Stop Interviewing & Hiring Based Solely On the JLPT

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Are you an employer or hiring manager? Have you heard that candidates must have JLPT N1 to be considered fluent in Japanese? If so, then here is a fresh perspective for you: employers will benefit when they stop interviewing and hiring solely based on JLPT scores. Read on to learn about the many factors to consider regarding this test and fluency for employment, and what I recommend instead.

[If you are a job seeker and understand the multi-faceted issues that concern the JLPT, then please share this article so more employers can read it.]


What Is the JLPT?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a test organized by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services that helps ascertain Japanese language levels. It has five levels, N5 through N1, with N1 being the most difficult. 

Overall, the JLPT is an excellent method to test for grammar and vocabulary knowledge, reading comprehension, and listening comprehension. The fact that someone has studied for or achieved any level of the JLPT is worth attention. However…

Why the JLPT Is Not Perfect For Business

My professional opinion is that this standardized test cannot necessarily represent a candidate’s true ability for conducting or facilitating business in Japanese.

Consider the cost of the following scenarios:

  • Employers disqualify candidates who do not have JLPT certification;
  • Employers assume that candidates must have N1 or N2 levels in order to work successfully with the Japanese language or in a Japanese environment;
  • Employers assume that a candidate is fluent because they passed N1 or N2.

In my experience, these are occurrences that too-often rob employers of talented individuals, and rob said individuals of promising employment.

JLPT Testing Logistics

Did you know:

  • that the JLPT is only offered once a year throughout all of the United States?
  • that the JLPT is offered only at particular locations in the US? If the test center is located out-of-state for registered candidates, then they must pay out-of-pocket not only for the test fee, but also the flight, hotel, and any related accommodations.
  • that the JLPT was entirely canceled in 2020 in the US due to the pandemic? Because a minimum passing score for the JLPT is often a requirement for many educational and work opportunities, hundreds of candidates were effectively disqualified from applying for those opportunities.
  • that in 2021 the JLPT further limited their US test sites? Consequently, some candidates were unable to secure a test spot for the second consecutive year.

Considering all of that, it can be rightly argued that the JLPT suffers from severe limitations with regard to timing and testing locations in the United States. Unfortunately, most employers are probably unaware of these factors. 

So what does this mean for employers and hiring managers? It means that just because a candidate lacks JLPT certification does not mean they should be passed over for an interview or job. 

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[Service] Bilingual Interview support for employers.

“Fluency” and Becoming Fluent In Japanese

Learning Japanese can be difficult. There are three alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) and honorific language (keigo) that is required for business and other official matters. Additionally, for Japanese language learners, levels of proficiency can vary across the skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. 

In 2020, I wrote a detailed article for Schoolcraft College about why the term “fluent” can mislead students, job seekers, and employers. In my professional opinion, one does not need to be “fluent” to get the job done. Furthermore, informal interpreting and translation skills can often yield comparable results as so-called “fluent” language skills. 

Read more here: Creating Bilingual Careers For Those Not Yet Fluent

My personal experience with the JLPT is this: I had to study a hefty amount of some pretty random vocabulary to pass N1, the highest level of the test. I remember thinking, “Some of these words would be perfect for a Japanese version of the TV game show Jeopardy!.” Looking back, I highly doubt that I could pass the N1 again despite my having used Japanese in the workplace for many years.

Still, there are merits to preparing for the JLPT. I learned a remarkable amount of Japanese while studying for this test. Certainly, I do not regret that one bit. I recommend taking the JLPT because it makes you sit down and learn. Once you have this foundational understanding of the Japanese language, then you can truly take that foundation to the next level, apply it, and build upon it within any industry.

Scenarios That Employers Should Consider

To be clear, for everyone reading: it remains highly advisable for candidates to take the JLPT. The knowledge acquired during the process of preparation for this test cannot be underestimated.

However, employers, please do not make hiring decisions based solely on the JLPT. The following scenarios highlight the kind of highly-qualified candidates who might be too-easily overlooked:

  • Professional Translators: these masters of the written word, many of whom have decades of experience, may fail the JLPT. Why? Because they are tested on vocabulary that falls outside of their industry knowledge. Does this make them bad translators? No. Does this reduce the value that they might bring to your enterprise? Absolutely not. It simply means that their strength is reading and writing, and their skillset does not revolve around listening, speaking, or using vocabulary that does not concern their profession.
  • Professional Interpreters: These communication masters listen to and speak Japanese at dizzyingly high levels, but they may not pass the JLPT. Why? Because their work does not necessarily concern reading or writing kanji. Does this diminish their skill for facilitating the smooth flow of live interactions and transactions? No. It means they have focused on refining their speaking and listening skills to become superb communicators for their company or organization.
  • Informal Kakehashi (カケハシ): There are incredibly talented people working in various industries who have the intelligence, tact, and experience to resolve miscommunications, mend and overcome cultural barriers, and set up businesses in new countries. But they may not necessarily have taken the JLPT. Does this mean they are unsuccessful in business? Quite the contrary; their people-skills, willingness to communicate without worrying about perfect grammar, and ability to break barriers make these individuals indispensable to businesses that operate in multilingual, globalizing spaces.
  • The Untapped Potential: Finally, what about the individuals who have passed the highest level of the JLPT, but feel underprepared for the business world? Do not count them out! What people in this candidate pool need is real-world experience, hands-on work that allows them to apply their incredible foundation in Japanese language to the world of business.

Remember, as with any standardized test, employers must consider a candidates soft skills in addition to JLPT scores, if any. Further, new employees, especially entry-level ones, will almost always benefit from adequate training and time in the role in order to rise to (or surpass!) the expectations of their employer. Indeed, providing on-the-job training is a sustainable best-practice for everyone involved.

So, What Should Employers Do?

  1. DO look beyond JLPT certification on resumes
  2. DO consider candidate experiences from a holistic perspective. Note any Japan- or Japanese-related coursework, clubs and organizations, study abroad programs, JET/MEXT programs, and so on. 
  3. DO invite candidates to explain how they use the Japanese language in the context of their work, e.g. if there is emphasis placed on speaking, listening, reading, writing, and/or conducting business.
  4. DO assume that candidates are not experts in your particular industry terminology.
  5. DO implement ways to check if candidates have the ability to learn your terminology.
  6. DO be impressed with any level of JLPT certification. It indicates that a) the candidate is serious about their Japanese studies and b) went through the effort to register, pay, and study – and potentially travel out-of-state – just to take the test.
  7. DO learn about the BJT. (see below)
  8. DO revise the requirements for the job you are offering. (see below)
  9. DO provide serious candidates with a job and training to see how they shine!

#7 The BJT and Other Testing Options

When one starts to move beyond the JLPT, one finds that there are a numerous standardized tests out there. However, the one that is most relevant for business is the Business Japanese Test (BJT). Although testing sites are limited in the US, the BJT can be taken anytime throughout the year. 

I find that few job seekers and employers are aware of this test. Accordingly, I am trying to bring more attention to it because the content is acutely relevant for careers related to Japan and/or Japanese. The BJT tests for competence in written and verbal expressions and vocabulary that are regularly used in Japanese business to communicate by telephone, in business meetings, and via email. If a candidate has not taken the BJT due to the geographic limitations, then I still highly recommend that job seekers get a practice test and use it to study the norms of Japanese business etiquette. 

In short: all employers and hiring managers should be more aware of the BJT.

#8 Revise the Job Description Requirements

I tell it as I see it: Hiring managers will receive more applications if JLPT certification is recommended but not required. 

While a candidate’s JLPT certification will give a basic idea of their language level, please understand that a lack of such a certification does not merit disqualification of that candidate.

(Of course, judging a candidate’s level of Japanese can be a difficult task, especially if you do not understand Japanese. If such skills are needed, then you might consider my Bilingual Interview services.)

As for the job description itself, there are better phrases to use in the required language section. For example, instead of writing “fluent Japanese required,” take a moment to think about whether this is really true. A phrase such as, “intermediate Japanese language skills equivalent to N2 or N3 with a willingness to learn” could certainly attract more relevant candidates. Consider the following scenarios:

  • For a sales role that involves written and spoken communication with clients who are native Japanese: an advanced level of Japanese may be required. Even so, a candidate with a suitable personalty and an intermediate level of Japanese who is willing and able to learn quickly may also be just what you need.
  • For an admin role working for or with a native Japanese person: perfect Japanese speaking or writing skills may not be necessary, so long as the listening and reading comprehension skills are relatively high.
  • For a program organizer or managerial role: knowledge of and/or experience with Japanese business culture may suffice. In this case, any level of Japanese language could be beneficial.

In other words, my advice is to think critically about the role you are looking to fill, and what it needs. Recently, I have started to inquire with employers who post an ad on my job board. Why? Because for the jobs that are being advertised, I feel that some expectations are higher than necessary

To be clear: I am not saying to expect less from candidates. Instead, please be aware that by requesting language requirements that are too narrow and inflexible, you might be turning away high-quality candidates.

Please also note, that the more a candidate studies and becomes “fluent” in Japanese, the more they tend to become humble about their proficiency. Overly strict language requirements may cause qualified candidates to doubt their true Japanese ability and avoid applying for positions in which they can actually succeed. Do not let this happen, employers and hiring managers. Adjust your job requirements and catch those candidates!

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In Conclusion

My ultimate wish is for bilingual candidates to be respected for their unique level of Japanese language skills without the JLPT being their only ticket into a job. 

Further, I would love to see these candidates being given a job by employers who see their potential to learn the industry’s technical language or the company’s internal lingo

Finally, I wish that “fluency” was not required for certain jobs for which an intermediate level of Japanese ability would suffice. (This is another blog post for another day.)

To all employers: if this post resonated with you, then please send me a message and let me know! I would be happy to have your perspective and continue the conversation around this important issue.

Also: I plan to create a “Japanese Jobs 200 level” online training program for employees who have been hired into your organization and need to learn about the basics of working in a Japanese/Japanese-language space. The training program will include the basics of Japanese business culture, the use of honorifics (keigo) in written and spoken correspondence, guidelines for informal interpreting and translation, as well as support for expatriates from Japan. If you are interested in being informed about this online training program, or if you would like me to provide 1-on-1 training with your employee(s) now, then please describe your interest and/or need when you complete this form. I look forward to hearing from you!

I like to give credit where credit is due. Two people went out of their way to help me edit this article, and I wanted to publicly thank them. If you could be interested in their services, please check out their information. They went above and beyond to help me, and I know they are amazing at what they do.

Rossi Lamont Walter

Inquiries (Editing, Proofreading, etc.):

Johan Qin

Inquiries (Talent Coaching, Editing):

Job seekers: read more about the JLPT in the other four articles: Preparing For The JLPT: Do You Need It For A Job In Japan?, The JLPT: Do You Need It For A Job? (US version), JLPT Online Training Options, and The JLPT Got the Coronavirus

Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Stop Interviewing & Hiring Based Solely On the JLPT”

    1. Ikigai Connections

      Hello Vashu-san – thank you for your interest in a Japanese-related job! Here are the two main resources I direct job seekers to:
      1) – this explains the various ways my company can help you. (Please note that I am not a recruiter.)
      2) – this shows a list of job-related resources for Japan and the US, as well as these countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, UK, and Vietnam.

      Good luck!

  1. Kasia,

    You have produced an incredible, richly informative article. Surely, this work will encourage so many bi- and multi-lingual job-seekers to give their best effort with Japanese as they pursue their job and career ambitions. I feel so grateful that you allowed me to contribute to this article and enhance its clarity and power.

    May many see and be inspired by your passionate writing.


    1. Ikigai Connections

      Thank you VERY much for your kind and encouraging message!
      I appreciate you 😉

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