Interview season for The JET Program(me) is upon us, and I just thought I'd share some tips for anyone who feels restless about it! If you got an interview -- congratulations! You look good on paper, and now it's time to prove yourself in person. Think of it as an audition. If you did not land an interview, my condolences. Really evaluate the weaknesses in your application and work on improving yourself over the next year if you're serious about JET. Volunteering with international students, working at a summer camp, traveling or studying abroad are a few things I have to suggest.
I remember how I felt this time last year -- psysched that I had actually passed the first part of the selection process, yet anxious for what was to come. Now I'm typing this blog post and sitting under my pink kotatsu, in an apartment amongst snow-covered rice fields and mountains, so I guess I did something right. These days, the internet is full of tips and tricks from those that survived the interview round. These are mine.
1. Make Your Appointment
Some consulates allow you to schedule your own interview within different time blocks spread out over a few days. If you're lucky enough to have this opportunity, choose wisely. I personally went on the second interview day, in the afternoon. This way I could avoid morning traffic and be sitting in a panel of interviewers happily fed after taking their lunch breaks. Although traffic is common during lunchtime, it's more heavy in the morning and late afternoon -- something to think about, depending on how far you have to commute.
I also recommend blocking out enough time to prepare for your interview on that day. You want to get enough sleep, eat a substantial meal, and have enough time to get ready and arrive at the consulate. If you live a good distance away, getting a hotel is a good choice to ensure that you’re well-rested and not stressing about getting to the designated city in time.
2. Go Suit Shopping
Just do it. You need a suit for this interview! I cannot stress this enough. First impressions are everything, so take this seriously. You'll need a suit for Tokyo Orientation, training seminars, and school events if you get accepted. You'll need one for other job interviews if you don't get accepted. It's a win-win situation and a great investment, really.
Keep it conservative with black or dark grey. Make sure it's properly tailored to your body, but not too tight, especially if you're a lady. Dress shirts are a must, even if you're a girl. The recent trends in fashion seem to think it's okay to wear a lacy camisole under a suit jacket and nothing else -- don't fall for it. Everyone at the consulate will be formally dressed, and except you to do the same. I personally think skirt suits look nicer on me, but pants should be fine too. Don't forget stockings if you go with a skirt.
3. Eliminate Distractions
For the next several days or few weeks, preparing for the interview should be your number one priority. Yes, we all have work and school, but in your free time, you should be focusing on what's going to happen in front of that interview panel. Put all TV series, books, video games, etc. on hold and really tune into yourself. Spend this time doing research, reading over your application, and practicing. I didn't want to leave my interview thinking, "Oh wow, I really should have spent more time preparing for this, instead of marathoning every season of MAD MEN for the fourth time!."
4. Map Out the Interview Location
Logistics are important. If you can, drive to your designated consulate a week before. Figure out exactly where the building is, where to park, how much parking costs, what payment forms they take, what floor to go to, etc. You don't want to be in a panic before your interview, so plan ahead! If you have to travel for the interview, get there a day before and do this. Also, calculate how much time it will take to get to the interview in the best-case scenario (nice weather, clear roads) and worse-case scenario (horrible traffic, ice storm, zombie apocalypse). It will reflect highly to the interviewers if you are there at least 20 minutes early!
5. Study Up About Yourself
Brush up on what exactly you put on your application, since this is what the main part of the interview will involve -- they want to know all about you. More importantly, having a solid answer to the following question is a good idea:
Why are you interested in Japan / the JET Programme?
Don't retell your Statement of Purpose, but do pull examples from it. For me, the answer was simple: I love Japan and I love teaching. This is the perfect job for me, because it's relevant to my career goals and I am fascinated with the Japanese education system. Be honest about your answer, and make sure it matches with the goals of the JET Program -- internationalization on the grassroots level. They will also probably ask you to elaborate on your answer, so be prepared to do that.
From there, the interviewers will ask a variety of questions. It really does vary from person to person based on what's on your application. If you have been to Japan for a homestay, study abroad, or general trip,they will definitely ask you about that. Depending on your academic major in college, they will ask questions about your experiences and how they relate to Japan and your time on the program.
Sometimes people get interviewers playing Good Cop / Bad Cop. I was lucky enough to not have this -- in fact, my experience was quite pleasant. They did ask me questions about my weaknesses and how I would handle challenges with those, like my lack of Japanese language skills and how being on the program would effect my marriage. There was also a random question thrown in there: What would you teach Japan about Alabama Culture? This kind of threw me off for a minute since I only lived in Alabama while in college, but I went with it and replied "Southern food, country music, and COLLEGE FOOTBALL!" in which everyone cracked a smile.
Every interviewee gets different questions, so be prepared to answer about anything!
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
You want to be confident, but not cocky; modest, but not meek. The best way to prepare is to practice. Have a friend, family member, colleague, or professor ask mock interview questions to you. If you're lucky enough to have a friend on the program now or previously, they are also a great resource! During the final days I was even asking questions to myself in my spare time. It really did help during the actual interview, because I had made it a priority to practice. This goes hand-in-hand with getting to know yourself, and making questions based on that, plus hypothetical situations if you were already teaching or living in Japan. Just be ready for anything they could throw at you!
7. Prepare Questions
You will have the opportunity to ask your own questions at the end. Try to prepare something insightful that shows you did a bit of research about the program. It's also good to have the interviewers draw from their personal experiences, especially if you have ex-JETs on your panel.
- Try to narrow in on at least one of the interviewers and ask them something specific about the program. Maybe they have something in common with you that could be tied into the question.
- That being said, don't ignore the other members on the panel. They all have something to do with the program or Japanese culture, so relating a question to them to show you are engaged and care about what they think is a GOOD idea.
- Keeping up-to-date on current politics and education reform in Japan would be another way to display your enthusiasm for JET, so having a question about recent news and how it would effect your time on the program is another idea.
8. Get Some Sleep
This is very obvious, but make sure you get plenty of rest the night before your interview! Relax to some soft music, go to bed at a decent hour, and have dreams about ROCKING your interview!
9. That Fateful Piece of Paper
...which would be your INTERVIEW VOUCHER. Print it out. Put it in your bag. Check for it. Check for it again. Check for it before you leave your house, and don't forget your photo I.D. either! If you leave these at home, it's GAME OVER.
You've come this far, and done all that you can do. Get to your interview early, chat with other people while waiting, and take a deep breath! You're going to be just fine. がんばってください!!!