Hello again, friends!
Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about Do’s and Don’ts for the JET Program Application and Essay (link here).
With interview notifications just over the horizon, here is my part 2 on tackling the JET Program applications: Do’s and Don’ts for the JET Program Interview!
First of all, if you are selected for an interview, congratulations! You are one step closer to being accepted into the JET Program! But, unfortunately the flip side to that happy news is, “EEK! CRAP! THE INTERVIEW! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?? FIDDLESTICKS!!!” Fear not, friends. You can do it!
I interviewed for the JET Program twice–once in 2015 and once in 2016. The first time, I screwed up terribly and was ultimately rejected from the program. Oh how my heart snapped in two when I got the rejection email.. The second time, I was short-listed! I could just tell you the things to do well that will help you land that coveted short-list spot, but I feel that it would also be beneficial to you to hear what went wrong from my first interview so y’all good folks don’t go messing up the way I did. Unless you’re Mr./Ms./Anything-in-between Smooth, the interview is really not an experience that you’d want to go through twice (probably the most stress-inducing thirty minutes of my life…).
Now that I’ve properly terrified you, let’s get started!
**SHORT DISCLAIMER**–> This probably goes without saying, but as mentioned in the title, this is an UNOFFICIAL resource to help you out. Success is not guaranteed. This is just a diary of sorts of MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES that I figured could help you all out. So please, if any of you follow this guide and ultimately don’t get in, first of all, my condolences, second, it is not my fault. So please don’t throw a law suit my way. Just sayin’.
About the interview:
First of all, the interviews typically take place in early February, and you’ll be notified about whether you got the interview maybe 2, 3 weeks beforehand in mid-January. That’s not a whole lot of time to prepare. Also, before I tell you about what to do/not to do, I think it would be in your best interest to know the format of the interview. For some reason, before I did my first interview in 2015, I was under the impression that “panel interview” meant that there would be several interviewers along with several interviewees in the room at the same time. Maybe because I did actually have a job interview like that once, and it was very strange (And one of the questions that they asked was, “If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be and why?”) But alas, it was not like that. The panel interview consists of (usually) three interviewers, in my experience two Japanese people and one former ALT, and you. Just you. No other interviewees in the room. For 25-30 minutes. This idea can be daunting at first, but I promise it’s not quite as bad as it sounds, if you play your cards right. That being said, let’s jump into what not to do.
Don’ts for the JET Program Interviews:
- Look sloppy. This ain’t some random job. If I were interviewing for my kennel job again, yeah, I probably could’ve gotten away with some khakis and a short sleeve button-up or something. But this is way more important. You need to be dressed to the nines, not looking like you’re going for a Sunday outing to Applebees.
- Wear too much perfume/jewelry/makeup. This one’s mostly for ladies. But guys too. Too much of anything is kind of a no-no in Japan, and this interview will be very much Japan-style. If you like to wear lots of makeup, tone it down to the bare minimum. Facial piercings? Definitely take them out. I had four ear piercings at my second interview, and still took out the older ones so I only had one pair in each ear. It’s not worth costing you the position to leave piercings in. And if you have to have piercings, you can always get them after your interview. I got four more piercings after my interview for a grand total of eight and nobody at my school has cared so far…
- Have weirdly colored hair. I had to dye a blonde streak in my hair back to brown precisely for my interview. Maybe you could chance it, but I honestly wouldn’t do anything that doesn’t look like a natural color. Not worth the risk, in my opinion. And NO, green is NOT considered a natural color because it’s the color of grass, if any of you were wondering.
- Look disoriented. The deer in headlights look isn’t going to assure your interviewers that you’d be good with a group of children or teenagers. How can you handle a classroom of 40 if you can’t even handle an interview panel of three people? Don’t be that person who looks like this:
- Mumble. I have a habit of doing this, so I had to work extra hard to not do it. They look for people who can speak clearly and confidently, so mumbling won’t help your case either, even if they do know you’re nervous. “My name is mumblemumblemumble and I’m from mumblemumblemumble,” isn’t going to show them anything outstanding about you.
- Focus too much on the Japanese portion of the interview and not enough on the actual interview questions. I saw a dude studying his Genki book in the lobby of the consulate after my interview and wish I had stopped to say, “Hey man, it’s too late at this point. Roll with what you’ve got and focus on the interview instead.” I definitely made this mistake the first time around, but it’s really not what you should be focusing on. Remember that you don’t need any Japanese ability at all to participate on the JET program! None whatsoever! DIDDLY DAMN SQUAT! 😀
- Forget your interview voucher. I haven’t personally forgotten mine, but word on the street is that they won’t let you interview if you don’t have your interview voucher, so please quadruple check before you leave your city/house/apartment/hotel/friend’s house/box on the corner/dorm room/etc. that you do indeed have it with you.
- Be oddly stubborn or defensive. For me, my problem with Interview #1 revolved around my diet. I was vegan at the time and believe me, they asked about it in the interview. Actually, it was the very first thing they asked me, and they spent a good five precious minutes of my 30 minute interview on this one STUPID question. The two Japanese people were nice about it, but the former ALT was a total b**** which made me want to be really stubborn with my beliefs and answers. Don’t do that. Don’t be like me. They told me something to the effect of, “We see you are a vegan. It is difficult, I’d say pretty much impossible, to be vegetarian, let alone vegan in Japan.” To which my response was, “Well, I plan on only buying fruits and vegetables for myself, and I’m very good at bringing extra food with me and planning ahead in case something unexpected comes up…” To which they replied, “But what if you go to somebody’s house and they offer you food that isn’t vegan? What if your coworkers invited you out after work last minute,” etc., etc. Basically I kept defending my position about how I didn’t want to change no matter what and they kept giving me random scenarios and we kept going in circles over the same thing. It did not work. To top it all off, former ALT already was glaring at me like a demon five minutes into the interview. Don’t incur the wrath of the demon ALT interviewers!!
- Don’t over-share information about yourself. I’m not trying to be controversial here, but by this, I mean anything eccentric about you that the JET Program might find off putting. Especially if you are not asked about it. If you are asked about your hobbies or interests, keep in mind that interesting and unique hobbies are fine within reason, but despite the wild atmosphere of Tokyo, many other parts of Japan can still be very conservative. I am not trying to imply that any hobbies or qualities or characteristics are wrong; I think it’s A-OK to be who you are and do whatever makes you happy. But, unless something has shaped or altered you in a significant way and you think that sharing those experiences may help, just be wary of how Japanese natives might perceive you when you interview. Not all people are of the “variety is the spice of life” mindset. For example, if your favorite thing to do in your spare time is to go to the club and get smashed, probably better that you omit that information because they might see you as wild and irresponsible, even if you aren’t. If you adamantly believe that you are an honest-to-goodness vampire, better not to share that either, because they might be concerned about what parents and students would think. Bottom line–if for no better reason not to overshare, you only have 30 minutes at best to shamelessly sell yourself and make yourself seem as appealing as possible. Use those 30 minutes to highlight the most important qualities about yourself. If they don’t ask you about it, odds are it’s not important for them to know for you to get the job, so focus on what they do ask you about and your qualities and experiences that will without a doubt help you. Will telling them about how you are a vampire help your case? No. Will telling them about your outgoing personality, your previous work experience, how you handle difficult situations, and community involvement help? Heck yeah it will.
Have a better idea of what not to do now? Were you planning on doing all of these things during your interview? I hope I’ve turned you away from some of those questionable interview scenarios. Now, on a more cheery note, let’s move on the things that you absolutely should do during your JET Program interview.
Do’s for the JET Program Interviews:
- Arrive on time/a little early. Many of you will be travelling from different cities to your nearest consulate. I personally advise travelling to your consulate the day before and staying with a friend or at a hotel. This basically guarantees that unless you forget to set your alarm clock, there’s no way you can be late. And if you’re late, you lose your interview slot, end of story. I also recommend getting to the consulate half an hour to an hour early. This gives you time to scope out future friends or competition, get *some* of the nerves out your system, and ask the former ALT in the waiting area about their life on the JET Program.
- Wear a suit. ABSOLUTELY WEAR A SUIT. For men, this means full suit, jacket and tie. Preferably a neutral tie and not one with ducks or superman plastered all over it. Nice shoes. Professional look. Beards nicely trimmed. Ladies, you can wear either a skirt and jacket or pants and a jacket. If you go the skirt route, I would advise you to wear pantyhose underneath. Apparently heels look more professional even though they hurt like hell. And whatever shirt you wear, no boobs. No boobs should be showing at all, not even a little bit. And honestly I wouldn’t go too crazy on the colors either, stick with black or navy for the suit and white or some other neutral color for the shirt underneath. The more boring and indistinguishable you look from everyone else, the better. And if you want to wear a business dress instead, I wouldn’t. Made that mistake once already. My Japanese teacher in college, who formerly served as an interviewer for the JET program, failed to inform me during my first interview that I needed to wear a suit. Upon my listing this as a possible reason why I didn’t get in the first time, her response was, “Oh. Didn’t I tell you to wear a suit?” NO, SENSEI. NO YOU DID NOT TELL ME TO WEAR A SUIT.
- Wear very little jewelry and makeup. This goes parallel to item number 2 in the first list, but yeah, looking professional means wearing only the bare minimum makeup (sorry ladies who like to go all out every day with bold eyeliner and brightly colored lipsticks), little to no jewelry (the standard ear piercings, maybe a watch is fine), and no weirdly colored hair. A natural color like dyed blonde or red you could get away with, but no greens, blues, or purples. “But grapes are natural and they’re purple!” Just go away. Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
- Prepare beforehand. Prepare, prepare, prepare. I cannot emphasize this enough. For my first interview, I spent way too much time focusing on the Japanese and not enough time focusing on actual content of the interview, so I was asked some questions that I was definitely not prepared for. Of course, you can prepare as much as possible and still be asked questions that you are unprepared for, but the more information you gather now, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Nothing is more satisfying than when they’ve asked you a question you’ve rehearsed a dozen times and you’re like “WAIT!! I KNOW THIS ONE!!”
- Practice with another person. You can also prepare as much as you can, feel like you’ve totally got it nailed, and then fumble because you didn’t actually practice speaking for your interview. Unless you’re the most suave, confident, well-spoken interviewee out there and are fantastic at being thrown curveballs and answering in an awesome way, I highly recommend practicing with another human being. YES, a human. Not a monkey, not your dog, not a robot, not the pillow that you make out with at night. Sometimes people phrase questions differently than you expect, or keep some elements of a question but change others, and listening and speaking with a person helps you prepare for that. I practiced my first interview with my dad, and I practiced for my second interview with the kennel supervisor at my job. Practicing with my supervisor helped a lot because although she was also my friend, she wasn’t so biased that she was just going to tell me I did great no matter how bad my answers were. She gave it to me straight and really made my mock interview feel very real, something which absolutely helped prepare me for the real deal and something which I still appreciate even now that I’m in Japan. She didn’t just read the questions exactly as I had written them; she altered the questions to suit her own style of speaking, asked me follow-up questions, and responded in a natural way. She also threw some questions my way which weren’t even on the list of possible questions that I gave her, which helped me tackle how to handle the “deer in headlights” situation.
- Be flexible. This is related to the “Don’t be stubborn/defensive” point in the “don’ts” section above. Even if you have a certain idea in your head, just be flexible with them. When they asked me about being vegan the second time around, my answer was, “Yes, I am aware that being vegan would be very difficult in Japan. Although I still plan on being vegan during my own time, I am willing to be flexible when I am with others. I understand that there will be unexpected situations where I will be offered food, and I would not want to offend anyone by not eating it, especially if I were invited to someone’s home. Additionally, I would feel like I was missing out on a cultural experience if I were to stay vegan while in Japan, so I would definitely be willing to be flexible so that I can experience all that Japan has to offer.” They liked this answer MUCH better than the first year’s answer. Even if it’s not related to dietary restrictions, just work with them if they ask you a question you have strong feelings toward. For example, if they ask you if you’d be heartbroken if you don’t get one of your three placement choices (they asked me this, too), don’t tell them that. Tell them you’d be grateful for the opportunity regardless of where you’re placed, because odds are that you won’t get one of your three choices anyway. Hell, I sure didn’t. I asked for rural Hokkaido or Aomori (north) and got extremely urban south (Kobe) instead (How the JET program does placements is a bit of a mystery).
- Be prepared for any question. I know this sounds kind of stupid, like, “How can I be prepared to be unprepared?”, but my point here is just not to expect them to stick to the list of questions that you found on the internet. Those lists are lists like the one I am doing right now–they are the experiences of people who have previously interviewed, nothing more and nothing less and by no means are they all-inclusive of what the interviewers might ask you. They can and they will ask you questions that are not on those lists, so brace yourselves now for the fact that it will happen. If it helps, have your practice interviewer make up some questions on the spot just to practice getting the nerves and jitters out of your system.
- Have a possible game or lesson idea ready to go. There is a myth in the JET program online community that being asked the fabled, “teaching demonstration” question is an indicator of whether they’ll recommend you to Tokyo or not. I was not asked the teaching demonstration question during my first interview, and lo and behold I did not get in. I was (sort of) asked the teaching demonstration question during my second interview and I did get in. They may or may not ask you this no matter how much they do or don’t like you, but in case they do ask you about lessons, have a lesson or game idea ready to go that you can apply to anything. Absolutely anything. Here’s how it went down with me: In my second interview, they first asked me, “If you could teach any one point about American history to your Japanese students, what would it be and why?” My response to this was, “I would teach them about the American Revolution, because I think it was the most important turning point in America’s history that demonstrates how we earned our freedom, and it helped mold us into the country we are today.” To this response, stone-cold b**** former ALT interviewer turns to me and asks, “Okay. HOW WOULD YOU TEACH IT?” (Imagine an angry tone and a smirk on her face that just reeks of the, “MWAHAHAHA!” stereotypical evil laugh) I panicked for about half a second here until I realized, wait! WAIT! WAIT! I do have a game I could use, here! I’ve done it a thousand times with my adult classes! So I told her, “I do this game that my adult students really love where I give them a page of information. I divide them into groups of four. One person is the scribe, and one is the reader who has to scan the article for information and tell the scribe the answer. When I ask a question, the first group to write the correct answer on the plastic plate and hold it up gets a point.” B**** interviewer seemed very taken aback that I had such a detailed answer to her question off the top of my head. The two Japanese people were smiling and looked very impressed. I know that this was a very lengthy answer, but the takeaway point is to have a lesson idea that you can literally apply to any material ready to go. Whether they ultimately do or don’t ask you this, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and the more detailed, the better. It probably won’t look very good if they ask you how you would teach colors to a group of elementary school students and all you can say is, “Uhhhh *points to board* this is blue. This is yellow. Cool, right?”
- Speak clearly. This probably goes without saying, but make sure you are loud and clear, because that’s how you’ll need to be in the classroom. If you’re sick (like I was for round 2), apologize at the beginning of the interview if your voice is a little hoarse/raspy/quiet/whatever.
- Inform the interviewers of anything strange that might happen during your interview. Akin to item 9 above, anything that you know about that the interviewers might perceive as you not paying attention, just tell them at the beginning of your interview. I had a nasty cold for interview 2 and had to tell them (A) “I’m sorry, I would normally shake your hand but I’m feeling a little under the weather and I don’t want to spread my illness.” and (B) “My voice is a little hoarse, so please tell me if you need me to repeat anything for you and I’ll speak as loudly as I can.” Aaaand (C) “My ears are a little blocked and I’m having some difficulty hearing today, so I apologize if I ask you to repeat anything.” Ideally, you won’t be sick, but if you are, better for them to know at the beginning and understand the situation rather than mistake you asking them to repeat something as you not paying attention or a quiet voice for nervousness.
- Ask the interviewers questions! At the very end of the interview, the interviewers will ask you if you have any questions for them. PLEASE prepare some questions beforehand!! Pretty please!! If you don’t ask them any questions, it could come off as being either overly confident or uninterested in the program. It could make you seem like JET is just one out of a whole bunch of things you’re applying for just ‘cuz. It makes you boring. Asking good questions could make the difference between an interviewer recommending you to Tokyo or not. My suggestion is to have three questions ready to go (not too many, not too little). These questions can be directed at the former ALT, the Japanese interviewers, or all three. Asking something, at least, will help show your interest and commitment to the program. I think I asked questions to the effect of, “what was the most challenging part about being an ALT for you,” “What was the most rewarding part about being an ALT,” “How did you handle dealing with stress or homesickness,” and “Is there anything that you regret about your time on the JET program/what was your most enjoyable experience while in Japan?” The questions are totally up to you, and try to ask things that will actually impact your life or affect you in some way while you are on the program, should you get in.
- Smile! Smile, smile, smile! SMIIIIIILLLLEEEEE!!! Smile until your face falls off and then some! Just keep on smiling. Smiley smiley smile smile smiiiillleeee! 😀
- (For people who have interviewed more than once) Tell them what you’ve done to improve yourself since your last interview. They definitely did ask me about my first interview during my second one. I think it was the second question they asked me after they wasted time on my vegan-ness. They asked me how I handled the rejection and how I felt about it then. I told them about how at first, I was devastated, but didn’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself until the second application cycle came around. I told them that I talked to my Japanese teacher about what could have gone wrong the first time, and how we explored together about options for me to improve. And I told them about how I did exactly those things. About how I started volunteer teaching to adults after my full-time job for three hours three nights a week. About how I was invited to be the only teacher for my level the following semester. About how much I loved my students and loved learning about their lives and getting to know them as people. Showing your improvement and personal growth will show them how badly you want the position, how dedicated and resilient you are for trying again in the face of rejection, and the lengths that you are willing to go to get a position as an ALT. It’s about commitment, people! Pretend that you are proposing to the JET program and that you will be happily engaged in limbo until April when you find out your interview results, when you hopefully will tie the knot with JET instead of getting left at the altar!
Well, prospective JET friends, I really hope that this helped you. As someone who both failed and succeeded with the JET Program interviews, I really hope my perspective from both sides of the coin helps you in some way as you prepare for your interviews. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk about interviews some more, hit me up and I’d be glad to chat. I know the interviews aren’t until February, but hey, never hurts to prepare! Good luck!
P.S. To those of you who read this whole thing, you are champions. My posts tend to be novels so reward yourself for struggling through seven pages of this nonsense! Huzzah!
P.P.S. After your interview is over, try to find something to occupy yourself. If your current job involves a lot of mental work, great. If you’re in school and that’s distracting enough, great. If your job involves no mental thought whatsoever like mine did, find a hobby to distract you. About two weeks after you will probably start to feel the anxiety. What could I have done differently? Did I do anything wrong? Do they hate me? Do they love me? Did stone-cold b**** remember me? Just do anything that involves concentration. For me, I went around my office asking people if they wanted paintings for their houses. I cranked out six paintings while I was waiting to hear back, and it was very stress relieving. You could start knitting, crocheting, learn an instrument, whatever. Just distract yourself. Friends don’t always work, either because they enjoy asking questions and whether you’ve heard back yet or not.
P.P.P.S. You can do it! Good luck, my friends!
P.P.P.P.S. If you are ultimately not selected for an interview, please do not be discouraged. Maybe it just isn’t the right time. The JET Program gets thousands and thousands of applications each year, of which they take very few. It is extremely competitive. There is always next year, and always room for improvement!