As I have been short-listed for the JET Programme, I’m now confident enough to discuss what I did in preparation for the interview and how the actual event transpired. Some of this is slightly embarrassing to admit but it appears to have worked so I couldn’t care less! I hope that in the future, some people may find this post helpful in preparing for their interview.
Read everything. I absolutely mean everything. The interview is arguably the most important part of the JET selection process and you should do everything in your power to be prepared. Unofficial JET resources are often the best places to look. Wikipedia is fair game. Personal blogs are great. Reddit can be a goldmine. ITIL is amazing. Additionally, you should absolutely use as many personal contacts in JET that you have. I was lucky enough to go into the interview after asking two school friends extensively about it.
My preparation for the interview consisted of reading through the extensive online lists of JET Interview questions, brushing up on basic Japanese geography, having mock interviews, writing down prepared answers, and looking up important information on Japan such as important politicians, prominent royalty, and celebrities. At the least, be sure you can name several prefectures, the current prime minister, the current emperor, and all of the main islands. I didn’t end up needing much of what I researched but it absolutely helped me because I was able to walk into that interview room and be absolutely fearless.
The Day Of
When it comes to the day of the interview, wear a suit. Absolutely wear a suit. Have people been hired when they didn’t wear a suit? Yes. Will a suit reduce your chances of being hired? No. So wear a suit. It will also help with your confidence. If you look great, you feel great, and you will be great. You want to be at your best and nobody is ever at their best in a golf shirt.
I strongly recommend going into your interview like you would a university exam. By that I mean don’t drink too much or too little before, and make sure you don’t eat a heavy meal that might make you sluggish. You want to be lively enough to hold a conversation and a dry mouth is a problem you don’t need. Ideally, you want to arrive early as well. If you are interviewing in a city that you do not live in, it will likely be worth the cost to get a hotel close to your interview location so that you can have minimal stress.
There are many accounts of people having ex-JETs in the waiting room when they get there. One of those ex-JETs may even be one of your interviewers so be civil and talkative if you can. In my particular situation, I had the first interview of the day and was only one of two people in the waiting room before my interview. I would highly recommend taking the first interview slot in the morning. This is because the interviewers have nothing to compare you to and you will also likely be one of the easier ones to remember. This does not simply apply for JET. It is a proven strategy in the HR industry because people naturally remember the first and last of a series best.
The panel for my interview consisted of the JET Coordinator for my consulate, an ex-JET from Miyagi Prefecture, and a Japanese professor from the University of Calgary. Right off the bat, I believe I earned some lucky points because when the ex-JET mentioned Miyagi, I mentioned that I knew exactly where that was and that I had requested Sendai as my top request. All three were civil but the professor was rather soft-spoken and stone-faced through the entire interview. I was able to make the ex-JET laugh on several occasions and got a couple chuckles out of the coordinator.
Some questions and my answers during the interview in roughly the order asked (paraphrased):
1. Why JET?
I currently know two people on JET and it comes highly recommended from them. It is also extremely well regarded in the international community. Additionally, Japan is one of my favorite countries in the world, I love children, and I believe I am a great teacher. JET seems like the perfect program for me because it lets me fill all those criteria and live how I would like to.
2. Why do you love Japan so much?
I really love the respect that the Japanese have for nature. Even though it is a small island for so many people, they still find a way to preserve so many beautiful sites around their country. They also have some of the best cities in the world. I find that the Japanese do parks really well particularly. I loved how I could be in the middle of a peaceful park in Tokyo and feel like I was in the middle of nature despite actually being in one of the most energetic cities in the world.
3. Do you know what the JET acronym means?
Japan English Teaching. (I know this is wrong. He then corrected me and asked the next question.)
4. What does the Exchange part of the JET acronym mean to you?
I understand that it is an exchange and to me that means that I will not only be learning about Japanese culture, but I will also be expected to teach about Canadian culture and I think that is great. I would likely try and bring aspects of my background into lessons when possible. As an example, if we were doing a unit on animals, I might do a mix of Japanese and Canadian animals.
5. Why is Sendai your top choice?
I don’t do well in extreme heat so I wanted to live in a city that wasn’t too cold or too hot. I also did a majority of my final year courses on marine systems biology so I would like to live next to the ocean. Sendai fit all those criteria and also has several ALT positions.
6. Would homesickness be a problem for you? How do you deal with it?
Absolutely not. I haven’t lived at home for nearly 5 years and I have lived in a different country before when I studied in Sweden. Even if I do start to feel a bit homesick I find that all I need to do is find something to do that reminds me of home.
7. How do you deal with language barriers?
I don’t find language barriers to be a major problem. I lived in a foreign country with a foreign language for nearly 7 months and had no major issues. Even if I can’t get my point across to someone, I normally get along fine with miming or gestures.
8. What are some of the differences between the US and Canada?
We have provinces and territories, they have states. We use British spelling, they do not. We have much fewer people and more space.
9. How would you teach that difference to a child in grade 5?
*Spreads arms really wide* Canada is really really big! You can fit Japan into it more than 20 times. We only have as many people as the 3 prefectures with the most people though. US is smaller than we are but they have many more people.
10. What about the political differences between the US and Canada?
The US has 2 major political parties, Canada has about 5 depending on which province you’re in. They have a president, we have a prime minister. The Queen of England is our head of state though.
11. What are some things you would bring to Japan from Canada to show your class?
I hate to admit it but I actually LOVE plaid. I have several of those really horrible and stereotypical lumberjack shirts that are about as Canadian as you can get. I’d love to bring those with me. I also love maple, but not as most people do. Sure maple syrup and cookies are nice, but I really prefer to use it as an ingredient. When I was in Sweden, I was the only Canadian around so I had many requests for foods using maple. I can make about a dozen different things. I’d love to make some food for my class.
12. When you were in Japan, what did you think of the Japanese people?
The people always seem so lively, even if you’re just doing something as simple as picking up onigiri at a 7/11. I couldn’t help but feel extremely safe and happy in Japan. People were always very polite and helpful to me. I even asked a young man for directions in Kyoto and he walked me all the way there and talked with me along the way. I’ve never had anything like that happen here and they say Canadians are friendly!
13. Japanese people may seem nice on the outside but many will not like foreigners. How will you handle these differences?
Honestly, I expect that not everyone will accept me because of my differences. That being said, I actually love those differences in culture. That’s part of the reason that I love to travel. Even if I may not agree with the viewpoints of someone or they may dislike me simply for being me, I find our differences of opinion to be a beautiful part of life.
14. How would you describe your favorite book to a child in grade 3?
As I mentioned in my essay, my favorite book lately is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Ultimately, the book is about soul searching and finding ones-self. It has two main characters; a young man who runs away from home and an older man who is homeless and appears to have some sort of mental issue. There are some strange events that occur such as fish falling from the sky and there are some crazy side characters like a man called Johnny Walker but I don’t think I can go into much more detail on the book. It has many adult themes and I probably wouldn’t even try to explain it to someone in grade 3 to begin with.
And those are all the questions from my interview! Overall I think I did alright. If you haven’t noticed, I kind of like to talk and some of my answers are a bit lengthy. I ended up using up all the time and slightly going over I think. They gave me time to ask only one question at the end but it appears everything turned out great in the end! I hope that my experience with the JET interview can be a help to someone in the future!
A version of this post already appeared on Jordan Smith’s personal site (luxnovis.wordpress.com). You can find other posts on topics such as travel, food, and the JET Programme by following the link.
As an occasional explorer and foodie, Jordan (not so) secretly wishes he was Anthony Bourdain. He can often be found with a cold beer in hand and his next destination in mind.