Interviewing and Onboarding at Mercari From Overseas With an 8 hour Time Difference

This post is for Day 4 of Mercari Advent Calendar 2021, brought to you by @aymeric from the Mercari Listing Quality team.

This is the story of how my interview process and ensuing onboarding at Mercari went, all the way from Europe, with an 8 hours time difference with Japan. It will not go into the details of the interview process itself as that is covered here. The article will focus instead on the overall experience of interviewing and onboarding from overseas.

Many companies that used to hire overseas candidates completely ceased to do so. Mercari, true to its Go Bold value, found a way to make it work.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, applying for a position from overseas often involved an in-person round of interviews in the later stages of the interview process. Mercari offered candidates the option to come in person, treating candidates to an all-expenses paid visit to Tokyo and Mercari’s Tokyo offices. Then the pandemic hit and things changed for every company following that pattern. Many companies that used to hire overseas candidates completely ceased to do so, while Mercari, true to its Go Bold value, found a way to make it work.

It was at the beginning of 2021 when I finally made the decision to look for a job overseas.

By then, borders were closed to foreigners in many countries including Japan. Many tech job descriptions in Japan had a variation of how overseas candidates would not be considered due the impact of the pandemic on border restrictions. And then Mercari’s job description mentioned overseas candidates were still welcome to apply.

What stood out most to me was Mercari’s culture

After a little bit of research on Mercari, which was unknown to most in Europe, I applied. What stood out most to me was Mercari’s culture: how it emphasized work-life balance, personal growth and diversity. After many applications were either left unanswered or rejected with a mention of the border restrictions, sometimes several weeks after applying, it was incredible when Mercari replied positively within 5 days.

A week after that initial contact, I had an interview with an HR representative. They gave me the rundown on the overall interview process, which will not be detailed in this article, and more details about Mercari’s culture. They asked the usual questions about my motivations for applying for the position, and finally we discussed how best to adapt the interview process to my time difference with Japan.

To clarify, 8:00 AM in the Central European Time zone corresponds to 4:00 PM in the Japan Standard Time zone. When working with the interviewers’ busy agendas in a multiple-stage interview process, it gets tricky to plan the interviews. I was ready to get up pretty early to get a crack at finding my next adventure.

For interviews at other companies before Mercari, I had sometimes gotten up a quarter before 4:00 AM

For interviews at other companies before Mercari, I had sometimes gotten up a quarter before 4:00 AM, not even in the mood for coffee and then had to perform for multiple rounds of interviews under pressure.

Those interviews did not go so well. So when discussing with Mercari’s HR representative, we agreed to have the interviews stretched over several days. I could have the interviews at reasonable hours in the morning, performing at my best, while working around Mercari interviewers’ agendas. It also saved them from working too late in the evening, keeping them fresh and receptive.

The only downside was that the stress of interviewing would stretch over multiple days and a response would only come days after that final interview.

When interviewing, I look for clues of the work culture

When interviewing, I look for clues of the work culture. If Mercari had their interviewers work too late in the evening or night to arrange for my schedule, that would have also raised a flag about the company’s work culture. Of course, this is a short and biased view into that culture. Many employees at many companies are nice enough to bend their usual schedule to afford a candidate the best possible experience. And if the time difference is even larger than in my personal case, then something’s gotta give.

Back to my interview process. The Mercari interviewers were pretty quick to provide their feedback internally and I was contacted by the HR representative within 24 hours of each interview. About 48 hours after the final interview, Mercari replied positively. I am now on the other side of the table, interviewing applicants for Mercari’s positions. And with this experience behind me, I make it a point to provide my interview feedback the same day I do the interview.

After my interviews, I still had some doubts regarding Mercari and I discussed it openly with Mercari’s HR representative. They offered for me to get follow-up casual interviews with multiple Mercari employees so I could get the answers I was looking for. It was great to have these discussions, free of the stress of past interviews when I would forget to ask important questions.

Since the start of the pandemic, Japan’s borders have opened and closed to foreign workers as new variants emerged and receded. In the meantime, due to the border restrictions, applicants like me could not get to Japan immediately. International laws do not allow Mercari to directly employ workers outside of its home base in Japan either.

I get to take part in a new experience and work with a very diverse team

Mercari did its best to work around these constraints. They offered me the choice between staying at my job and keeping a place for me whenever borders opened, or starting working for Mercari as an overseas contractor. The pandemic had already halted many of my plans so I chose the latter. This meant that I needed to figure out labor and tax laws as a freelancer working for an overseas company, but I do not regret taking that step. At least I get to take part in a new experience and work with a very diverse team. An upside of having many overseas contractors all over the world, who are now taking part in hiring at Mercari, is that it helps adapt to new candidates’ schedules as Mercari interviewers collectively cover a broad range of time zones.

You can choose to work from the office, or elect to work remotely full-time within Japan or anything in between

Interviewing is one thing, but how does work go once you are hired?

Mercari has a very flexible work culture called "Your Choice". This means you can choose to work from the office, or elect to work remotely full-time within Japan or anything in between. The only constraint is the core hours (see "What are the work hours like" here), a block of 4 hours from 12pm to 4pm JST to facilitate meetings. In fact, even this constraint is pretty flexible. After all, 12 PM JST is 4 AM in Europe’s CET time zone. Working on such a schedule would actually be quite difficult to sustain. Mercari has been very flexible, as have overseas workers. Almost everyone sets their work hours in their agenda, which helps understand and work around each other’s preferences.

After my colleagues agreed to move the daily stand-up meeting, I have been starting everyday at 5 AM in my time zone. This is pretty early but with enough self-discipline to sleep early, I actually make it work pretty well. Occasionally, on a slow day with few meetings, I might skip the daily stand-up and get a few extra hours of sleep.

Other overseas workers in the same time zone have arranged their schedules differently and get up regularly between 6 AM and 7 AM. And as many colleagues in Japan actually like starting their day later, it has the benefit of increasing hours in common.

One upside of the time difference is that once the colleagues in Japan end their day, I get a few consecutive hours of uninterrupted time to focus on deep and meaningful tasks.

Additionally, all meetings have written minutes, and a few sessions actually get recorded, so it has been pretty easy to catch up with everyone else after the fact when not able to attend a meeting.

For overseas workers on the American continent, it’s a different experience as there are almost no common work hours with Japan. Still there are a few overseas workers east of Tokyo across the Pacific ocean, and at least they get to exchange with their colleagues from Europe over common work hours.

With such a flexible schedule, it has been pretty easy to onboard. Mercari employees do a great job of documenting everything: the work culture, processes, design documents, product briefs, plannings, organization and team objectives, and much more. This is no word of mouth kind of organization.

Finding the information is not always easy, but nothing a good search engine can’t solve. Also, Mercari relies heavily on Slack, the collaborative instant messaging app. So if you cannot find something in meeting minutes and all the documentation, there is a great chance it has been discussed there.

It felt really good to contribute to something with an impact across the engineering organization so soon after joining

Obviously, with so much documentation available, outdated material is common. With a little imagination and a few more clicks on subsequent links, I easily found what I was looking for. A few weeks after joining, I got a feedback survey about the onboarding, so I could provide feedback regarding these outdated links and documentation pages, at least for those that I could not update myself on the fly.

And actually, there is a whole JIRA project dedicated to documentation where I could create tickets to ask for something to be updated, and someone always followed up on that ticket within a couple of days.

And that is how after less than 2 months at Mercari, I got involved in the Onboarding Improvement Project. With one full time member and a few other employees working on this project about 10% of their time, we have been working on simplifying the process, from multiple checklists to a unified and personalized JIRA board with your onboarding tasks. We also worked on removing duplicates, streamlining the mandatory material and updating it. It felt really good to contribute to something with an impact across the engineering organization so soon after joining.

If you are residing overseas and pondering a change of scenery, even with border restrictions in place, have a look at Mercari’s open positions. If hired, you will benefit from Mercari’s generous relocation package when border restrictions are lifted.

Tomorrow’s article will be by @akkie. Looking forward to it!