Japan · JET Programme

JET Programme: The Interview

The interview stage for JET Programme applicants is right around the corner. Literally. From what I have been told the interviews in South Africa start this coming week (good luck fellow Saffers!). So without further delay I will impart my own experiences, along with some hints and tips, from the interview I went through.

Disclaimer: As you know this post centres around my own experience at the Cape Town consulate interview. I know for a fact that every interview, consulate, embassy, and country may tackle the interview in whichever way they see fit. So take my experience as a general guideline and not the be all and end all of interviews. ๐Ÿ™‚

Before the interview remember to have a look over your application form and your statement of purpose essay. The interviewers will be asking questions based off what you wrote down, so it is a good idea to know what you wrote off the top of your head. If you put something down on the health assessment form, be prepared to explain yourself. I had to write down my mild asthma condition (which is actually pretty much gone now), and sure enough they asked me if my condition would affect my duties as an ALT. I assured them that it was only a mild condition and that with taking the right medicine I shouldn’t have any problems while being in Japan.

What to wear for the interview was one of the major headaches and stresses for me. I trawled all the known websites and blogs regarding other people’s experiences with their interview and what they wore. Unfortunately I didn’t find much, and in the end had to go with my gut feeling – a business suit. If you think about it, this is a proper interview for a job, and you are not facing just one person, but three on the interview panel. You need to look good in the eyes of all three interviewers and show them that you are serious about getting the job.

Having never worn a proper business suit in my life, I struggled at first to work out what to wear. At the end of the day I chose to wear black business pants (I am not a skirt person), a matching black blazer/jacket, a light blue and white striped shirt, and a pair of low heels. I admit it doesn’t help that interviews in South Africa are held in the middle of summer, but it was worth wearing something like that in order to look and feel professional enough.

In my honest opinion, show the interviewers that you are serious and wear a business suit (even if at first you feel awkward and uncomfortable, like I did).

The interviewers:

Hopefully you won’t come across characters like these (from Amagi Brilliant Park*) at your interview.

As far as I can tell, most people have experienced interviews with three people. In my case there was a Japanese guy from the consulate, a professor from a nearby university, and a former ALT (which at the time I didn’t know for some reason). The former ALT I dubbed very quickly as Mr. Intimidation. And that is exactly what he was, intimidating. From the get-go he looked totally bored. When I was talking he would be looking elsewhere, yawning, stretching, and being just totally off-putting as possible. Fortunately, I had heard of this tactic before from reading other people’s experiences. It seems that in some cases they will get one of the interviewers to act like that in order to put you off, stress you out, make you feel intimidated or whatever the case may be. I suppose it is their way to see how you can handle certain stressful or awkward situations. It must actually be quite fun to play that sort of role. Oh yes, as soon as it was his turn to ask me questions, he stopped the act and became ‘normal’.

So, you might indeed have someone like that on the panel, someone who is there to try and make you feel intimidated, discouraged, uncomfortable or extra stressed. Do not worry, just remember to be yourself and smile!

Yes, smile. I did that a lot.

Show them that you can smile in the face of danger

Heh heh, moving on to the questions.

Straight forward questions:

These were questions about what I wrote in my application form and essay. I noticed that the Japanese guy asked most of these questions. He asked me stuff about my recent trip to Japan (I had gone there on a two-week holiday a month before), also about what I had written on my health form. The main questions were:

  • why Japan?
  • why teaching?
  • my future career plans
  • my past experiences working at a summer camp
  • my preferred prefecture – why I had chosen that one (if you had written one down in the application form)
  • what would I do if I was placed in the northern most part of Hokkaido where it snows 13 months of the year? In response I said: ‘Well, I better learn how to ski then’. Which made them laugh and I think they liked that – showed how flexible I am willing to be.

The not-so-straight-forward questions:

These came mainly from the other two interviewers (the professor and Mr. Intimidation) and were more hypothetical questions.

  • how would I handle isolation if I was placed on a small island and was the only foreigner
  • how would I go about getting involved in the communityย 
  • how would I handle being used as an ALT who just sits in the corner of the classroom and just repeats things in English for the class, like a parrot
  • how will I handle students who have no interest in studying English (I think this is a universal question as I heard many people being asked this)

Cultural-related questions:

These were focused around South Africa.

  • what three things would I bring to class that would represent South African culture. Big tip: Marmite!
  • if I was asked to dance a traditional Zulu dance would I do it? My answer to that was that “I better remember to take my leopard skin with me then”. To which they laughed quite a bit. But in all seriousness I said that in that sort of situation I would get the students and teacher involved in the dance (if that ever occurred – which it hasn’t… yet)

Unfortunately I cannot remember every single question they asked me. I do recall that they asked a lot of ‘why’s?’. So when I told them that I liked the culture of Japan, they asked ‘why?’. Then I told them a part of the culture I liked, and they asked ‘why?’. This sort of thing happened a lot, and a few times I just got stuck and confused and struggled to answer their ‘why?’ questions.

The interview took around 15/20 minutes, but to me it felt like seconds. All that preparation and stressing, and it’s all over in a flash. I came away from the interview feeling like I hadn’t expressed to them enough as to how much I wanted to be on the programme. I felt that I still could tell them so much, or prove to them even more what a good ALT I could be. The security guard in the consulate’s waiting room assured me that I did fine (shame, he was so sweet) and that everyone feels like that after the interview.

However, I felt positive that I did show them how flexible I was willing to be, and even made them laugh, twice! I always reminded myself during the interview to smile and just be myself.

Yes, I was nervous. Yes, I almost forgot to breathe a few times. But, I remained myself as much as I could and even bought in some of my dry humour. Which seemed to work. When my family and friends asked how I think I did, I just said 50/50. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I felt that I had done as well as I could of done, and obviously to them that was more than enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

At the end of the interview day when I was talking to the other interviewees, I discovered that we had all been asked slightly different questions, apart from the standard questions. Some had been asked questions regarding the latest news coming out of Japan and South Africa. And in my case I was asked none of that.

One way they test your ability to handle stress and awkward situations is by having one of the interviewers behave totally different to how they should be in an interview

The written test:

So for some countries, including South Africa, applicants have to write an English test on the interview day as well. Do not stress about this at all, in my opinion. It is a multiple choice test ranging from choosing the correct spelling, grammar, and sentences. There is nothing much out there about it online, but I think it is just to see that you indeed know your English. You can’t exactly study for it, so there is nothing much you can do but just wait to take it.

After the interview:

Now that the interview is done, what happens next? You wait. And that’s all you can do. It’s a strange feeling when you wake up the next day and realise that you have nothing more to do regarding the JET application, no more research, no more stressing for the interview. After the interview stage is done, all the application forms, along with the recommendations from the interviewers (and their marks as I believe they work on a point system), are sent to Tokyo where the people at CLAIR go over the applications and that is where the final decision is made. So in the meantime all you can do is wait. Oh, but you could get your police clearance certificate done (even if you don’t know the results of the interview).

And just to let you know that I found out the results of the interview on April Fool’s Day (1st April).

So there you have it. I apologise for not including more questions, I just can’t recall them all at the moment. I will update this post if any new questions arise. Also, please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions regarding the interview.

In closing, I want to wish all of those who have interview this year the very best of luck! Just remember to smile and be yourself! ๐Ÿ˜€

Don’t forget to celebrate at the end of the day. Making it to the interview stage is a great accomplishment in itself!

*Pictures provided by the most hilarious anime comedy of 2014: Amagi Brilliant Park.

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