If you’re reading this, I assume you’re frustrated and/or desperate—and maybe a small percent of you simply curious. “I tried to find advice for applying to be a CIR, but almost all the information out there was for ALTs! Help!”
Ah yes, now we must wallow and worry in isolation in our problems of (lack of) representation. Looking at the internet, who would have guessed that at any given time there were hundreds of us from all over the world—including many with very strong or native English skills that could have at least written something of a piece of advice for the later generations, eh? That’s not to say there’s absolutely nothing related to CIRs on the Google, but you may have to do a bit of digging after the first few links. And even so, it’s not quite the pot of gold that ALTs may find, but more of a donation box.
If you’re applying for a CIR, then you should have connected the dots already as to one of the reasons why (I assume) this is the case—because while ALTs have more a uniform job description, CIRs are even more ESID (Every Situation Is Different–if you haven’t heard this yet, you will). As an ALT, you can be certain that you will be teaching English (or are among the minority teaching a different language)—forgive me ALTs for saying this, but the main ESID thing in your job description that you can’t predict will be what level(s) of English you’ll teach, and whether the emphasis of your job will be on the A (assistant) or T (teacher) part of ALT. The CIR position, however, is a mixed bag of uncertainty (as I’ve stated in a previous post)—you may be essentially an ALT with a CIR nametag or a desk translator, never leaving the office until work time is over. Most people, I reckon, fall in between these two extremes. In my case, the Tochigi English-region CIR is also automatically designated “head PA” on top of all other responsibilities. This makes it difficult to make a blanket statement of what aspects of the job you should promote yourself to. Therefore, rule number one is try to make yourself seem as diverse as possible—don’t spend the entirety of your Statement of Purpose talking about how you have (only) a ton of translation experience, or 98% language teaching experience. There are no hard guarantees with this job, even if you do so and get hired.
In any case, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 broad categories you should sell yourself on, if you really get stuck:
- Language ability
- Enthusiasm for cross-culture relations
- Communication ability
This can be a slippery slope, and may be dangerous to over-sell yourself here. What I mean by this is, CIRs are unique to ALTs in that they have a language prerequisite; therefore, if you’re applying for the CIR position, it’s taken for granted that you should have fantastic Japanese skills. However, no matter how special you are on your college campus Japanese classes, you are not special here, as hard as it may be for you to hear—everyone else applying for the position is also expected to have these same level of skills as you do, or even more. Therefore, having great Japanese skills in and of itself does nothing to make you particularly stand out of the CIR crowd, although you also need to make sure the people reading your application believe you enough to give you an interview. My point is, while you need to prove your language abilities enough to persuade the hiring staff, you also need to make sure you put more of a focus on other aspects—language ability, after all, is just scratching the surface of the job. It will not end with being able to speak Japanese—that is just the beginning, and you will be required to use it in order to perform in other aspects as a CIR. Yes, you will need Japanese, but you will need Japanese to do something.
I want to take the time to highlight this article, if you haven’t read it already. Of course as a CIR, you will need strong language abilities and an interest in Japan—if you have a relevant story, take a small paragraph to highlight that in your Statement of Purpose, but only if it will help you show how you can use that interest to thrive in the JET environment. While it’s important to prove why your Japanese is better than Other Applicant X’s, don’t give a timeline of how you studied Japanese unless it is directly related to the job or if you did something outstanding—remember that, as I’ve said, that’s supposed to be taken for granted for CIR positions. You will also have a separate Japanese language portion of the interview if accepted.
Your language ability can be proved in numerous ways. You can talk about passing the N1 or N2 if you have done so (if you’ve already passed N1, I’d spend more time emphasizing other qualities that make you stand out, since this is an internationally accepted standard you’ve just proven yourself to be at)—however, contrary to some misunderstandings, you don’t need to have taken and passed the N1 or N2 to be considered for or get the job (I myself still have never ever taken the JLPT). This being said, remember that this paper part is only the very beginning of just getting into JET as a CIR, and the next stage would be an interview. If you passed N1 by a stroke of luck and really could barely pass N2 in reality, I’m warning you now to not get cocky and over-confident—the girl who has never even once taken the JLPT may blow you out of the competition at the interview stage.
Other ways you could prove your language skills are talking about classes you took in university, or better yet, during your study abroad experiences (assuming you have something), or how you used Japanese to achieve something in your personal life, or perhaps better yet a volunteer or job position, etc. Basically for all of this, make sure you show you accomplished something, whether that’s achieving an award, passing the JLPT, or showing that you improved something in a concrete way in a job or volunteer experience, etc.
If you make it to the interview, there will be a Japanese language portion, which will make you prove how much you know—basically, you’re fighting to get into that stage with your paper application, just like with any job. It’s like how the age-old saying about trampolines goes—it’s not the size that matters, it’s ultimately how you use it. Jane Pasta might have taken all the Japanese classes offered at her university and passed the highest level of Japanese class during her study abroad term and passed the N1 with a nicely high score, but Johnny Whiteboy actually used his Japanese to save a kid stuck in a well, despite not even knowing how to use が早いか properly. Of course you need N2-N1-equivalent level, but if you are all book-smarts and have no practical skills, you’re facing the law of diminishing returns. JET wants to know if you’re going to give a spectacular one-(wo)man 90 minute presentation on your country to a group of middle schoolers, or if you’re going to buckle under the pressure when interpreting between the mayor and the Lithuanian ambassador.
And even though this explanation is already several paragraphs long, I suggest you keep it to 1-2 paragraphs minimum in your Statement. Focus on the other aspects unique to the job as a CIR (versus any other job in Japan requiring Japanese).
Enthusiasm for cross-culture relations
No matter what you do in practice, the title of your position will always stay the same—you will be, in some way, shape, or form, coordinating international relations (plural). Odds are your prefecture won’t be stuck in one binational vacuum, especially if you have the English skills to be reading this post. I’ve done work not only between my state and country and Tochigi and Japan, but also done interpretations between representatives from Hungary, various African countries, Britain, Belgium, and more. I feel like this should go without saying, but make sure you don’t give the impression that you would loathe working with other countries and only care about Japan. While Japan-related previous experience is obviously the most suitable to bring up in this job, this is the reason why any kind of exposure to different cultures makes you a stronger candidate, whether you were teaching English to a mass of ESL students from all over the world every Saturday as part of your university’s volunteer initiative or made a pact with your friends to try out a different cuisine every month (some of these may come off as better than others, but anything can make you a stronger candidate if you spin it right). Anything related to you sharing your culture (even if it’s East coast meets West coast internal culture sharing experience) or language or customs of any sort has the potential to look good. No one wants a “Japan is #1 and all other countries, especially the neighboring countries suck” attitude in the local government—that’s more of the national government’s territory (yeah, I went there—not targeting you, CLAIR, you’re cool).
(Err, well actually, CLAIR, isn’t it high time you broke off your ties with the APA hotel chain, as I’ve suggested in my feedback sheets? It’s the Kaihin-Makuhari area–legitimately filled with non-blatantly-racist/colonialist/etc. hotel chains to host the CIR Mid-Year Conference at. Seriously? Come on.)
Bottom line: What can you do to broaden Japan’s connections with the world? If you can connect this to helping your own country with their connections as well, that’s a bonus (a bit more on this sort of thing later).
This could go under language, but there is still so much more to this than being able to speak, read, write, and listen to Japanese. As stated above, even if it’s in English or Mandarin or whatever language you’re being hired to be international for, you will be required to communicate with people of different backgrounds, beginning with nationalities. Furthermore, I’ve had to do engaging presentations for elementary school students all the way to retired folks continuing their education. If you’re applying to be a CIR because you don’t really like kids and therefore the ALT position isn’t quite for you (*cough*), definitely don’t say anything that would hint at that, or anything like that at all to begin with. As an automatically designated PA, I need to know how to help our JETs cope with communication problems with their schools and what to do when they’re being sucked into the black hole that is culture shock. I feel like most of what I have to say here is already stated in some way in the two above sections, so let me go now straight to the next huge point:
Warning: This is not your typical job structure.
This is not the position or employer that you learn about in Job Hunting 101, whether you took this in Japan or your home country. While the JET jobs share commonalities with your average Joe job (make sure you are professional, emphasize your strengths, etc.), there are some core differences. Mainly that this is not a career track position. Most career counselors will tell you not to say or even hint that you plan on leaving and changing jobs, even if you only see this job as a temporary thing; however, with JET, it’s set from the get-go that you’re not here (at least as a JET) forever. No one is under the illusion, whether it’s the hiring committee or the participants themselves, that they will have this same job even after their 5 years is up (although, fine print, there are some cases of contracting organizations deciding to directly hire their JETs after their terms, but this isn’t the standard course of events and shouldn’t be expected or assumed).
The whole point of this job is cultural exchange—the expectations that you will be bringing something useful back from Japan when you return home (or wherever you go next) that will help Japan or JET’s mission. The underlying purpose of JET is to be a first step or next step in your career (which is why they have age restrictions), and so when you become the prime minister or a fancy international lawyer, that you will look back fondly on your time in Japan and do cool, powerful things to help Japan. Therefore don’t be afraid to emphasize (although keep slightly shorter) what you want to gain from JET for your future career and why it’s important for you and Japan/the world to get this job—after all JET is by definition the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, a give-and-take experience. This can also show that you’re eager to learn and develop, which is always a plus. On the flip side, do not go as far as saying “I only plan on being here X years”—keep those details vague, just as you would with any other job; you still don’t want to come off as hard-headed or, you know, a selfish ass.
Take everything I write here with a grain of salt, though—after all, I have never been on the hiring committee and assume I never will be. I’m writing all of this based on my experiences and from my perspective. There are always those wild card people who seem to be the worst fit and somehow make it through, and vice versa. However, especially with such a small number of job vacancies (just a couple hundred at most–if all CIRs band together and quit together for some odd reason). When I came in, I’d guess that about 50 new CIRs were hired total. All decisions have reasons, and it’s harder for the wild cards to slip in through the cracks with the CIR position. So good luck, do awesome things, and go be your own spin team.
TL;DR – Be specific, but be vague as well. I wrote this whole thing out for you; go read it, you skimmers.
This dog-loving former Tochigi CIR hails from its sister-state of Indiana and loves traveling the world and eating everything. She graduated after completing a thesis discussing the links between human trafficking and idol culture, and now works in Tokyo for an international human rights NGO.