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COVID-19 pandemic drastically changing job hunting for university students in Japan

Students attend a joint job seminar held in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Feb. 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Shohei Kawamura)

TOKYO -- Recruiting activities in Japan have transformed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many university students are apparently struggling to cope.

    Company information sessions for prospective new hires including university students in Japan who will graduate next spring began on March 1, but recruiting activities and internships have mostly been conducted online due to the virus pandemic. As the so-called "workers' market," where students gain employment relatively easily, has vanished, they are entering the job market with uncertainty.

    "The conventional way of job hunting doesn't work," said a 21-year-old third-year student at a private university in Tokyo who began visiting companies last spring.

    He has joined internship programs at about 30 companies, but the majority of them were conducted online, and there were only a few programs in which he was physically at internship host companies to work. He recalled his experience, saying, "I felt it was difficult to convey my personality through communication only via the internet."

    As many in-person interactions among friends have been replaced by online communication, he also launched a social media community so that his fellow job seekers can exchange information. He is hoping to overcome job hunting hurdles together with his friends.

    In a survey conducted by major human resources firm Recruit, 11.6% of 4,516 companies responded that they will cut the number of recruits among those graduating from universities or graduate schools next spring, compared to the previous year, while 7.7% replied they will hire more from this demographic. The harsh employment situation is particularly visible in the restaurant and hotel industries.

    Among fourth-year students who will graduate universities this month are many who have not found work starting in April.

    In mid-February, some 100 students gathered at a joint job seminar held for fourth-year students at Shibuya Cross Tower in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. Recruiting personnel from businesses that are hiring were seen appealing via a screen installed at the venue, with one representative saying, "We're carrying out a test of the screening process. Please apply."

    One 22-year-old participant who is a fourth-year student at a private university in Kanagawa Prefecture started job hunting a year ago. As many of his senior colleagues smoothly received official job offers, he was optimistic, thinking, "It may go well as the economic situation is favorable ahead of the Olympics." However, the coronavirus pandemic changed the situation. He has applied to more than 10 companies, but has received no job offers yet. Almost all interviews in the recruiting process were conducted online, and he has realized that "job hunting is totally different from what I heard from my senior colleagues. It's difficult to promote myself, and I feel the distance between the interviewers and myself."

    The young man was graduating in about a month. He had included delivery businesses and the food industry in his options for future employment, even though he did not initially wish to enter these industries, from the perspective that "I could get stable income even amid the coronavirus pandemic." He said that he would keep seeking work even while risking staying unemployed.

    Meanwhile, universities are also seeking to revise their frameworks to support students' job-hunting efforts. Tokyo-based Meiji University, which had been emphasizing in-person consultations, switched all meetings with students to online last spring. The university initially struggled to create the system but has gradually expanded the service.

    Meiji University also actively organizes online networking events for students and companies. As many as about 700 companies have participated in the events. Kazuharu Funato, head of the university's employment and career support department, said, "We want to continue with the support corresponding to the changes in the employment environment so that we can connect more students than ever with good jobs that they would be satisfied with."

    (Japanese original by Shohei Kawamura, Tokyo Bureau)

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