus on and write more about, the past 3-5 years. You don’t need 10 bullet points about your programming job in VB 6 in 2004. For jobs past 15 years or so, often the job title alone, or with one bullet point, is fine. I do keep older jobs on my resume to show career progression.
If you’re a developer, you don’t need to go into great detail about projects. Often the project title is enough. I’ve received resumes that were along the lines of “If the user pushed the red button, the monthly sales report would be printed. If the user pushed the blue button, the inventory report would be printed”. Yawn. ‘Created a web-based reporting system for the client’s sales team’ is enough.
List recent technical and language certification here. No need to show license numbers or give any portal login information to the reader. If they want to check if your certification is real, they’ll ask.
Certification is a great way to show your interest in learning new things and that you take your self-education seriously (especially if you paid the exam fees yourself too). Having said that, go easy on listing courses such as Coursera, especially short course. I’d stick to listing a half-dozen major courses appropriate to the job you’re applying for.
If your most recent certification is a swimming club badge from 1994, delete this section altogether. There’s nothing sadder on a resume that seeing lists of out-of-date certifications and courses. Keep it relevant.
(And go and buy a book or go online and learn something. It’s never been easier.)
Again, keep it simple and keep it to higher education or professional courses only. No need for your secondary school results. For example,
Kilkenny Institute of Techno Wizardry
B.Sc. in Applied Computing, September 2014
Show your English & Japanese language skills, along with your native language (if neither of these). For Japanese, it’s good to state your speaking/reading/writing levels, as each could be different. For example,
Japanese: Speaking – Fluent; Reading/Writing – Business-level (N2 certification 2014)
People use different levels. I use None – Basic – Conversational – Intermediate – Business or Advanced – Fluent – Native
‘None’ is definitely not good – at least get to ‘Basic’ or ‘Conversational’ (able to give directions to your taxi driver and chat about football). ‘Advanced’ or ‘Business’ I’d typically put at a TOEIC of 800+ or at N2 level Japanese. ‘Fluent’ I’d put at TOEIC 900+ or N1 level. ‘Native’ is the mother tongue you grew up with.
‘Business’ level can be tricky as it very much depends on the business at hand. The Japanese level to send email to your colleagues and speak at internal meetings is much lower than the level required to visit a Japanese client and discuss their business requirements for a new project.
I’ll sometimes highlight a candidate’s language level by writing a comment on how they use the language at work, especially if language usage is important to the client. For example: ‘Japanese – Business level (N2 2014. Internal meetings, internal email, create basic project documentation in Japanese)
What you don’t need
- A photo (although some companies will ask for a rirekisho which includes a photo)
- Your age or date of birth
- Your full postal address, to protect your privacy. (If you’re outside Japan, do mention that in your Summary)
- Your gender
- Your marital status
- Your referees (if the agency or company want to do a reference check, they’ll ask you)
- Your passport number
- The names of your parents
- A declaration at the end stating that your resume is true to the best of your knowledge.
That’s it. How to write an IT resume for Japan. Keep it simple. Keep it accurate. Show your skills and achievements. Skip the fancy designs. We’re good.
Here’s a downloadable template to get you started.
Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.
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