Interview Process for the JET Program

So you turned in your application and waited the excruciating month full of holidays, end of the year, end of school semesters, and all that stuff to keep your mind off JET. The second phase, the interview phase, begins in January. Around mid to late January, you should expect to see an email from your consulate about who got accepted for an interview. Remember that application ID number I told you about? Here is where it is going to come in handy. The email you receive will consist of a PDF document with a bunch of numbers on it. If you see your number there, then congratulations! You made it onto phase two, the interview process. You looked good on paper and now they want to see you in person! Out of thousands of applications, they selected yours to see in person! Celebrate that you made it that far! I went to LA and had a hot dog made of snake for the first time as my celebration.

Now that you have been accepted for an interview after your amazing application, I will tell you how the process goes. This is from my personal experience of the interview process and there is a mantra in JET that you may have heard already called ESID, or Every Situation Is Different. This mantra can get a little irritating, I know. So it helps to read experiences and ask questions about it, even if it might not apply to you. The fact that it could happen to you is good enough in some cases. However, ESID is totally true. Every situation is different so research heavily on all different possibilities before committing yourself to one. Or you could just do what I did and combine them all into one.

The interviews are scheduled during a week in February. You will submit three possible dates and times you are available for an interview and the consulate will tell you later which one you are scheduled for. Mine was on Friday at 10am so not too early in the day, but late in the week. This helped me out because I had a friend who was also applying for JET out of LA and her interview was earlier so I asked her questions about it. I asked her what questions they asked and how did they go about it, which I will let you know right here.

Prior to the interview, I suited up and that is something that you definitely want to do. If you are not used to dressing professionally, now might be a good time to start. I am not talking about buying clothes from Forever 21 or Wet Seal or wherever you buy your “professional” clothes. I am talking about legitimate places that specialize in business wear. Again, be prepared to drop some dough on these threads if you are serious. Plus you will need this outfit again for the first few hours of Tokyo Orientation (before the summer heat will allow you to jump into “cool biz” form) and when you meet your schools for the first time (and other future job interviews). Having at least one professional suit is just a good thing in general, so invest in one now. Tips for clothes for ladies from the top down (sorry, gentlemen, although some of these can apply to you too):

  • Hair: don’t worry about this so much. As long as it is put together and neat, it doesn’t really matter the hairstyle you go with.
  • Overall, neutral colors are safe. Black is the safest but you can go gray or navy. Avoid outrageous suits or ones with patterns on them.
  • Pants are okay to wear but probably skirt is better. Coming from my boss at the time who was a consultant for businesses and a successful business woman herself, I took her advice and went with a skirt. Below the knee too. Wouldn’t want to show off too much too soon (too much sexy is not good!). Wait until you get to Japan where you might have to because it is blazing hot and humid. If you are going to wear a skirt, wear stockings with them too (and get used to this fast if you are going to wear skirts at school in Japan because most women do). Nude or black color stockings with shaved legs (if you need to) underneath.
  • Shirt: do NOT show shoulder or cleavage. This is a big no no in Japan in general so start getting used to it here at the interview. Again, neutral colors that match your suit and no crazy patterns. Button down plain shirts are always safe. If you are busty like yours truly, wear a tank top or cami underneath. Those buttons can show a little more than you care to and you wouldn’t want your interviewers to be staring at other…assets of you that you don’t want them to.
  • Shoes: closed toed black pumps are safe. Polished too. Flats are fine too, but no crazy bows or designs on them.
  • Overall you want to look polished and neat. Minimal makeup, lip balm on the lips, fingernails trimmed and clear nail polish (get a manicure the day before if you wish), and maybe a simple necklace or earrings. I wore a single strand of pearls and pearl earrings and damn did I look classy. Minimal perfume too as some people are allergic. Simple and plain is the best. Let your personality shine more than your spiffy outfit, but still put an effort into it.

So you bought your clothes and you are looking spiffy. Now all you can do it wait for your interview. But there are some things you can do in the meantime to prepare yourself. Everyone’s dreaded area (at least for those who may not interview well): what questions will I be asked? This gave me anxiety so I scoured the internet and tried to find as many blogs as possible that had the questions. But again, ESID. Some questions may be asked and others may not be. So what I did (and you could do this too if you are crazy like me) is compiled a list of every single possible question I could find on blogs such as this one, wrote my answers for them, and studied them. I am a researcher so I like to study and learn. I had over 75 questions on me and I studied them all! To be honest, it did help but getting in that seat is a different story that I will share soon…

But yes, try to know as much as possible. Devote your time to this interview and don’t think it is just something you can wing. I made that mistake and it bit me in the ass later on. Be serious about getting this gig because you are competing with literally thousands of other people. If you want the list of questions, comment below and we could set something up. I had my friends pose as the interviewers and give me feedback and advice. It was the first time I actually had an interview for a job I wasn’t guaranteed for (not to sound conceited but my other jobs were either food or retail) so that added to the stress and anxiety. If you are good at being interviewed, then kudos to you and you will be fine. If you’re not like me, then study study study! School is never over! D:

Now onto the fun part…the interview. Suited up with your necessary documents in hand (interview voucher, passport photos, study material, whatever else you are required to bring – emails tell you everything), you get to the interview area (early, I hope. Do not be late! The Japanese pride themselves on being punctual, so start being that way too.) and you sign in and wait. For me, there was someone there who had done the JET program before. If you have such a person, you can ask them any question you may have that your research did not turn up. You will also be sitting with other people waiting for their interview so talking and relaxing with them can help too. You sit at a table and wait with the other interviewees until your name is called. Once your name is called, you are led to a room with two other people.

The interview goes like this: there are three people interviewing you. These people can vary so mine were an ex-JET, a Japanese teacher, and I think some sort of ambassador for Japan or the states (I forget which). Each person will ask you a variety of questions. These are some questions I was asked (not in any order):

1. Who is the U.S. ambassador for Japan? This one threw me for a loop because I did not have that question in my study material. Lesson #1: Be prepared for curve balls like that. But also don’t lie. So I just said I didn’t know but I would want to find out (to be honest though…I still don’t know :p).

2. What do you know about the Japanese school system? To be honest, I knew very little. I knew how many years each school was called or whatever and I knew when English started being a mandatory subject to be taught in school…but that was about it. Obviously now being here, I know loads more but at the time, I did not know as much as I should have. (If you want a more in-depth answer to this question, read my What’s the Diff? post on Japanese and American schools.)

3. Why Japan? This question seems to be asked the most often so prepare your perfect answer. What makes Japan your choice over other places where you could teach English? They want to hear something that makes Japan unique to you. Now I have heard various advice from other places suggesting not to mention your love for Japanese pop culture like anime, video games, or popular music. I personally cannot attest to this so I don’t know, but that does make sense. Being an otaku is still not super well accepted here, especially if you are a girl (although slowly but surely, that is changing). So be mindful of that. You should have written this in your application and since you are called for an interview, it might not be a bad idea to just reiterate that statement you wrote.

4. What are your thoughts on the base in Okinawa? Again, curveball question! Even the people I talked to during the orientations were like, they seriously asked you that?! That’s a very touchy subject! The first thought that popped in my head was “there is a base in Okinawa?!” Clearly I didn’t research enough on the relations between Japan and America so you might want to do that with your home country. I honestly forgot my answer because I was so like dafuq after this next question.

5. You have five minutes to teach us about shapes. We are a class of five year old elementary school students. You may use the whole room for your lesson. Your interview room will probably have some sort of whiteboard you could write on in case you get the “give us a sample lesson about ~~” question. This one is a little hard to prepare for and I could only imagine they ask this to those who have had teaching experience before. I thought I had that one but then I was reminded so much that they do not understand English. My previous teaching experience was to all English speakers and adults mostly sooooo it was kinda tough. I did my best and wrote and drew pictures on the board but I also didn’t know enough Japanese to describe what I was trying to draw. I tried my best to describe it but again…they don’t know English. Needless to say, that question could have been answered in a much better way and it was just all downhill from there for me. I lost my confidence and every question after that, my mind went blank 😦 The momentum I gained was gone…

6. Japanese Japanese Japanese. I was asked questions in Japanese to test my comprehension and from the blow I took from that shapes demonstration question, I couldn’t think very well so my Japanese didn’t come to me. I was asked to fill in the blanks of two pictures: one was basically greetings and the other was asking me to say “may I sit here?” in Japanese. I studied as much as I could but not much. I got some help from the ex JET but that might have led to my downfall…

7. Do you have any questions for us? You will most likely get this question so again, prepare something good. I asked “what challenges did you face in Japan?” and the ex-JET said that racism still occurs and there are still people who do not like foreigners.

Those were just some of the questions I was asked. You might get all or none of them but just know that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Not feeling too hot after the interview, I finished up and left and waited some more at home. I was trying not to feel too down on myself and just hoped that people did worse than me. But there is a certain feeling you get that you just know if you nailed it or not and I felt like I didn’t… (sorry if you are looking for positive experiences about the interview process, but it is a reality that you can get rejected or you have a harsh interview).

After your interview, you will wait about two months until the final final results are sent out to see if you got short-listed or on the alternate list. Short-list means you are pretty much guaranteed to go and are just waiting on placement. Alternate means if someone drops out, you go in and take their place. At this point, there is nothing else you can do. Just sit…and wait. It is up to the JET gods to decide your fate now. Your patience skills will improve after this whole ordeal.

That’s about it for the interview process. Next, I will talk about the post-interview process!


About Lucy

I like to write about anything and everything. From fictional writing about random characters I come up with in my head to research papers that requires hours of reading to get a single page in, I love it all.
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