Working at the Japanese consulate this past week, I got to see the JET program from the other side.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell everything I know. The JET program and the consulate like to maintain some sense of privacy, and I’ve signed documents and made promises to not reveal certain bits of information. If you were one of those that interviewed this past week, even if I have an inkling of your result, I can’t say anything about it. Nor can I reveal what metrics they’re using, even if I did know.
In spite of JET’s secrecy, and the long amount of time it takes from completing the application process to finding out whether or not you’re hired, JET is not any more special or different from any other job application process.
What does JET look for? This Japanese Life has an amazing 4–part post about it. And, really, that post is worth looking at if you’re applying for JET. It has all the depth and nuance you could ask for.
In spite of that, I’m going to do the exact opposite and be plain and blunt: JET wants people who can and want to do the job. Just like any other job. And what is this specific job? It’s teaching English and being a resident foreigner in a Japanese public school. It’s not “living in Japan”. It’s not “speaking Japanese”. Both of those are natural effects of being in Japan, but it isn’t the job you’re applying for.
The biggest mistake a lot of people make is that, whether during the interview or paper application, they focus on their love of Japan. JET isn’t hiring people who “love Japan”. JET is hiring people to teach English and their culture to Japanese people, to become members of their local communities, and to, frankly, not run away and leave in the middle of the job. They don’t want people to get cold feet. They want to make sure that their applicants will be able to survive anywhere in Japan, be it city or tiny village. To be able to work together, team teaching with other Japanese teachers, and not hole up in their apartment watching anime.
So, when it comes down to it, JET just asks for the same thing any other job asks for:
Can you, and do you want to, do the job?
Their process takes a while, and their requirements are a little stricter because they want to make sure you can survive anywhere. After all, they don’t know where you’ll eventually end up. They don’t know who specifically you’ll be working with. The vetting process is harder on account of that alone. You need to potentially be able to work with anyone, in any part of Japan.
But really, it’s just a job application. Don’t make it out to be anything different.
Sitting At The Desk
So, I wasn’t completely on the other side. Even though I did talk with some of the judges, I did not do any interviews myself. I simply sat at the front desk, checking paperwork and seating interviewees.
Despite limited interaction with applicants, I did find some people more or less suited for the job. There were those who got along with others, livening up the waiting room. Others who constantly asked questions and seemed curious. People who didn’t see this as a competition, but as collaboration. Those folks, by my judgment, deserve the job. But who knows whether or not they can think and act on their feet, or whether or not they can adapt to a foreign way of doing things. These are the qualities determined by the interviewers.
One person in particular seemed like they had a lot of experience under their belt, and confidence, but lacked… honesty? They seemed two-faced. Like a psychopath that knows what to say and how to say it, but doesn’t feel the emotional weight of their words. Who makes friends only to use others. Will they get the job? Their experience was impressive, and the fact that they have lived abroad will likely be enough to cement their application. After all, JET cares about both the application and the interview as a whole, not just the interview itself. Perhaps they will be fine. I, personally, would have a hard time knowing how to process them, based on my gut reactions.
Other people seemed perfect. The kind of applicants that reminded me of fellow JETs that I worked alongside. Those who would walk in and joke with you, who stayed curious and asked questions not because they knew that people like to talk, but because they wanted to learn more.
I have no idea who will pass. I have some ideas, but those are hunches. I’m really excited to see who will go on and who won’t.
One of the judges mentioned that JET has recently been asked to accept more applications. They have a higher demand than before, especially in Tokyo. However, this isn’t to be at the expense of quality. They wanted more applicants of the same high quality as before. This is difficult, and won’t really be able to be done without a higher volume of applications from the start.
If you know people who want to teach abroad, let them know. JET’s biggest recruitment power has been its word of mouth. So get the word out.
And don’t be a psychopath. C’mon.