An interview with Verena Hopp, Founder of Internship Japan, an internship NPO in Japan
The Internship Japan Team
- Is there a typical profile yet of interns that companies are looking for?
Well, you could say so. That magical stereotyped (and almost not existing) truly bilingual Japanese + English native is sought after tremendously. News everybody – we hardly ever have that and if we do, those people know how popular they are. The majority of internship seekers we deal with are young foreigners eager to experience Japan. Sure it depends, but their Japanese is usually not superb. They come here to learn, not to be perfect. :)
- What information are companies looking for about prospective foreign interns?
If foreign companies, absolutely their language abilities. You could rate that as Number One. Next would be the nationality concerning visa regulations and the places they have lived so far representing the “market(s)” they probably know well about. This regional knowledge is sought after. Their field of studies, talents, goals and educational background is of great interest too. And not to forget – if they are interested in being hired full-time later on.
- What is the biggest challenge you think companies face to set up an intern program for foreigners?
We must differentiate here. Most foreign companies in Japan take foreign interns. Most Japanese companies do not. Guess why? The language barrier, followed by the visa regulations and gray areas concerning the non-existing (not only but mainly) legal definition of an internship. To teach them about it is the mission of Internship Japan, as well as to change what is not ideal yet.
A Japanese company with an almost entirely Japanese staff or a few foreigners who have been educated IN Japan (= the Japanese way) usually does not know what an “internship” is. They either think of that years-long program authorized by the government, which has been criticized for exploitation and having little to do with education, or the few days to 2 weeks period Japanese students spend in companies pretty much just being in the way. The biggest challenge is for them to understand what a real internship – as the outer world understands it – means. Second, visa, culture and language issues. Third, compensation, insurance, legal questions.
Compared with the Japanese youth, the foreign youth is usually ready and eager to even lead projects and work rather independently. Most are still students and have to go back to their universities. Compared to that, Japanese new graduates who just entered a Japanese company are hardly doing anything independently it seems. I myself felt totally lost when I entered a Japanese company. I was told to “katte ni shinaide” – “don’t do (anything) on your own”. That meant that I had nothing to do! My colleagues did not know what they would be allowed to make me do, so I was free. That lead me to creating my own job and now I am the busy founder of an NPO born in exactly this period.
I came from Germany to Japan. We were raised to do anything independently, decide small- medium things ourselves and take the responsibility. International companies in Japan or simply those with a non-Japanese management know what internships are. They are concerned about the visa, compensation and the like, but those questions can be answered quickly and the internship process rolls forward smoothly.
- What are the benefits for companies of accepting foreign interns?
Look at our website where it is beautifully defined in Japanese and English.