Can anyone give advice for an upcoming JET interview?
January 11, 2011 5:09 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone give me advice for an upcoming interview with the JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) Programme?

I have 6 days to prepare for an interview in London for a position as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), teaching English in Japan. Beyond poring over my application, and preparing answers for questions along the Why Japan? line, can anyone offer any advice?

I've read advice on various online forums, but it's often undercut by that peculiar breed of spite, misogyny and one-upmanship that plagues so many online communities (not naming any names). So I thought I'd take it to a source I trust.
posted by jrengreen to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I went for an interview for a teaching English abroad thing (not JET, but it might still be applicable). Here are some of the questions I was asked.

-- give an example of a lesson plan/activity you would do with your students. What is appropriate will depend on the age of your students, obviously, but there are tons of EFL resources online. A few of which are... Dave's ESL cafe (in particular the games section), the British Council's Teaching English site for UK culture stuff, and this ginormous list of conversation topics, possibly for an older crowd.
-- some class room management type questions: what would you do if you had a student who had a lot of energy and was being disruptive? What would you do if you had a student who was very shy?
-- do you have any experience living abroad? How do you think you would deal with culture shock?
-- do you have any previous teaching experience?
-- how would you go about making friends in the town where you end up?

What I think they were trying to assess was whether you had decent people skills, enough energy to entertain a class of youngsters, and the resilience to handle being far from a regular support network.

Not sure if that helps, but in any case, good luck on your interview!
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 5:49 AM on January 11, 2011

second hand anecdotal advice:

My best friend went into the JET program. She fretted herself sick worrying about passing the application process and studied her behind off. She reworked her responses to possible questions one way, then another way, then sideways and up and down.

She ended up being one of the last people interviewed. She expected it to last much longer then it did, they barely asked her any questions, and went she left was sure that she wasn't getting into the program.

Then she got news that she was.

They sent her to Ehime in a area of japan that does not like foreigners. The school she was assigned to didn't want her and she suspected the only reason they let her in was because of the money they'd get for having a ALT. She got to hear stories of how many of the other ALTs would get perks and that the schools absolutely adored them, all things she missed out on.

For all that, she wants to go back.

So just to say that your mileage may vary, and that not to fret too much over the interview. If you're prepared and don't have a frivolous reason for wanting to join the program ("because I think it would be cool") - you'll do fine.
posted by royalsong at 6:31 AM on January 11, 2011

Dress conservatively, and dress well. Make sure you have good posture, and sit upright in your seat. Do not cross your legs. Smile, and make eye contact.

Your lesson plan ideas should be short - no more than three sentences. Good points are:

- I would play a game that gets the students to talk.
- I would form the students into small groups for a game, so they won't be forced to speak in front of the entire class.
- I would try to play speaking games that allow the students to move around the classroom.

The interviewers are also going to try to assess whether or not your are a flake. How do you handle stress? How about culture shock?

A good answer would be:

"If I was feeling stressful about life in Japan, I would first of all take a deep breath and relax, and hang tight for a couple of days. I would try to talk to a friend, and would try to stay positive and cheerful."
posted by KokuRyu at 6:57 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The interview lasts for about 20 minutes, by the way. And once in Japan, the way to get "adored" by your students is to smile, say hello, remember their names (all of them!) and laugh a lot.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:59 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I interviewed for this years ago (92ish?) and completely mucked it up. Based on my mistakes (and bear in mind this was a long time ago, and that cat's pyjamas has covered a lot of good ideas already):

- know your basic Japanese geography. I didn't even know the names of the main islands and got asked one or two questions to see if I knew anything about Japan, which I didn't
- be prepared to do some reading from an English text (mine was a conversation between two people). I hammed it up something rotten and sounded like little Lord Fauntleroy, which from the winces I provoked, isn't really what they were looking for
- have some good reasons for wanting to do it. They're looking for you to want to be a part of whatever community you enter, so have some ideas on what you'd like to participate in or learn while you're there
- brush up on what's in the news in Japan
- find out a little about Japanese etiquette, including in the workplace, and think about how you might react to their interest in a foreigner

It's really about showing genuine enthusiasm and wanting to really be a part of Japan for a while, not just a tourist, being an ambassador for the West and for the English language, and being able to cope with such a different culture.

But interviews seem to vary wildly between people, so you might get all of these or nothing. Good luck, though!
posted by dowcrag at 7:08 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I recall correctly, Mr. Deludingmyself's experience (now 7? years out of date) was that the JET program admission process was also clearly trying to weed out the fanboy-type - especially where being Into All Things Japan would interfere with conforming with a professional atmosphere. Make sure you have a good answer to what initially interested in living and working in Japan, and try to stick to more broad themes of being an ambassador for your country, etc. In particular, since JET places a lot of ALTs out in the boonies, you might talk about the benefits of cultural exchange for kids who don't see, much less interact with, many foreigners at all.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2011

While I've never interviewed a JET candidate myself, I have been acquaintances with several people who worked at the Japanese consulate in a major American city. They've directly interviewed JET candidates and I still remember many of their stories.

In general, teaching experience is good. Demonstrating that you have experience teaching or mentoring something will make your application stand out. If you are considering teaching as a possible future career, this would also be a good thing to mention in the interview.

Showing some enthusiasm about Japan is good. Be aware of major news events and have some idea of customs of there. If you're a Japan super-fan, be careful. deludingmyself is correct and they do try to screen people who have a lot of preconceived notions as to what Japan is like.

Don't forget to be enthusiastic about the culture that you come from as well! Remember that the purpose of the JET program is not only to teach English but to introduce some foreign culture into places where there are not many foreigners. One of my Mexican-American friends who participated in JET held a taco-making day when he was teaching, and it turned out to be a big hit with the kids.

And two more serious points:

- If part of your motivation is because you have a significant other in Japan, you shouldn't mention this in your interview. This is looked down upon because JET organizers are afraid that you'll cut and run if your relationship goes sour, and one of the main things they screen for is that you'll at least stay the length of a contract there.

- Your first culture shock: Mental health is looked upon differently in Japan than it is in most Western countries. I forget if the application asks, but if the application / your interviewer doesn't explicitly ask you if you take any drugs for psychological issues you should tiptoe around the subject as best as you can. There is a strong tendency for applicants who take any kind of psychological medication to be rejected.
posted by C^3 at 12:55 PM on January 11, 2011

Be flexible. In my interview (02) they asked me where I wanted to be stationed and why. I told them why, but said that I was willing to go anywhere. Same thing with what level of school you want to teach. Be someone that they feel like they can place anywhere, and fill any roll, primary through high school and you are a much more attractive candidate.

Also be flexible about teaching method. If you are in JET you are the assistant, not the main teacher. You may not like how a teacher handles a situation, and they might make some pretty stupid English mistakes themselves. I was asked how I would handle those situations in my interview. They don't want someone who's going to make their actual licensed teachers look stupid or make waves.

Talk about doing community involvement things. They want you to do more than just show up to class. If you're excited about hosting events (I did a big Halloween party one year), are willing to teach adult evening classes, want to take taiko drumming lessons... that sort of thing is a plus.

Just like any other interview, make sure it's not about what Japan can do for you, but what you can do for Japan.

And you don't happen to have blue eyes, do you? It would be a big plus! (srsly, at the big conference in Tokyo they asked all ALTs to raise their hands if they had blue eyes, and it was over half of us. I don't think that's statistically plausible)

Good luck on your interview, I hope you do well. I had a fantastic time over there, and I wish I could go back and do it all over again.
posted by Caravantea at 3:41 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

As with any interview, but especially one with regards to Japan, dress well, but not flashy. Conservative, as mentioned above. Appearance is incredibly important. Be kind and courteous, and speak clearly, and use good grammar. You need to show them that you will be able to communicate with EFL students, so if you talk a mile a minute, that doesn't help you.

Since you have already gotten to the interview, you must have written down the three places you would like to go. Where are they? What are they known for? What are they close to? Why do you want to go to those specific places? And, when asked these questions, don't forget to point out that you're more than happy to go where ever they send you. Do avoid talking about your deep love of manga, or your obsessive cosplay addiction (if you have one) as it won't do you any favors.

One thing I would stress is that you are very open to learning and new experiences. Good luck on your interview.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:45 PM on January 11, 2011

Check out the youtube user "myargonauts." He spent 5 years in the JET program and appears to even helped out with the interview process a time or so. He has a number of videos about the JET application process that should be helpful.
posted by that girl at 5:03 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

im a jet alumni, was there for one year and returned to the US in 2006. dress nicely (and i mean like, a suit etc) and be respectful. show knowledge of japan but not fanboyism. share any experience you may have been living or traveling abroad. be prepared for teaching questions- if you've had past teaching experience that's good. the only three questions i can specifically remember now from the interview were "what would you do if you were asked to serve tea because you're a woman", "what 5 objects would you bring to represent america", and "what would you do if your students assumed you weren't american since you're ethnically chinese"

they also asked more in depth questions about my application because they liked my personal essay. for full disclosure i should also mention that a short portion of my interview was in japanese because i was recruited out of my uni's advanced japanese class, but if you don't have that much language experience you could still get in... though i don't recommend doing the JET program without some japanese language skill because they drop you in the middle of nowhere and if you rely on your japanese coworkers too much you won't experience the country to the fullest (plus you'll be putting a burden on them) and if you use fellow JET colleagues who speak japanese it will annoy them and not be good for your social life (as someone whom others tried to use to read things for them or call people for them i can tell you, i did not want interact with people clearly using me for my language skills).

good luck! my year on the JET program was one of the best of my life, and it taught me more about myself and the world around me than all 4 years of college. feel free to me-mail me if you have any more specific questions.
posted by raw sugar at 12:23 AM on January 12, 2011

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