Hi all! I thought I’d share a bit on my experiences with the application, interview, and excruciating wait time involved in becoming a JET ALT; as well as some recommendations based on what I’ve learned.
First off I’d like to say thanks for reading! Next, I should mention that I have applied to the JET Program twice – 2011/2012 in Portland and 2014/2015 in Seattle – and have technically gotten accepted both times but turned down the first offer back in 2012 for financial reasons (had been home from Tokyo study abroad for only 10 months, just graduated, only had a part time job, and had a car loan). So below I’ll put in bits from both those experiences, but each consulate might do certain things differently.
Deciding to Apply:
I *highly* recommend making your decision a few months before the actual application process begins so you can start getting your ducks in a row. In 2011 I made the decision just before the application process kicked off and I felt pretty scrambled since I hadn’t looked into all the things involved in the application, especially the personal statement (it’s harder than it seems unless you really really like talking about yourself!) For this year, I started planning almost a year in advance – some things you’ll want to start looking into ahead of time are:
- Passport -> do you have one, or is the expiration date less than 5 years away? My passport was due to expire this year (2015) so I’m glad I looked into that and renewed it last summer.
- Finances -> will you be able to save up a couple grand before you’d depart for Japan? Back in 2011 I had maybe a couple hundred dollars to my name at any given time. Part time jobs, school, and car loans are brutal. For this year’s departure, I’ve been planning for a while and have had a good paying, full time job that has made saving possible, even with a car loan.
- Transcripts -> if you studied abroad like myself, the JET program requires proof of your time abroad so you have to request that from your old host university if your main university transcript doesn’t show it (or if you just want to make extra sure they know you went abroad). In 2011 I requested these along with a letter of recommendation last minute so the school had to rush mail them to me; so this year I requested these documents from my Tokyo university a few months in advance and I could breath easy in October.
- Outline your personal statement -> look up the topic they use for personal statements on the JET website and start thinking about what you’d like to say. You only get 2 pages (typed and double-spaced) to reinforce your application with why you want to be a JET and why you think you’d be good at it. If you’d like to read my personal statements, just let me know.
- Letters of Recommendation -> start thinking about who to ask. This isn’t as important as the Passport and Finances, but things go more smoothly if you have an idea on who to ask. In 2011 I had fairly easy choices, but one of them was in Japan so it took longer to get the letter and form back. 2014 was harder since I decided to find someone at my work place who I’d actually worked with to write it. Luckily the woman who did was very excited to do so.
- Early placement -> on the application you have the option to put in for early placement candidacy which would send you off to Japan in April. I didn’t bother with this in 2011 since I was still in school and wouldn’t graduate until May; but I did try in 2014 and there was a good deal extra paperwork to get started on, so looking ahead helps a TON here. Documents you either need to turn in with the general application or provide proof you applied – and both of which for regular placement aren’t done until you pass the interviews – include your certificate of health and your FBI background check (this can take months so you want to apply as soon as possible – mine didn’t come back until the day I was to drive to Seattle for my interview)
The Application Timeline:
October and the Application:
Both times I applied to JET, the application opened up about mid-October. Once it’s available, start working on it as it’s quite long and you have to mail it to DC before the deadline (they DO NOT go off of postmarked dates).
There is a save feature so you can work on it little by little (I recall I didn’t do this in 2011 and probably should have proofread but didn’t. In 2014 I worked more carefully/slowly as I gathered other documents for the general application and early placement).
Once you have the application filled out and printed, your personal statement, letters of recommendations, transcripts, the optional early placement documents, 2 copies of all those things, and a self-addressed and stamped envelop, you mail them off to the DC Embassy. I recommend using a mailing option that lets you track your documents, it sets your mind at ease.
Eventually you’ll get that self-addressed and stamped envelope in the mail with confirmation your application was received and your application number. DO NOT LOSE THIS NUMBER! When interviews and placements are announced they only send out big lists of those numbers.
January/February Interview announcements:
Depending on the consulate and the timing of the release of information from the Seattle Embassy (or from wherever you are applying), you could hear about an interview anywhere between January-February. So be ready to twiddle your thumbs from October to January and then incessantly checking your emails until you get a notification. For the 2011/2012 year, I didn’t hear from the Portland consulate until February 3rd, 2012, and this year I heard January 16. Be warned: they only give you 2 weeks notice so if you have to travel far, have tentative plans in place and finalize them once you get your interview date/time.
February and Interviews:
Interviews seem to almost always be held in February (at least they have been for me). Now, these interviews are a bit different than regular job interview since Japanese consulates are not bound by US hiring laws/regulations. They won’t do anything mean so to speak, but they will try to push you out of your comfort zone to see how you’ll react – this is so they know how you’d survive in Japan and being an ALT where lesson plan changes can be very last minute (from what I’ve heard…).
In 2012 I was so nervous I had to sit on my hands during the interview to keep from fidgeting – I bet that made an awesome impression. This year I used a different trick: I repeatedly told myself “I’m excited.” This worked wonders as it turned the nervous energy to a more positive energy (instead of trying to quash it as I read once in some article I came across on LinkedIn). Some questions/requests I’ve experienced from both interviews include:
- Describe what kind of fun activities you’d do with students to teach vocabulary
- Self introduction in Japanese
- If you were to speak at a community gathering and were requested to bring 3 things that represent your hometown/state/country, what would your bring?
- Please think of an American food to teach students how to make in the next 30 seconds. After that please pretend we’re middle schoolers and teach us in a minute
- (Japanese Q & A after self intro) Statistically students are reading less and less due to advances in technology and not as much necessity to recognize kanji – what would you do to help fix this? (or something to that affect).
For more fantastic information on the actual interview and another JET’s opinion on preparation tactics, check out Jordan Smith’s post “The Interview” here: http://www.thejetcoaster.com/jet-the-interview
Waiting between February and late March:
This about drives you crazy. Just thought I’d share that. I don’t think I’ve checked my emails so frequently in my life.
Late March and Interview Results:
Finally at this time you hear how you did at the first 2 stages of the application process. In 2012 I was informed of my alternate status. I was a bit bummed but began to move past it, stopped saving money, and dove further into a new relationship. DON’T STOP SAVING MONEY! Worst choice I ever made since in June I was upgraded. I started putting together documents I’d need, but then realized I didn’t have the financial backing to survive setting myself up in Japan before my first payday and ended up backing out.
I’m not huge on major financial risks… So the things that changed this year from 2012: I started saving money sooner and didn’t lose hope, prepared and planned, and I walked out of that interview in February feeling much calmer and confident as to the results. It paid off since I was given short-list status this year and accepted! After this notification, most JET’s have to start their FBI background check and certificate of health (both of these I did back in October as an early placement candidate that I obviously didn’t get but it was fine since the paperwork was done), and then everyone has to apply for proof of residency for tax purposes (based on US-Japan tax treaty, we’re exempt for Japanese taxes for 2 years).
Early May and Placements:
For short-listers like myself, early/mid May is placement notification time! The Seattle consulate sent out an excel spreadsheet in which (once again, don’t lose those application numbers) your application number indicated your JET ID number and placement. I’ve been placed in Komatsu-shi, Ishikawa-ken where I’ll start life as an ALT in July!
After placement notifications:
The months leading up to departure so far seem to be filled with getting other paperwork put together (like the yakkan shoumei if you want to bring more than 1 month supply of medication or 2 month supply of contact lenses), waiting for details on flights and orientations, checking emails and spam for news from contracting organizations, exchanging dollars for yen, and shopping (lots of this for those of us that are too tall for Japan).
So overall those have been my experiences with the application, interview, and waiting on the JET Program application/hiring (roller) jetcoaster. If I missed anything other JET’s, let me know! For everyone else, I hope it was a bit informative and feel free to ask questions.
Not quite getting enough of Japan during study abroad in university, Cassie has moved to Ishikawa prefecture to see what teaching mountain monkeys is all about. Outside of school, Cassie plans to explore the nearby beaches and mountains with camera in hand every step of the way!