January 27, 2024
By Fuka Arai
Japanese companies tend to ask job seekers to wear “recruit suits” with a black jacket, skirt/trousers, pumps, and white shirt during job hunting while companies also ask them to show their individuality and personality, which is one of the contradictory cultures in Japan.
Japanese “Unique” Recruitment System
Are you familiar with the Japanese recruitment method called “ikkatsu saiyou”? In the United States, for instance, companies recruit employees when they have a vacancy, and students normally start seeking jobs after graduation from college or university. Japanese style, however, is different from other countries' methods. “Ikattu saiyo” is a common system for undergraduates seeking jobs in Japan. In the process of this system, university students simultaneously start to participate in companies’ job fairs, job interviews, and internships when they are juniors or seniors in university or college. To apply these processes, they commonly need to submit an “Entry Sheet” with their resumes to many companies, an application document informing why they want to go to this company or what they did in university. Then, in April when they finish their studies, they quickly shift themselves from students to employees mostly without gap years.
According to research about what young adults wear during job hunting by Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd, 51.5% of the human resources department stated that companies did not expect applicants to wear business attire other than black suits during interviews and information sessions. In the process of hiring new graduates, many students are asked to give their "gakuchika," abbreviation of gakuseizidaini chikarawo iretakoto (what an applicant actively devotes oneself during the college days) and self-promotions to determine what kind of person they are. The uniform for job hunters shows that Japanese culture strives to keep job-seekers not to standing out from other job-seekers.
Origins of Uniforms for Job-Seekers
People often think that these “recruit suits” are a Japanese tradition in practice, but this “job-hunting rule” appeared about 20 years ago. In the 1970s, women wore blazers and skirt set-ups or dresses because they didn't have a unified style for job hunting due to the lack of precedence of a women’s business person. Before the global movements of women's liberation from the 1960s to 1970s, women did not have the same opportunities to work as businessmen. Young women started working as professional “career women” at the time, and they also enjoyed how they expressed themselves by choosing clothes.
After the collapse of the bubble economy in 1991, companies needed to decrease the number of hires, and people couldn’t afford to spend a fortune. At the same time, students were not in the mood of dressing up because of the financial and mental sentiments at the time. Then, the simple black “recruit suits” were spreading over the Japanese society. In general, people believe wearing typical suits is convenient because students can use them in many ways or because they make students feel comfortable due to wearing something similar to everyone else's under a collectivist mindset. However, there might be a problem.
Individuality With The Same Attire as Everyone Else
As the research above by Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd, companies almost forced job-seekers to wear “recruit suits” like school uniforms. In March, when job hunting begins officially, senior university students are nearly all black on the train and at companies’ job fairs. Companies also try to request students to show their individuality and personality but how can they express themselves by wearing the same clothes as other job-seekers? One of the respondents of the survey mentioned above, who has been engaged in HR activities for 18 years in an electric company, said, “To judge whether they have common sense as a business person or not, we allow job seekers to wear anything they like on purpose.” This trend is often seen in Japanese old-fashioned companies’ hiring system, where they judge job-seekers by appearances and attitudes, not by their personality even though they ask the job seekers to be different from others.
Younger People Are Not Happy About This Situation
Even in a society where the pressure to be formal, the younger generation is striving to change it on their own gradually. For instance, the #KuToo movement was a hot topic in 2019. The movement began when a woman working in a funeral service questioned the situation in which women were forced to wear heels while men wore flats. Yet it also applied to women’s students looking for work who have to wear pumps, the movement has been applied to job-hunting especially on Twitter. This might be the first step toward eliminating the conventional habit of job hunting for everyone to wear the same clothes in the future.
Students who seek jobs in Japan can have the chance to express themselves in ways they want such as suits. Now young Japanese have realized they can be free from these conventional habits in Japan so it is not too far in the future that the habits slowly disappear from the country someday. To show individuality and personality, why don’t you start by wearing sneakers during a job interview?