How to find your first web developer job in Tokyo

You’re fresh off university or just graduated from Le Wagon, and you have one dream: working in Japan! Let’s be clear, finding your first job as web developer is probably going to be the hardest step in your career. The good news is, in Tokyo there is an estimate of 2 job offers for 1 candidate in the web development field, and if you’re serious about your job search you are pretty much guaranteed to find the perfect match for you.

We’ve been supporting our students to find jobs in Japan for the past two years, and have gathered a comprehensive list of resources and tips on how to maximize your chances. For this guide, we also sat down with industry experts, Computer Futures, to help us add useful insights as well as provide figures about the market.

First and foremost, as for many countries, it is very unlikely that you’ll find a job remotely, so hop on the first flight to Tokyo!

The next thing you need to know once you’re there: Sitting behind your laptop and applying online is not your best bet. In most cases, landing that first position will happen through word of mouth, events, networking and personal connections that you manage to build.

Without further ado, here is our step by step guide on navigating the Japan job hunt maze!

Your homework: getting ready for job hunting

Know what you’re looking for

The very first step, which may sound obvious, is to be clear about what you’re looking for. Are you more interested in back-end, or do you see yourself as a full-stack developer? Are you aiming for a large-size company, or for startups? Are you really looking for a job in Japan, or are you keeping your options open?

There are two reasons why this matters: first, you’ll tend to apply “all over the place” if you’re not clear on these questions, and you’ll be more inclined to give up or lose faith if you’re keeping a backup plan. Second, when you land an interview, you’ll have to convince the company that they were your one and only target all along.

Polish your resume

Opinions strongly vary on how to build the perfect resume, but all recruiters agree on one thing: most people don’t spend enough time building the one asset that could land them a job. There are countless resources to help you do that, so you have no excuses.

As a junior developer, you do have limited experience to show for, and you’ll want to find ways to differentiate yourself: know your strength, add your past experiences (even if it’s not related to web development), and prefer showing than telling. “Look at this web app” sounds much more compelling that “I learnt Ruby and Javascript”. Which takes us to…

Your LinkedIn profile. It should at the very least be as comprehensive as your resume. LinkedIn offers much more, though:

  • Your network is probably the most powerful of all. Use it to get in touch with people working at your targeted companies. At best they can connect you with HR, and at worst they will give you valuable insights.
  • Add links to all the projects you’ve been working on.
  • Recruiters run searches targeting specific keywords: make sure they appear on your profile, and clearly state “Looking for opportunities” at the top of it.

You’ll also discover that LinkedIn is actually not so popular in Japan, and you might be surprised at first to be asked for your Facebook profile during events and networking sessions. Be prepared for that, polish your profile and remove those drunk pictures.

Build up your Portfolio

It may sound obvious, but job searching is also about keeping yourself sharp and ready for interviews. Recruiters and companies will look into your skillset, but also ask you a critical question: “What are you working on right now?”.

A lot of our alumni use the weeks following the bootcamp to add a couple of lines to their resume by learning new frameworks (e.g. React). That goes a long way towards landing more interviews, on top of showing your commitment as a web developer.

What to work on? Find a pet project (building your fantasy football webapp for instance) and don’t hesitate to make the code public on Github. This has two benefits:

  • Potential employers will look directly into your code;
  • You will keep a steady stream of green squares on your Github profile.
Your perfect web developer Github dashboard

Japanese

On to the question we probably get the most… How much Japanese do I need to know to find a job in Tokyo? The short answer: it doesn’t really matter. Some of our students land in Tokyo and manage to find job opportunities only 2 weeks into the bootcamp without speaking a single word of Japanese. Looking at job listings, some positions only require N5/N4 Japanese equivalent, which is considered beginner level and which you can reach after only a couple of months of serious practice. For that reason, we strongly recommend to still apply for those positions even if your Japanese level is still shaky. That said, unsurprisingly, you’ll have access to many more opportunities if you can at least sustain a casual conversation in 日本語.

The good news is, Japan is doing a very good job at providing access to basic Japanese language education for foreigners: once you become a proud holder of a resident card, all “ku” in Tokyo offer free Japanese classes once per week ran by volunteers (some of whom retired teachers).

Do freelance work

A great way to keep yourself busy during that job search period is to find small freelance projects to work on. Friends and connections launching businesses is a very good place to start with, while platforms like Upwork or Toptal will open up opportunities to work remotely.

Freelancing is a very efficient way to achieve all points above at once: you’ll build up your portfolio, keep your skills up-to-date and most importantly you won’t fall in a downward spiral of not being able to find a job and hating yourself for that. Lastly, it allows you to interact with your network in a proactive way: instead of “I am looking for a job”, the message you’re sending out is “I have something to offer”. It often happens that the 2-week freelance gig you’re working on today turns into an actual full-time job.

Finding your job: network, network, network

Browse job boards

The very first place most people start looking into are job boards. It can give you a good feel of the job market, but eventually we noticed that a large majority of job seekers find their first position through networking or referral. Still, here are the main job websites you may want to check out:

As we previously mentioned, do not run away if a position you like requires some conversational Japanese. Similarly, you will notice that a lot web development jobs require 1–2 years of experience, and those are definitely within your range. Some job descriptions also tend to list out a lot of tools and languages: do not self-censor if you don’t know one or two of the acronyms listed out, and try to identify what language or framework is critical to master for this position.

If you happen to stumble upon a job you like… Do not apply! Finding a job via networking also means creating opportunities to network. Our best advice at this point is to go on LinkedIn and switch your “stalker mode” on. Do you (or your connections) know anyone working at this company? If that’s the case, reach out to that person and propose to meet. Worst case, they’ll give you some insights about what it is to work there. Best case? They might be able to put your resume on top of the pile.

Lastly, don’t spend your whole time behind a computer only checking job listings: this is the best way to get discouraged during your search. If you’re a shy kind of person, you can go beyond job listings and find professionals with similar interests on LinkedIn: get in touch with them. But then again, our best advice is to go out and meet people!

Go to Meetups!

The Meetup scene in Tokyo has strongly been growing over the past two years, and there is rarely one day without a tech-related event. Besides Meetup, there are two other Japan-specific event listings that you may want to check: Doorkeeper and Peatix. Doorkeeper has grown to be the number one tech event listing in Tokyo, and its founder Paul is also supporting job search through his personal page Tokyodev.

Some of the events we strongly recommend joining are being run by Tokyo Tech Startups, Dev Japan and Design Japan, Tokyo Rails and Tokyo rubyist, 500 Startups, and of course, the biggest hackathons:

Prior to the event, you may want to print out some business cards, as this remains your very first “introduction” to the outside world. For those of you who’ve read “How to win friends…”, you already know a trick or two about how to connect with strangers: don’t do the talking, listen. Ask questions, and be genuinely interested in what the person has to say.

The last step can happen during or after the event. Go through all the meishi (business cards) you’ve collected, find these people on social networks, connect with them, and discover about the companies they work for. A lot of potential positions are not being posted on job listings, and often hide in the “career” section of a corporate website.

“Landing that first position will happen through word of mouth, events, networking and personal connections that you manage to build”

Try Yenta

If you happen to have some basic Japanese and would like to dig one level deeper into more local social networks, try Yenta.

It basically works as a “Tinder for business”: you create your profile, specify your area of expertise and what you’re looking for (all this in Japanese). You’ll then be seeing 10 profiles per day, that you can decide to swipe right or not. Once you match with someone, the custom is often to go for lunch or coffee. If you’re not yet fully comfortable going through a 1-hour lunch in Japanese, don’t worry: a lot of people on Yenta work for small tech companies and often can speak English.

Recruitment agencies

Japan has its fair share of local and international recruitment agencies, and even though most of them are looking for experienced professionals (in IT as well as other fields), they might be a good entry point into some larger companies. The list of such companies is long, but you can start by looking into the following: Robert Walters, RGF, Robert Half, Hays, …

We also strongly recommend the more “boutique-style” Computer Futures, which focuses on IT jobs and will truly spend time to understand potential candidates.

You may feel that getting in touch with as many of them is a good bet, but building a relationship with the recruiter who is taking care of you matters: the more often you touch base with them, the more likely your name will come first when a job opportunity shows up. Our advice: meet them, get a feel of how interested they may be in your profile, and how hard they’ll be working on placing you.

What to expect?

You finally landed your first interview, or even better, got an actual offer. Congrats! Now you probably wonder what to expect, or is the offer you got a good one?

Interviews

Expect the usual: it takes 2 to 4 interviews to get hired, and you will most of the time have to go through HR, followed by the team and hiring manager. Pair programming and online tests are becoming common, as well as going through your Github account and asking questions about the projects you’ve been working on.

Interviews check for both cultural and technical fit, and can also be a very good way for you to discover the working environment: what are people wearing? Does it seem like an open-minded culture? What are working hours like? Remember that you’re “interviewing” them as much as they are interviewing you.

Salaries

We’ll go straight to the point for this one: junior web developers in Tokyo get paid 4 to 5 millions Yen a year. That is $2,500 to $3,200 net, taking into account income tax that the company will pay for you.

“Entry level developer roles in Tokyo get paid 4 to 5 millions Yen a year on average”

When it comes to the offer, pay attention to small perks that can make a huge difference: Is the company paying for your commute? What social insurance are they offering?

Though the entry-level salary may feel low compared to some other countries, the good news is that you can expect a pretty significant raise after 2 to 3 years. A good example of this was given by a developer at Cookpad, who published her salary increase over the years. Some of our alumni are entering their second year on the market, and also received raises ranging from 20 to 70% after only one year.

頑張って!

Looking for a job can be frustrating, but from what we’ve noticed over the past couple of years, only two factors matter: dedication and motivation. If you’re serious about being a developer in Japan, constantly work on your skills, and connect with people, you will get there.

Reach out to us at Le Wagon Tokyo if you want to discover more about the local ecosystem, join weekly tech events, or… if you want to become web developer!