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Business

Internships -- learning opportunities or talent hunting?

TOKYO -- The unofficial job-hunting process has already begun for the current crop of third-year college students, who expect to graduate and start working in spring of 2018.

Prior to the start of official recruiting activities in the students' final year, an increasing number of companies, about 40% more than last year, have decided to take on third-year students as interns this summer. Some 8,600 corporations have sought interns through major recruitment websites.

In Japan, job-hunting for college graduates is a long, complicated process. Companies and students are required to act in harmony with their peers, basically following the guideline from the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, the country's biggest business lobby.

For example, official recruiting season for the current final-year students began this March, when Keidanren member companies, mostly large corporations, could start holding explanatory sessions for job seekers.

These companies are allowed to give "practically official" job offers, or "naitei," in October or later to prospective college graduates. Prior to that, starting on June 1, these companies can hold job interviews with candidates and give an "early" unofficial offer, a measure to keep talented students from going to rival companies.

Within the restricted time frame, companies are trying to secure talented students as early as possible. As of Wednesday, about 70% of final year students including post graduates have reportedly received at least one early unofficial offer. At the same time, more companies are setting internship programs earlier.

While the education ministry and Keidanren have asked companies not to link internship programs with the actual recruiting process, companies in reality appear to be using the programs as an opportunity to screen candidates. 

Direct links

Online service provider CyberAgent, which is not a Keidanren member and not restricted by the guideline, is officially linking internships directly to hiring. It will start this year's internship program on Friday for some 200 students, mostly in their third year at college. The company has already given naitei to 150 students in their final year, who will start working in April 2017; 40% of them participated in the company's internship program last summer.

This shift to focusing on internship may be partly due to the increasing presence of foreign companies and startups in the job market for college graduates. These companies had focused more on hiring experienced specialists.

Another motivation is to provide more opportunities for students to learn more about the companies. Students have a much shorter preparation period, due to the revision of the Keidanren guideline, which sets the start date of job interviews and early unofficial offers in June this year, compared to August last year.

Fuji Xerox will accept some 80 students for its internship program scheduled for later this month. Partly responding to requests from colleges, it increased the number from about 60 students last year. Through the program, including a planned idea contest, the company hopes students will be better prepared to work in the business world.

Aiming to provide real business experience to students even earlier, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives is preparing to provide internships for first- and second-year college students, partnering with 17 companies and 11 colleges.

However, the goals of internships seem to vary depending on the company. While Keidanren has advised companies to provide internships for five days or longer, about 60% of the internship programs scheduled this summer are for one day only, according to career consultant Masanao Tanide. Companies appear to be using the program to collect information about students.

The education and industry ministries have already begun discussions about whether to allow setting an official starting date for internship-linked recruiting activities. It may be time to share their thoughts on how internships should work. 

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