Ashley in blue flower field in Hitachi Seaside Park

MEXT-YLP 2020 MBA: Preparing for Post-MBA life while in Japan

If you’re sure you want to stay in Japan after your post-grad studies, then aspire to be a fluent Japanese speaker by graduation day if you’re not already. I’ll touch on this in the succeeding paragraph but I thought to get this out as early as possible in this write-up to emphasize how important language is in the job hunt. But for people like me who don’t feel strongly about staying in Japan after graduation or for those who aren’t sure about what they want to do yet, then this blogpost offers that perspective.

Preparing for work in Japan after graduation

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the job market for foreign nationals in Japan became more competitive. Pre-pandemic, it was fairly easy to find work in Japan as a non-Japanese speaker for as long as you were an MBA graduate from a reputable school, but now, that is not the case anymore.

Note that I got this information from Hitotsubashi ICS’s Career Services department as many of my peers inquired about the job market and what they needed to do to prepare. By the time you are reading this though, the situation might have changed so best be diligent and re-check yourself.

For the case of my classmates at the time, many of them took Japanese language classes after school and aspired to at least be at the N2 level after graduation. Referencing here the stories of my classmates Pun, Kin, Viola, and Yiwei to give you a better idea of what they had to go through — balancing business school studies and Japanese language learning.

If working in Japan is your ultimate goal, then studying Japanese is easily the most important tip I can give you.

For those still discovering what they want after graduation

If you can, try as many activities during your down time as possible. Part of discovering what you want to do when it’s time to take a large step towards the next stage of life is to have experienced a variety of things that can help you discover what you like and don’t like, regardless of it’s relevance to your professional life.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know many of my classmates throughout the school year and it always amazes me to see the amount of work they are putting into themselves not only to make sure they are ready for the right professional opportunities in their career but also to better understand themselves holistically given the time being in school provides.

A few activities that we were able to do as MBA students at Hitotsubashi ICS were as follows:

  • Make sure to take the Japanese Culture class, especially if you are non-Japanese.
    • We were able to experience tea ceremony classes, archery classes, and get temple tours in areas around Tokyo.
  • Take advantage of free TIEC activities if you are a resident such as tea ceremony classes, ikebana classes, and martial arts classes as I described in my last blogpost.
  • Get as many experience-based auction items at HICS’s annual Auction Day. My classmate Tang-Tang recounts her experience here. Through Auction Day activities, I was able to explore Mori Museum, have a picnic at Hibari Park, and other bonding experiences with my classmates.
  • Travel! I made sure I had week-long trips every term break that allowed me to explore the whole of Kyushu, the southern half of Hokkaido, and chunks of the Tohoku, Chubu, and Kansai regions.
  • Participate in academic competitions that happen throughout the school year like the Yale Africa Startup Review and the Global Network MBA Stock Trading Competition.
  • Participate in a Homestay Program during term breaks to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture and lifestyle.
  • Participate in professional organizations in the industry that interests you the most. I actively participated in one of the Tokyo Agile Community (TACO) events and had a great time!
    • This is also where I met the awesome founder of Akaru who is also a Filipino living in Japan (and they’re hiring!).
  • If you are a two-year student (which is not the case for many YLP scholars), consider joining the school’s exchange program activities.
  • And lastly, although I wasn’t able to personally act on this idea, is to volunteer for a non-profit. The teachers of Japanese Culture class at the time were founders of WaNavi Japan and they definitely stand for a great cause.

My path towards post-MBA employment

I personally didn’t intend on staying in Japan after my studies so I didn’t have the pressure of learning Japanese but I did want to make sure I had a job right after graduation.

It was fortunate that I already knew what I wanted: (1) find a remote job that allowed me to work from Bohol so I could continue my tech community building advocacy, (2) work for a startup in the tech industry that was in it’s growth stage and that (3) fell within any of these three sectors: health, finance, or education. I also wanted to aim for a product role as that was the most exciting profession to me after being a project manager for a few years.

Given all of this, I started working on making sure I had at least the foundational skills that would make me at least close to be qualified for the role. Admittedly, I already took my first few steps a few years back with The Learning Circle while I was a project manager but I knew I still needed guidance so I started messaging people who I respected in the industry to ask for advice.

One of the few people I messaged was Earl Valencia, an icon in the Philippine startup community and was a sponsor in my first few Startup Weekends. It was on his advice that I started an internship with his company, Plentina, at the start of Term 3 which I did online for about 10 hours (occasionally more) every week. I found it was a joy to work with his team and thought to apply for a full-time position as Product Manager at the tail end of Term 4 of my studies.

I owe it to my classmates as well who took the time to review my cover letter and gave me feedback before I applied. I really wouldn’t have had the nerve to submit if not for them!

After I got accepted, I started work right after arriving in the Philippines fresh from b-school.

I confess, YLP scholars are not encouraged to take internships while being in the program as the curriculum is quite intensive and a slip in academic performance could cost you your scholarship, but for as long as these extra-curricular activities does not greatly affect your ability to perform in class, then it’s no harm done.

As a last tip, for those hoping to apply for arubaito, or “part-time work” in Japanese, it’s a best practice to process your work visas as early as possible as it takes a lot of back-and-forth between Japanese government offices to get it done. Some of my classmates had to wait for a month or more to get it which costed them their income and, for some, their job offers.

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