The Jet Coaster's JET Programme Interview Guide

JET Programme Interview Guide

Congratulations, you made it through the paper application. In my opinion, the hardest part is now over. Basically, you just have to show the interviewers that you are who you say you are and you are congruent with your application.

If you are reading this now, you might think you are cutting it close. Don’t worry, you have enough time. Here is what I DID and have personally recommended to people who have made it to the interview stage. They all got in.

Interviewing well is a skill that can be improved with practice. You want to show the interviewers the best version of yourself. You’re putting on your best (tailored, right?) suit, cleaning-up as best you can and heading out to rock it, not wearing jeans and a t-shirt like you would most of the time. You’re trying to put your best foot forward.

There are 5 main steps to the interview:
1. Anticipate the questions that will be asked
2. Do as many mock interviews as possible (pro tip: record yourself)
3. Make sure you will look good for the interview (fashion and grooming)
4. Preparation for the day of the interview
5. Rocking the interview

Let’s break it down:

STEP 1: Anticipate the questions that will be asked

Put special focus on your perceived weak areas and be able to confidently articulate your strong points. Look at your application and essay and anticipate any possible weaknesses your interviewers might attack. Think about how you can offer value to the JET Programme, when you’re figuring out how you would answer the interview questions you anticipate being asked. What exactly would make you an asset as an ALT or CIR? In my opinion, being able to offer value as a fun and outgoing person, being open-minded, and being adaptable and flexible are some of the most important traits that you should aim to convey.

Note that if you work backwards from your weak points and the most difficult possible questions you might be asked, your interview will feel like a breeze.

For example:
– Why was your overall GPA not very high?
– Why don’t you have very many Japan related interests listed in your application?
– Can you elaborate how *theme of your essay* relates to being a JET?

Because The JET Interview is standardized, and thousands of people have been JETs throughout the years, it’s possible to figure out what questions come up the most. I’ve talked to tons of current and former JETs about what questions they were asked, and after thinking it through myself, here are 20 questions that I recommend you seriously think about.

1. Can you give a short self introduction of yourself in English and/or Japanese?
Don’t worry, it’s nowhere near as scary as it sounds. It should be short, succinct, and show a bit of your personality. You will be introducing yourself hundreds of times over the course of your first couple months so you might as well get it down NOW when it matters the most. Again, its not hard. Here is an example (English followed by Japanese):

Hello, nice to meet you. Hajimemashite.
My name is ______. ______tomoushimasu.
I’m from ________. ________ no shusshin desu.
My hobby is ____. Shumi wa ________ desu.
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu. (This means something like “I’ll be relying on your kindness please”. It’s a very Japanese phrase that doesnt have a good direct translation, but its how you would end any self introduction in Japan)

The next 3 questions are very important. Some people refer to them as “The Big Three”. You’ll probably be asked at least one of them. Have a good answer.

2. Why Japan?
3. Why JET?
4. Why your specific placement?

Here are the rest of the questions I recommend preparing for:

5. How did you first hear about JET
6. Why JET vs. AEON, INTERAC, NOVA, AMITY? Would you still apply to those if you didn’t get into JET?
7. What makes you different/special from the other applicants?
8. What do you plan to teach about your culture?
9. How exactly will you go about teaching that your culture?
10. What 3 things would you bring to represent your culture
11. Do you know anything about any current events in japan?
12. What do you think would make you a good ALT?
13. What teaching experience do you have? How is it relevant to working in Japan?
14. What international experience do you have?
15. Can you talk about a challenge that you have overcome?
16. What are your best and worst qualities?
17. How will you respond to possible prejudice and negative stereotypes from Japanese?
18. How will you respond to students who expect a stereotypical blonde haired blue eyed Canadian JET (if thats not you)?
19. How is your major related to teaching children in Japan?
20. What if you don’t get your requested placement and are placed in a rural area?

The way I prepared for the interview questions was to sit in front of that list and actually type out answers for each question. I then showed my answers to some trusted confidants and got their advice as to whether my answers would have swayed them. This was before running mock interviews. My typed out responses formed the basis of my replies in the actual interview. This worked for me, but you might want to take a more casual approach. I would recommend running mock interviews and have your friends ask you some of these questions. The more you practice, the more your responses will become more developed, articulate and thought out. You won’t just be spitting out the first thing that comes to mind and hoping for the best. You’ll know what you need to say and want to express, and it would free up your mental resources to concentrate on things like paying attention to your body language, making good eye contact, smiling, and just trying to relax.

Another way I prepared for the interview questions was to jot down some notes of things relevant to Japan and myself. For example, I found that I made lots of lists like:
– 5 things I want to do in japan
– 5 favourite japanese foods
– 5 places I want to visit in japan
– 5 things I would bring to japan to represent my country
– 5 things I absolutely would bring with me to Japan
– 5 famous Japanese people
– 5 famous Japanese authors/artists/singers/actors/athletes
– 5 famous people from your country like authors/artists/singers/actors/athletes
– 5 famous interesting facts about your Country or city
– 5 current news stories/talking points in your country
– 5 current japanese news stories
– 5 transferable skills I have
– 5 positive and 5 negative personality traits (that are also actually positives disguised)
– 5 reasons to visit your country <–this one is really important actually. In Japan, people will want to know where you are from and you’ll constantly be telling people why your home country/city is so awesome.

You don’t have to make lists, you could brainstorm and draw out a mind map or use whatever method you want to organize similar ideas. The point is that you brush up on common knowledge, be able to articulate yourself about your home country, and demonstrate an interest in Japan beyond anime and manga.

STEP 2: Do lots of mock interviews.

If you’re a prospective applicant, there’s a very easy way to see how well you will do on the interview at this current point in time. If your plan and prep up to this point has just been to randomly read up a bit on Japan, read through forums like this, read a few articles on japantimes, and look over your SOP, then stop right here and just do a mock interview with a friend. Print out the first post on this thread, give it to a friend, have them sit across from you on a table and do a quick interview like ITS FOR REAL. Maybe read through your SOP once, collect your thoughts and just go for it. You can’t reset. You can’t say “wait wait, lets do that part again.” Just go for it until the end. If it was easy and your friend gives you good feedback, then great! If it could have been better, well then..

You’ll just have to be honest with yourself and prepare appropriately after that point. All I really wanted to do was suggest themes and ideas that could be brought up in the interview. You know they will probably ask you about Japan, about your motivations, and you might have to demonstrate your Japanese ability or do a demo class. You know if you can squeeze in an interesting anecdote it might make you more memorable. Can you do that confidently the one time it will matter?

Like I said, interviewing is a skill and one that you can get better at with practice. Thus, doing mock interviews is the most powerful thing you can do to prepare. Do as many as you can, with different variations and different scenarios so you dont get screwed even if you encounter the fabled war tribunal panel. I repeat, the single best way I found to prepare for the interview is by doing tons and tons of mock interviews. You may bomb the first one or it may go alright. Then you’ll do the next one. It will get better. You’ll be able to express yourself more naturally as things go on autopilot. You’ll know what you need to talk about and you’ll develop a feel for it.
The format of the interview itself is standardized and predictable. There will be two or three interviewers; at least one former JET and at least one Japanese national who has some sort of tie to The JET Programme. You’ll go into your interview location and sit on a chair or couch in front of the panel who are sitting on chairs behind a long table. They will probably be friendly, but prepare like you are going into a hearing.

Do a few mock interviews in front of the mirror, then gather some friends and family to do mock interviews with you in person.

PROTIP: Film your mock interviews and practice lessons. Get over how you sound like on camera. Look at your body language, tonality, vocal projection and try to minimize distracting mannerisms. Filming myself improved my presentation dramatically as I saw all sorts of little things I was doing that I could improve. When you watch your filmed mock interview, take notes.

PROTIP #2: As you get closer to the interview, try to simulate the interview as much as possible and actually do mock interviews in your suit with a panel of your friends/family pretending to be different roles (ie. Kind or strict interviewers). AGAIN, MAKE SURE YOU FILM it. Just use your iPhone or Android device. Critique yourself on film. Would you hire yourself for the JET Program? Keep doing mock interviews and watching yourself until your presentation is good enough that you WOULD hire yourself.

Next, do lots of mock interview lessons. There is a very good chance you’ll be asked to do a demonstration lesson. This can be taken as a good sign as the interviewers want to get an idea of how you would fare under pressure and the general vibe you would bring to a new classroom.

During this part of the interview, your interviewers will pretend to be Japanese students either in elementary school or Junior High School. So, they will pretend to be either 6-11 years old or 12 – 15 years old Japanese students.

The most important parts of the demo lesson are to SMILE, use BIG GESTURES, and TALK LOUDLY, CLEARLY, AND SLOWLY

Have your interviewers throw different interview topics at you then roll with it and create a lesson out of it. Remember, you aren’t expected to use Japanese.

You might have a blackboard or whiteboard behind you with some chalk or markers. If you can draw, ask if you can use it for your demo lesson to draw pictures. Otherwise you’ll have to rely on gestures. Be animated and smile. Pretend you are a clown on stage, trying to make children laugh.

Some themes you may be asked to present on:
– holidays
– sports
– introduce your home country
– introduce the history of your home country
– household / common objects
– colours
– shapes
– numbers
– time
– animals
– family members
– clothes
– directions
– weather
– seasons
– useful phrases
– a song (For example you may be asked to teach head shoulders knees and toes)
– your self introduction (How would you introduce yourself to a classroom of students who don’t speak English?)

You’ll also want to improve your improvisational ability. The interview is partially a test of how you fare under pressure and how you recover. Thats why you’ll be thrown curve ball questions designed to rock you. Have your interviewer friend throw a few completely crazy or difficult questions at you and get a feel for finding creative ways to respond.

Step 3: Make sure you will look good for the interview (fashion and grooming)

Look sharp. If you’re a guy, MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN A SUIT. Do not be the one idiot who comes to the interview wearing jeans and sneakers. Make sure your suit is tailored and fits well. There’s a HUGE difference between the look of a tailored suit and one that isn’t. You don’t have to spend a lot – a tailored $150 suit will look better than a $1500 suit that doesn’t fit you well. Wear nice, clean shoes. Don’t wear white socks with your suit. Aim to look as clean cut as possible. Get a haircut or at least groom yourself to look your best. This is a job interview. Aim to impress. Play it safe – although you can try to express yourself a little bit with an interesting tie or something.

If you don’t completely trust your own sense of style and fashion, ask your style-conscious friends to critique your interview attire. If you have friends working in a corporate environment where everyone wears a suit and tie, ask them to give you a critique as well. If you don’t have any friends who would do that for you, make a throwaway Reddit account and post a picture of yourself (feel free to blur out your face) on a fashion related subreddit like /r/malefashionadvice.

If you’re a girl, many of the same suggestions apply. Wear a suit or a smart blazer and skirt combo. Don’t try to stand out and be outrageous in your dress, and don’t be too revealing. Look your best.

Again, do NOT be the one guy not wearing a suit. You’ll feel like the moron you are at your interview and you will NOT be standing out in a good way. Instead, aim to be the BEST dressed interviewee there. You’ll feel like a million bucks and act like it.

STEP 4: Preparation for the day of the interview

Preparation for the interview begins the night before. Eat a filling but not heavy or greasy dinner and go to bed early the night before so you don’t risk getting insomnia from nervousness.

Set multiple alarms, and then a couple backup alarms. Put your alarm somewhere you have to physically get up to turn off. If you live with roommates or family, ask them to make sure you wake up. The worst thing you could do at this point is oversleep so have multiple contingencies to make sure that doesn’t happen.

When you wake up, eat a good breakfast, brush your teeth and groom yourself BEFORE PUTTING ON YOUR SUIT. Throw on some anti-perspirant, but go easy on the cologne or perfume. You don’t want your smell to precede you.

Next, REMEMBER YOUR INTERVIEW VOUCHER! Double check EVERYTHING you need to bring before and after you lock your door. Write them down on a piece of paper and physically go CHECK CHECK CHECK. Don’t be the one idiot of the day who forgets his voucher at home.

When you leave your house, make sure you have ample time to arrive at your interview location early and to find time to park if you are driving. Don’t eat anything on the way there, and don’t grab any coffee lest you want to risk spilling coffee on yourself. Anticipate variables out of your control like traffic (leave extra early) or strong winds/rain (keep some gel/hair wax in your car), or even total wardrobe malfunction (bring an extra suit and shoes in your car if you have one)


STEP 5: Rock the interview

The interview begins the moment you step foot into the interview building. Be friendly to everyone in the morning, say hi, smile and be enthusiastic. Pump yourself up and get in the right state of mind while you’re sitting and waiting for your interview. Also, you never know who you might talk to in the morning – it might end up being one of your interviewers.

You’ll be nervous. Everyone will. But you’re an adult and you’ve gotten this far so trust yourself. Everyone else is just as nervous as you are even if they don’t show it. Just try to put your best foot forward, smile, and if you have to – fake your excitement a little bit. Fake it until you make it. Science has shown that if you try to act like how a confident, outgoing person would act, even if you don’t feel like it – just acting that way will make you feel more outgoing and confident.

Oh, make sure you come by yourself. Don’t bring your SO or a family member. I’m sure you aren’t that stupid, but some people really are. I’ve even heard of a guy coming to the interview with a Pokemon backpack. No, no, no.

Once you are in the building, you’ll have to navigate to the area where they are conducting the interviews and will sit inside a waiting room. At least one interview coordinator will be sitting at a desk in the interview waiting room to take your voucher and call you up in turn. Greet the person at the desk, smile and be friendly. They might end up being one of your interviewers.

This is another reason to aim to be a bit early. You don’t want to get to the interview waiting room JUST before the interview coordinator calls you up. That makes you look late, even if you technically weren’t. Aim to come 30-40 minutes early, which gives you a buffer to park, go inside the building, find the interview rooms, go to the bathroom, and sit around in the waiting room for 10-15 minutes.

In the waiting room, you’ll be sitting with lots of other excited and nervous potential JETs. There will probably be a TV at the front of the room playing a video that shows JETs in different prefectures. When you sit down, be amicable, smile and say hi to the people you are sitting beside. Don’t come across as cold – the interview coordinators may be watching you. However, go with the mood of the room – if there is some light and quiet chat between some of the potential JETs, feel free to engage in light chit-chat with the person beside you, but if no one is saying a word, then just say hi to the people around you as you take a seat.
Use the extra time to quickly check through your interview answers, lists, and to mentally prepare yourself.

Eventually you’ll actually be called into the room.

Smile and introduce yourself as you walk in through the door. Just something like “Hi, I’m _____, thanks for having me todayJ”

You’ll be asked to sit down and they will begin asking you questions. Your head may go blank – just try to smile and focus on their questions so you don’t have to ask them to repeat.

Spread your eye contact to all the interviewers. Dont focus on just one, and don’t ignore an interviewer if they don’t say anything.

Lastly, at the end you might be asked if you have any questions so make sure you have at least one prepared. For example,

“If I get accepted, how would you recommend I spend the next few months before departure preparing?”

That’s basically it. Really if you did the work, (prepared answers of the questions, did mock interviews, etc) you’ll just have to trust yourself that you will be okay. In all honesty, it probably won’t be nearly as bad as you think. It’s cliché to say “just have fun with it”, but actually try to enjoy it. You got as far as the interview on your own merits which means you will probably be able to get in. After the interview, try to forget about it for awhile. You’re done – it’s out of your hands now. Meet up with your friends, have a nice dinner, and just chill out.

The hardest part will be waiting for an answer. It might help to start looking into your alternatives if you don’t get into JET. If you still want to come to Japan, start look into applying through private companies or looking through job postings on places like Gaijinpot. Or, if you have alternative that isn’t related to going to Japan, start working towards that a little bit more. Just try not to put yourself in limbo for the next two months. Be proactive and find a new goal to work towards to improve yourself.

Well, that’s about it! I really hope it will end up being useful for you guys preparing for your interview.

Author Bio
Albo Agunday

Albo Agunday

Hey, I'm Albo, co-founder of TJC. I was a JET in beautiful Gunma Prefecture for 5 years. I started to teach and inspire others how to live a life of travel, learning and adventure.


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  • Naida Gill

    Just what I was looking for. I need help with this too! Filling out forms is super easy with PDFfiller. Try it on your own here a form and you’ll make sure how it’s simple.

  • Ontesol

    wow, this the most comprehensive article on how to pass the interview with JET. For those who get the job, here is an article with tips for teaching English in Japan with the JET Programme

  • Wendy H

    Thanks so much for this! I have an interview in a few days and have been looking up all the interview tips people have posted. It’s great to hear from a fellow Canadian as well :) All your tips are great and I love your site so far!

    • ITIL

      Hi Wendy! If you need any other tips or have any questions try . The forums there have an active community of applying JETs, current and former ALTs and a couple of JET programme co-ordinators all willing to help you with your interview. See you there!

      • Albo Agunday

        Thanks for making a new account Mr. TheTeaCoaster:) We’re glad you’re trying to change your tone a bit since your initial post. We’re all about trying to foster a helpful, welcoming and encouraging community and hopefully ITIL is making strides towards turning down the bullying, snark and general mean-spritedness that has been an issue with over there. If that’s not you in the picture accompanying this reply, I certainly apologize, although the IP address is the same!

        • ITIL

          Thats a rather passive aggressive way of wording it. Likewise I hope The Jet Coaster is making strides towards toning down the idealised and unrealistic portrayal of life in Japan solely in the interests of creating an echo chamber to prey on naive college graduates.

          • Albo Agunday

            I’m sorry if your JET Programme experience has been so bad that you feel like a positive one is an idealized one.

            I hope you are able to improve your situation and if as a JET, your placement is exceedingly unsatisfactory to you in some way, which is absolutely a possibility, I would suggest looking into the possibility of a transfer or finding a different job altogether. It’s all about exploring your options and making the most out of the hand you are dealt.

            One of our goals at TJC is to address a lot of the common challenges and difficulties of being a JET/ALT/ex-pat in Japan. We hope to be a resource and positive community for people that share our ethos of adventure and making the most of their experience. Hopefully you’ll come back and find something of value at TJC.

            I apologize if I was passive-aggressive to you previously.

    • Albo Agunday

      Hey Wendy! Thanks so much for your comment and for checking out the site/videos/podcast etc. we hope its been helpful:) Goodluck on your interview!

  • mookie

    thank you very much!

  • TheTeaCoaster

    Hi Mookie! try asking you question at . The forums there have a variety of current and past JET participants as well as a number of JET programme coordinators who will be happy to help you prep for your big interview!

  • mookie

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!! This is an extremely helpful post!! I was an alternate last year and have an interview coming up. Do you know how I can improve or more importantly what determines becoming an alternate vs shortlist candidate??

  • TheTeaCoaster

    Do you have any experience of sitting on JET interview panels or did you just pull this out your ass?