The catch 22 of the job world. This problem is even more prominent in translation as almost every position I have ever come across for Japanese/English translation demands at least 3-5 years experience.
Many young graduates of Japanese related fields run into this problem. I find that many might not have the necessary Japanese skills to go into translating right after graduation and so often turn to teaching positions in Japan.
Myself, and others, are stubborn and resist this approach until it’s a last resort and we’re desperate for money/to get back to Japan/experience to open more opportunities. So for those who are at university, or just graduated, or even working but want to become translators in the long run, this one’s for you.
See part 1 of this post here: Getting Translating Experience I – Ways to Improve and Practice Your Translating
*A lot of the following information can also be applied to any other career path, not just Japanese translating*
You need a University degree if you want to work in Japan for any period of time and or for any job. And if you want a job in Japanese translating in general as degree helps too. This is why this post mostly talks about planning your career around a degree.
P.S This is from the perspective of someone from the UK, but can be applied to someone in the US and elsewhere as well.
Getting Translating Experience At Various Points in Your Career
Interested in Japan? Why not Japanese Studies?
Even if you have no idea what you want to do when you’re older, if you have an interest in Japan and Japanese culture, I strongly recommend doing a degree in Japanese studies.
Even if you don’t have A-levels in Japanese there are still many universities that will take completely new students who show an interest in learning Japanese language and culture. Taking a few lessons before hand would be a great help, or if you do a gap year, go and check out Japan to see how you like it.
Doing Japanese Studies at university can be a wonderful experience because you’re not just studying the language, but culture, religion, literature as well. You can often choose which subjects you focus on too, and can get classes in translating and interpreting which really boosts your skills.
And you don’t have to become a translator or even use your Japanese when you finish! It allows you to do a number of things, especially if you take extra classes in computing and/or business.
Personally I didn’t do Japanese at university. When I was in college I had a huge interest in Japan and was studying the language privately, but when it came to picking what I wanted to do at university I had no idea! None what so ever! I was worried that a Japanese degree would be all language studies and too difficult. And then a friend of mine told me that you could only do a Japanese degree if you had a Japanese A-level (which I didn’t) and I believed her without doing the research myself. So I picked Anthropology with a year in Japan, so I could do Japanese without it being to hard. Or so I thought.
Turns out I could have done Japanese at university with what little knowledge I had on the subject. And when I went to Japan for my year abroad I found out that I was way better at it than a lot of the students who did Japanese at university! I don’t regret doing Anthropology, it was a fantastic subject! But it did stifle my Japanese skills and limited my employability after university (turns out the only jobs you can get with Anthropology masters or PhD are Anthropologist or a MI5/GCHQ employee!)
If you are thinking about taking Japanese at university I strongly suggest learning the basics beforehand, at least hiragana, katakana, and some basic vocabulary and grammar.
Japanese Studies graduates mostly go onto to do JET (teaching English) in Japan.
Interested in Japan and a Different Topic?
So you’re interested in Japan but you also find computing or engineering interesting? You have an important choice to make, do you study one and not the other? Do you focus on one at Unviersity and study the other on the side? Well if you have this problem I strongly recommend studying the non-Japanese topic and taking Japanese on the side. This will be a lot of work but the end result is worth it.
I’ve found that many people with a degree in Japanese are not that employable as companies now want people with a focus in another topic like computer science, medical, or engineering, along with Japanese knowledge. This gives you an in-depth knowledge in a subject that makes getting hired as a Japanese to English translator easier. If you find yourself graduating from one of these subjects but lacking the Japanese proficiency, why not study in Japan for a year to improve your Japanese? Or take a masters in Japanese language? You always have time to focus on Japanese afterwards.
If you dream to work in Japan, even if it’s not in translating but you still want to learn Japanese and work in a job using it, it’s good to start early. If you were studying Japanese at University it is predicted that, if you entered as a beginner, you will graduate with JLPT N2 level of Japanese. I think this is a good goal to aim for when you graduate University, but the higher the level (JLPT N1) the better your options after University.
Improve Japanese Language
This can be a challenge for people not studying Japanese at university but it is an obtainable goal. Studying in your own time is do-able and enjoyable and aiming for a JLPT level is a good motivator. Some people might not enjoy the pressure for studying and taking an exam, but for those who do enjoy it I have a post on studying for the different JLPT levels.
Self study isn’t some people’s cup of tea and some might find taking classes more enjoyable. If you do I strongly recommend putting money aside to take Japanese lessons in Japan during the holidays for a few weeks or a few months. Your Japanese improves greatly and it’s great fun visiting Japan and experiencing it for yourself.
As mentioned in the post last week if you practice translating regularly from your first or second year of University, when you graduate you will already have a few years of experience under your belt to put on a resume. And you don’t even need a high level of Japanese to start translating. If you pick simple projects like a few pages of a manga a week and learn the new vocabulary you come across your Japanese will improve greatly and very quickly.
See this first post on Getting Translating Experience for some practice translation tips.
Almost/Recently Graduated & Working
Have you just graduated or soon to graduate from University?
Are you already working? (Doesn’t have to be Japanese related or not)
Or looking for work?
Now it’s time for job hunting! If you’re not at the point where you’ve got the experience and Japanese level to apply to jobs just keep working towards them! As I said, keep practising, studying, and work out ways to reach your goals. (Like I did with spending 6 months after graduation studying in Japan at a language school, and doing the translating blog)
Don’t Do Retail – Do Administration/Office Work!
First of all do not do retail when you graduate!!! If you are currently working in retail it’s probably a good idea to move ASAP. Retail’s great when you’re a student as it’s easy money for the non-experienced, but if you continue after graduation it will not look good on your resume.
Instead I strongly suggest finding a part-time/full-time administration job and doing that while you build up your translating experience, Japanese skills and hunt for a job you want.
Myself and many others have found administration jobs through recruiters, they look better on your resume, get you used to an office environment and pay more than retail. Recruiters can find you work in all kinds of offices, and I know a few people that even worked for the NHS. It doesn’t have to be for long (3 months to 1 year depending on how long it takes to find full time work) but it really is worth even if you don’t go into translating.
How to Job Hunt for Translating Positions
There is no 100% sure way to get hired in any job. And translating a particularly tricky, but I can give some advice to help!
Look for Jobs in Japan
Down the road having lived and worked in Japan for a number of years will greatly, greatly, greatly increase your employability. It will improve your Japanese and interaction skills quicker and will be an amazing experience.
My number one advice for anyone would be sign up to LinkedIn! For those that don’t know, this is a social networking site for professionals. Your profile is like an online resume where people who’ve worked with at work and University can recommend you and confirm your skills. It’s probably the best way to find a job nowadays, especially one in an international market away from your home town. Nepotism (the connections you have) is the best way to get a job, so the point of this site is to not just show off your skills but to connect and make friends with like minded professionals who in the future can introduce you to your career.
When I first signed up on Linkedin I researched a lot the best way to use the site (the best help I found I’ve linked below), but to sum it up I found the following most useful:
- Go over your profile again, and again, and again – I would do this every day, and even now every once in a while. Read through my profile to make sure it sounds good, to make it sound professional and that I haven’t made any mistakes. What’s good is reading it as if you were a job recruiter, and getting a friend who is successful and who you respect to read it and give their honest advice. Make sure it’s polished to perfection!
- Find groups that are relevant and active – post topics and interact with people! – Get your face recognised in the professional community you’re interested in. Besides interacting on general topics also ask people for advice, on the forums and in private messages (and take their advice!). (Two of the best groups for people interested in Japanese translation are Business in Japan and 日本語専門ネットワーキン but it’s good to join a large number)
- Connect to relevant recruiters and to people in the translating industry – What also helps is to look at their profiles and see how they’ve done things.
- Show off your skills and endorse other’s skills – Even if you don’t know a person you can gauge their skills from their profile and it doesn’t take much to put a tick next to their skills when you first connect with them. They might do the same for you, pushing your profile up.
- Make a Japanese Profile – You can make profiles in different languages, including Japanese! Just make sure you get a native to proof-read your Japanese so you sound more professional!
Other articles and advice on using Linkedin:Profile:
Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn Keyword Optimization (10min video)
LinkedIn: Why your profile never gets views, and how you can fix it (case study)
Building Your Network: 3 Things to Do Everyday
Ultimate “Cheat Sheet” on Super-ConnectingJob Applications and Cover Letters:
You’re Hired! The 6 Characteristics I Look For in a Job Application
Sign Up To GaijinPot and CareerCross
GaijinPot – This website is specifically for people looking for jobs, apartments, study opportunities, and travel advice in Japan. GaijinPot Jobs focuses on teaching positions but also has other opportunities. Almost all of the careers here are based in Japan.
CareerCross – This site is just for Japanese/English bilingual jobs that are more often than not mid-level jobs and/or jobs for native speaking Japanese people and/or only for people already working in Japan. But CarrerCross Jobs can also have entry level and low skilled opportunities like recruiting positions.
It’s worth applying to BOTH of these websites and really work on improving your profile to the same level as the LinkedIn one (especially if you include Japanese).
Take Teaching in Japan if You’re Currently Unskilled
It’s not the end of the world if you end up teaching English in Japan. It’s a good way to get your foot in the door! You’ll be in Japan with a working visa (which will make it easier to find other jobs in Japan in the future). You’ll be able to take Japanese lessons and improve faster when living with native speakers. You’ll be making more money than retail and it will look great on your resume.
A lot of people when they think of teaching in Japan think JET, but the application process is about a year long and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job with them. But there are other teaching opportunities and GaijinPot and CareerCross will both have teaching positions all year round. Just remember the application process for those non-JET teaching positions will take 3 months, and you should give yourself a month to get all the necessary documents together for application and visa process (which will be explained by the teaching places when you apply).
Getting a job in translating, or just using your Japanese, can take a while and will need a lot of planning. But no matter where you are in life if you keep working at it you’re sure to succeed.
Remember, get an administration job ASAP and then a job in Japan as soon as you can after that! Keep working on your Japanese (even paid professionals need to constantly study) and your translating practice. Show possible employees how awesome you are with LinkedIn, GaijinPot and CareerCross!
And let me/people know below in the comments if you have any more advice for people! Good luck guys!