The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Globalization has put greater demands on those looking for jobs at international companies. Diverse skills—from multilingual communication to culture knowledge—are more important than ever. As a result, the significance of internships is also on the rise.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) provides support to students and young professionals by facilitating internships, and on June 29 the Education Task Force hosted “A Career Seminar for Summer Interns Interested in Global Careers” at the headquarters of Amway Japan G.K. in Shibuya.

Harry Hill, president and CEO of Oak Lawn Marketing, Inc. explained: “For the US–Japan relationship, having really strong global human resources, people who are bilingual, bicultural, are comfortable in Japan, and are comfortable outside of Japan is a tremendous challenge for any company.”

He told the attendees: “Internships are a real opportunity for students like yourselves, I hope, to learn about the company, learn about business, learn about the culture, and potentially even create an opportunity for yourselves to work in the company of choice.”

William Swinton, director of international business studies at Temple University, Japan Campus, and ACCJ Education Task Force co-chair, moderated the afternoon’s two panel discussions.

The first, “Preparing for a Global Career: Views from Japanese Gurobaru Jinzai,” included: Ann Cheung, lawyer at DLA Piper and co-chair of the ACCJ Young Professionals Forum; Naoku Matsura, visual communications specialist in the public affairs office at the Embassy of the United States, Tokyo; and Emily Yamaguchi of Amway Japan. Each spoke about their experiences as an intern and how they started their careers.

“With internships, a majority of the things you learn at school are actually not directly relevant or applicable at your job,” Cheung laughed. However, it enables job seekers to evaluate different companies.

Cheung highlighted the benefits of working in an international environment where she has learned to explain things to lawyers in the shortest way possible. This is where cultural understanding comes into play.

Matsura echoed this, saying, “You have to always be aware, think about your idea and how it will be perceived by specific audiences.” This is something she now understands very well, working for an embassy.

Yamaguchi did not do an internship, but studied at the University of Oregon and went through the typical Japanese job search process before joining Amway. She pointed out how it is becoming common for students to study abroad, and that they must leverage activities participated in during their studies.

“What you did and what you have experienced and learned—how you coped with the problems—is really a strong point to appeal to the company you are applying to,” she said.

When asked how they launched their careers, Cheung explained, “How you launch your career greatly depends on your personality.” Matsura added something important to remember: “Your first job is probably not going to be your dream job.”

In the second panel discussion, “Preparing for a Global Career: Views from Industry, Academia, and Government,” Margot Carrington, minister-counselor for public affairs at the US embassy, spoke about what she looks for from applicants.

“I’m definitely looking for someone who can handle ambiguity and who can read a situation with high emotional intelligence,” she explained, something vital at any embassy.

Hiroyo Aihara, director of human resources at Amway Japan G.K., said it is also important to assess the organization and to come up with questions for the interview. “Try to learn about the company,” she said. “Assess the culture, industry, and company.”

The panel agreed that three months is the minimum duration required for an internship to be most effective. This allows both the intern and the company to gain value from the experience. The audience was also encouraged to make the most of their internships to prepare themselves for the demands of a global marketplace.

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at The Journal.