Understanding Japanese Business Etiquette

This past Friday, I inadvertently observed a key tenet of Japanese business etiquette – and violated another – as I skidded into Michiko Yamashima’s presentation on Japanese Business Etiquette almost twenty minutes late.  I had sprinted over to the Career Services office after an exam ran long, and slid into a back row, bending forward and inclining my head to duck into a seat. I had performed, in essence, a hurried form of the Japanese indication of respect and sincerity, the お辞儀, or formal bow.  I neglected, however, to appear in full Western business attire, dark suit and conservative shoes included.

These gestures – formal bowing, and the observance of appropriate attire—are but two of several important Japanese business customs to be observed in corporate situations. Why are these gestures necessary? And why should we Princetonians familiarize ourselves with their importance? Just as Americans expect foreigners to greet us with a firm handshake and jovial grin, so too do Japanese businessmen and women anticipate compliance with a few basic customs as a show of mutual respect.

In a business setting, junior employees should take their seats closest to the door, and take care to avoid the most comfortable chairs. Women take a relatively subservient role, and customarily serve alcoholic beverages and other drinks to their male counterparts. Resumes intended for use in Japan should include the applicant’s age and passport-sized photo.  If nothing else, however, the following three aspects of Japanese business etiquette should be observed:

  1. Bowing is more than a neck exercise.  Western-style handshakes span the spectrum from wet fish to bone-crusher; bowing, too, requires practice and precision. There are three levels of bows, Yamashima explained: the least pronounced an informal greeting, the mid-level appropriate for business meetings, and the third, deepest bow reserved for apologies. When bowing to an associate, keep it slow and measured, and make sure to maintain eye contact at the beginning and end of the gesture.
  2. Business card presentation is a form of art. In Japan, business cards, like credit cards, are treated as extensions of people themselves. Business cards are typically exchanged between all parties present at a meeting, and are presented and received with two hands. The recipient is expected to briefly inspect the business card, indicate admiration with a brief nod, and provide their own in return. Travelers to Japan should arrive fully stocked with business cards – it is not uncommon to hand out 100 cards in a single week!
  3. Dress for success – conservative, subdued success.  Western business attire is commonplace in most Japanese cities, and both men and women should dress in dark suits with dark ties, socks, pantyhose, and shoes, as appropriate.

Yamashima’s message, while most useful for those anticipating a career in Japan, is applicable to all students seeking future employment: do your research, and pay attention to the customs of your workplace.

How to Launch a Career in Communications

Advertising. Communications. Marketing. Media. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Mad Men, these words conjure images of a fast-paced world full of seduction and intrigue, a fascinating view of the colorful capitalism that dominated the spirit of the 1950s and 60s. The business sounds glamorous, the work stimulating, and the fashion cutting edge—but what exactly does a career in Communications entail? What does it really take to break into the industry in the twenty-first century? Career Services invited the following phenomenal panel of Princeton alums to answer these questions and more in the Careers in Communication Panel held earlier this month.

Meaghan Byrne ’10 (Religion), Social Media Analyst, NM Incite, a Nielsen McKinsey Company;
Justin Cahill ’11 (English), Editorial Assistant, W. W. Norton & Company;
Chelsea Carter ’08 (Psychology), Account Executive, SS&K;
Lauren Clabby Moore ’00 (English), Freelance Production, CNN;
Lauren Cowher ’10 (Anthropology), Account Executive, Edelman;
Christine Miranda ’08 (Sociology), Inventor, ?What If!

As you can see, the Communications field isn’t strictly limited to advertising—alums working in advertising, broadcast journalism, publishing, public relations, and social media all stepped forward to offer their expertise. Some entered the workforce directly after graduation; most combed the employment listings for months before landing a job. A few have remained with the same company for a number of years; others have tried on multiple firms for size until they found a perfect fit. All are passionate about their work, and fully invested in helping current Princeton students understand what it takes to jumpstart a career in Communications.

  1. Here are a few nuggets of their collective wisdom:
    Internships are the best entry into the field.  Most firms in the communications sector have (unpaid) summer intern positions—and they typically hire directly from their intern pool when looking for new hires! 
  2. Do your research. It’s just like college applications—there’s nothing worse than assuring the Harvard admissions committee that you’ve been destined to attend Princeton since the day you were born. If you’re applying for a social media position, having a Facebook page alone isn’t a sufficient qualification—read industry publications, and stay updated on current events. If you’re interviewing for a PR firm, know what field—arts, healthcare, technology, etc—you’re most interested in.
  3. Pay your dues – a good intern makes a better boss.
    Interns in the broadcast journalism and television industries often find themselves shared between a number of departments, so they are afforded extra opportunities to network within the company.  If you’ve put in the time learning the ins and outs of your firm, you’ll be poised to step into any open position. Even those charts and spreadsheets are worth it — after all that time plugging data into Excel, you’ll be much more able to supervise and support your own future employees and interns.
  4. It’s all about the connections – and your ability to capitalize on each and every opportunity. Most of the alums agreed that it’s not enough to have a stellar resume and GPA. You need someone in the company to hand your information directly to the HR department.  What’s that? Don’t know anyone who works for NBC? Can’t think of a family friend writing for the New York Times? Don’t worry! The Princeton Alumni Careers Network is a database of nearly 5000 Princeton alumni just waiting for a student to reach out and contact them. On that note…
  5. Don’t forget to take the initiative! One alumnus admitted to applying to every single job listing for a single company until they finally contacted, interviewed, and hired her.  If that’s not quite your style, cold-call a few alums, and try a pleasant follow-up email if necessary (see Career Services’ Career Planning Guide for some helpful guidelines).
  6. Once you’ve got a foot in the door, don’t rest on your laurels. It helps to know someone within the company for that first hire, but most firms are staunch meritocracies.  They don’t care where you went to school; they care how you perform on the job.  If you’re hired young for little pay, stick with it and work your way up through the ranks. You could be surprised—in most publishing houses, interns start off reading lots of “slush” (manuscripts submitted by aspiring writers). But, as Mr. Cahill ’11 noted, “I hear you’ll lose a lot of faith in good writing everywhere…but if you find that gem and sign that book, your career is made!”
  7. It’s okay to shop around. If you don’t find that next Great American Novel, or you’re otherwise unhappy in your current position, don’t hesitate to look into other opportunities. Rival companies might love to steal new, young talent from their competitors, and firms in other industries might relish your unique skillset.

How do you launch a successful career in communications? In short, take initiative, contact an alum, nab an interview, and work your way up through the company.