Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Notorious JET Interview

From what I've seen on the facebook JET 2014 applicants group, the interview results are in. The aganizing wait is finally over! To those of you who have been scheduled for an interview, congradulations! Time to prepare yourselves for the big day and for another long, insanity-inducing wait afterward (starting to see a trend forming here?). To those who didn't receive one, I know how disappointing it can be, but don't give up! If you truly want to get into JET, try again! There's no shame in having to take two or even three attempts. It's not a race. Give your application and statement of purpose a good, long look and see where you can improve your odds of getting in. Eventually, I intend to write up another post about applying to the program which I hope will also be helpful to those re-applying.

Alright, interviewees, your interview is probably two or three weeks away. Where do you begin to prepare? Well, seeing as you're here, you're off to a pretty good start!

First, let's start with something in common with all interviews: appearance. If this isn't your first interview, you already have a good idea of what to wear, but there are still some cultural aspects you need to be aware of. The interview will be at the Japanese consulate/embassy after all and there will be a Japanese person on the panel and part of what they're looking for is whether you will acclimate to the environment well.


formal it up. Suit + jacket for everyone. Ties for guys. Dresses are okay for ladies as long as they are formal. Make sure your footwear is clean and like-new.
Culture Taboos-
NO bare shoulders. This includes tops and sides which means no cap sleeves. I've seen a lot of professional, sleeveless dresses out there which is fine as long you wear something like the aforementioned suit jacket over it.
NO cleavage. Actually, the entire chest area needs to me mostly covered. There's an ALT here who got politely taken aside and told her shirt exposed too much even though there wasn't cleavage. After she showed it to me, I saw it was one of those low-cut, wide-scooping necklines that show a lot of skin. Try to avoid those.
NO piercings on men.
NO piercings anywhere except the ears on ladies. Maybe get one of those flesh-colored fill-ins.
Keep your ear piercings small and professional.
NO tattoos. Thankfully, it'll still be the middle of/tail-end of winter everywhere so it shouldn't be too difficult. If you have any face or hand tattoos, then...I got nothing...bandages?
Hair- ladies can keep it down (I did) as long as it's brushed and neat. Men, get your hair cut. Long hair on men is usually not acceptable. That said, I have seen a JET get in that had long, brown Jesus hair and a matching beard, but it was pretty immaculate. If you insist on keeping your hair long, brush and keep it neat. Facial hair is ok, but again, as long as it's trim and neat.
Smile- pretty self-explanatory, but can be deceptively difficult. Some of you may be traveling a long way and it could drag you down some along with any nervous energy you may have. This is all part of it though; assistant language teachers in Japan that aren't hired under a cushy JET or Interac contract do get fired for not being "genki" (energetic) enough. Since it's pretty hard to get rid of you once you're hired, they want to make sure you're a keeper. Smile!

My situation: nice, white blouse, dress pants, suit jacket, and black flats (modest heels shouldn't be an issue though). I do have pierced ears, but I'm pretty sure I left them out.
I also do have two tattoos that were easily covered.

I like to address a major rumor floating around there. Many websites claim that merely getting to the interview stage gives you a 50 to even a 90 percent chance of getting accepted. DON'T RELY ON ANY OF THESE! It doesn't matter if it's true or not; wouldn't you rather err on the side caution? Make the most of this opportunity.

You won't be expected to (and rather shouldn't) bring anything into the interview with you. The most important thing to have is intangible. You know what they say- knowledge is power! Research, research, research. Don't take any one experience or even a few experiences as dogma. Here are some things that I found particularily useful.

Your App and SOP: The panelists will 100% be going over your application and statement of purpose. They may be open-ended ("I see you were part of the Japanese club. Tell me about your experience.") or they may be more direct ("What was your major at University?). They are both looking for you to elaborate and confirm facts. If your answers don't gel with your app or statement of purpose, you're pretty much not getting accepted. But you should be fine as long as you were honest on your app and statement of purpose and have something meaningful to say. Most candidates find 2 pages isn't long enough to fully express themselves so think of this as an opportunity to say the things you didn't have the space for in your SOP. For example, if they ask you about where you wrote about the desire to travel, say where and why.

Questions: Collect as many questions as you can. I sat down and tried to write up an answer to each one I found and even thought up a few of my own based on my application and statement of purpose. Remember, they will taylor these questions to your situation. These will also vary by whether you're going for an ALT or CIR position (and whether you're open to being an ALT either way). Here are questions that I got in my interview (I was applying to be a CIR open to being an ALT):

-Why do you want to be a CIR?
**You will 100% get some variant of this question. Do not just parrot your SOP- elaborate**
-What would you do if you were receiving unwanted attention from a co-worker?
**Ladies, you will almost certainly get this question or something else harassment-related**
-What would you do if your students didn't want to learn English?
-How would you present your own culture in a lesson?
-How were the "chikans"(perverts- usually of the butt-touching variety) in Japan? How did you handle it?
**This happened to me twice during my study abroad in Tokyo. For some reason I got this question and the harassment one**
-Why did you request this particular placement? What if you were placed somewhere rural?
**The correct answer is that you'd be fine with it. The majority of JETs are placed in the countryside and if your lucky, you'll end up somewhere suburban. If you're just going to drop out if you're placed in the countryside, why bother accepting you at all? Also, again, they're looking for flexibility and adaptability**
-What's your favorite part of Japanese culture?
-I see you're bringing your future husband along! How exciting. How do you think he'll deal with living in Japan? Does he know the culture or language?
**Bringing family along does not in itself affect your odds of getting accepted, but whether you and your family are well-prepared for it does**
-What was your fiancee's major at university?
-What is the Milwaukee Steampunk Society? (This was fun to explain)
-I see you were in orchestra. Would you bring your viola to Japan?
-Do you have any questions for us?
**This will come last, and every single candidate gets this question every time. There is a right answer and it's Yes. Come up with something that expresses your interest in the JET programme. This your chance to end the interview with a bang. I asked how the professor got interested in Japan to which the answer was family-related and this lead to me sharing that part of my interest lies in the fact that my dad was based in Yokohama when he was in the marines. Lastly, I asked what the former JET thought was the most valuable thing he took away from the JET programme.**

Questions heard/seen from other candidates:
-What are your three favorite Japanese authors?
-What would you do if you were asked to make tea for the office?
-Why did you apply to the JET programme if your major is [major]?
-How would you explain that not all Western people look like you?
-How would you deal with uncooperative teachers?
-What are the four main islands of Japan?
-Whose the current prime minister?
-Please introduce yourself in Japanese. (if you mentioned any Japanese ability)
-好きな食べ物はなんですか。("What Japanese food do you like?" Only if you mentioned a certain level of Japanese ability)
-Why did the United States drop the atomic bombs on Japan in World War II?

Class Demonstration: those applying for the ALT position will be asked to do a short class demo. Usually the panelists will become your students won't be the best students in the world...adapt!
(I did not have to do a demo as a CIR candidate, but don't rule it out if you're open to being an ALT as I was.)

Language: as mentioned above, you may get a question in Japanese if you mentioned any language ability on your app. You may be given a short grammar quiz or passage to read. While the official statement of the JET programme is that no language ability is required, the harsh reality is that more and more candidates with at least an introductory level are being accepted. Be sure to strongly emphasize your intent to study the language as a JET no matter what your level.

Culture: they want people that are truly interested in Japan and it's culture. Express what you like or what you want to learn more about. Read up on current events or other topics that interest you.
Just like with language ability, more and more candidates with travel experience are being accepted. If you've never been abroad, try to think about how'd you'd react and adapt to culture shock.

Practice!!! Find someone to interview with.

All ready to go? Great! Let's get down to the actual interview experience. Starting with...

The environment:

I've read about many different interview experiences. Some people walk away in tears while some leave feeling like they'd had a pleasant chat. Sometimes candidates will be hit with a severely awkward or seemingly unfair question out of left field meant to trip them up. From what I can gather, each consulate conducts their interviews differently. I interviewed at the Chicago consulate and my experience was very pleasant. If you're a fellow Midwest resident, relax! They won't grill you (too much...). However, keep in mind that just because you left feeling great doesn't mean you'll get accepted or because you left feeling like crap that you weren't accepted...

The Arrival: After turning in your interview voucher and photo, you'll be directed to a waiting area. There will be a promo video playing about JET, but I spent my time chatting with my fellow applicants. They were pretty friendly and there was even a Japanese guy there on other business who talked with us. I wondered the whole time whether being sociable helped at all since the officials could see us, and many other experiences I read confirm this. That being said, BE EARLY. As in, on time = late.

The Panel: You will be called in to the main interview room that will be separated into panels of three people. One will be a Japanese person who works at the consulate, one will be a former JET, and the last will be an academic (professor, etc.) of some sort.
As you enter the area, give a friendly greeting (this is where the smiling beings!). A wave or a modest bow will do. When you sit in your lone chair in the middle of the room, DO NOT cross your legs and sit up straight.

During/After the Interview: Smile!!! Be attentive. Show genuine interest. Keep a cool head even if a question has given you pause. If you need it, take a short moment to get your ducks in a row before answering. You will get at least one or two questions that are personal and maybe a little uncomfortable, but remember that they are testing you. This your chance to show your fearlessness outside your comfort zone.
After the interview, don't forget to thank them (you're still smiling, right?)! I was told to stop at the door/entrance and turn to give a little bow or wave (still smiling?).
Then walk out the door, giving one last thanks to your guide, and...YOUR DONE! Give yourself a pat on the back. Go out and reward yourself.

Japanese Test:

Of course, unless you're a CIR candidate. You've still got a Japanese test to do! Honestly, this freaked me the hell out more than the interview did. You'll be led to a separate room where you'll be greeted by a Japanese person who will ask you to sit down and give you a short passage to read. I could tell as a read that it was designed to start easy and get harder to read as you went along. The kanji started super simple and progressed to more difficult ones. After you've finished reading, you'll be asked some comprehension questions including some that ask for your opinion.
**If you feel like you really flubbed the test, don't despair- many CIR candidates get accepted as ALTs (I was!)**

And now you're FINALLY done! It over! The wait begins. If you're on Facebook, I highly recommend joining the JET applicants for 2014 group and anything similar. Everyone's going to need a way to pass the time and get moral support.
I truly wish the best of luck to all candidates and offer any help I can provide to make this grueling process easier.

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