In polite Japan, people don’t talk much about the underside of a paternal working society, where young women in particular are expected to suffer in silence from sexual harassment from their seniors. A pat on the bottom from the boss, awkward questions about one’s love life from the bucho, and persistent requests for a date from older male colleagues are all part of the workplace obstacle course.

In most foreign companies, things are a bit easier because of Western regulations about sexual harassment – which are usually applied with equal force (but within the confines of the Japanese labor laws) here in Japan. The offence is certainly taken a lot more seriously, and is quickly escalated up to senior management when a case arises. Often, and especially in clear-cut or repeat cases, the perpetrator can expect to be unceremoniously fired.

But, that is once you get into the company and start working. What about when you experience sexual harassment during an interview? Especially as the job market is tightening up, the increasing desperation of younger, inexperienced female candidates presents an opportunity for a person in power (the hirer or interviewer) to take advantage of the situation and proposition the candidate. The problem is further compounded by the fact that young women are not really taught what to do in a situation like this, and because they may really need the job, they may decide to play along…

If the prospective employer is a major western company, and if the offender is a business manager rather than an HR person (I’d be surprised if an HR person would risk propositioning a candidate – because they know what the consequences would be), then clearly the best action is to tell the offender politely but firmly that you’re present for a job interview only and that you’d appreciate your personal life being left alone.

If you donユt get the job, and you suspect that it was because you didn’t play along, contact the HR manager of the company and advise them that you had a problem and that youユd like to be interviewed by someone else. In a situation like this, a major Western company will usually go out of its way to make things right. You may not get the job in the end, but at least the offender will be reviewed and reprimanded.

So, what constitutes sexual harassment during an interview? My personal definition would be any situation where a candidate feels that the interviewer is making them feel that they have to do something personal or intimate in order to get a job. This ranges from being asked to have a second interview at lunch – which for anything other than a senior appointment is inappropriate, to actually being asked for a date or worse.

What sexual harassment in Japan probably isn’t, is being asked about one’s personal details. Indeed, Japanese resumes often contain quite a lot of personal data, and furthermore, conservative managers usually want to know all about your family, father, husband, and other details. As soon as the hirer starts asking for a date or an inappropriate meeting, however, the interview process has moved out of bounds.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve seen situations where the female candidate dresses provocatively in the hope that it will increase her chances of getting a job. All I can say is that this strategy can backfire because a competent manager will ALWAYS ask for a second opinion from other trusted (and often female) staff in the office before making a hiring decision. Dressing or acting in a suggestive way will likely cause a strong negative reaction in these support staff, thus reducing your chances of being able to get the job. Instead, the right strategy is to be conservative, and let your intelligence and personality shine through.

As always, my contact details are simply: Looking forward to getting some enquiries…