Two days ago I was called to go to the consulate in order to receive some feedback on my interview I did back in February. I heard that this is the first year they’ve done this for new JETs, and I’m quite happy to be one of the first recipients.
The session lasted only 15 minutes, but was jammed-packed with information I know will be useful to me once I start working in Japan. I figured I’d share with you what they told me about my interview (strong and weak points); maybe this will help some of you who are thinking of applying for the JET Programme next year.
First thing is first: you need to show good personality. Smiling, calm demeanour and poise is a must during the interview. They told me I had a wonderful personality that draws in attention. Now obviously, this can be hard to achieve, especially when you are shy or softspoken (which in fact I am), but being confident about your abilities, and showing them you know your stuff can prove itself beneficial. If you look confident, then you will gain more respect than if you cower in your corner, wringing your sweaty hands together (lovely image, I know). Showing passion for what you do and what you want to accomplish is also a good way to score points. They thought I had a lot to offer and could sense my love for languages, Japan and teaching.
This is the closest adjective that can describe what they told me; being able to ‘break the ice’ and relieve tension by acting spontaneous. In my case, I made fun of myself in order to alleviate the atmosphere. This works well for me in most situations, as humour is always a good stress reliever. While everyone is busy laughing, tension melts away and it becomes easier to connect with one another. During my mock classroom with the interviewers, I imitated an elephant in order to teach about onomatopoeias. This was apparently my best hit from the whole interview as it showcased my ability to be flexible and think quickly without being afraid of ridicule. I can chalk this off to my years of experience as an improvisationalist (improv comedy: my heat and soul!), and I’m happy to have taken the chance to do so during an interview for a job in Japan (land of the serious, immune to all things funny and sarcastic).
Now this might seem obvious, but knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture is a must. I was told that my extensive knowledge about history, literature and culture was a strong point. Also, by showing I had strong ties to the Japanese community in my hometown, I showed that I was a good ambassador of my own culture within a foreign community. Diplomacy is very important, considering you are applying for a job abroad, and are being sent there as an ambassador of your home country. Being able to show that you maintain a foreign culture alive while being abroad from said culture is a trait that JET interviewers look for. In my case, I have been actively pursuing language learning in university, attending Japanese cultural events in my city (matsuri, calligraphy, etc.) and maintaining ties with my group by going to Japanese restaurants and doing karaoke.
Body language is extremely important in an interview setting. Even though I was very conscious of my movements (sitting straight, no hand gestures, no face touching, etc.), I neglected eye contact with my employers, which made them wonder as to why I did so. As they told me, sometimes cultural factors come into play and prevent a person from using direct eye contact however, it is important to overcome that and engage with the speakers as much as possible. They told me I had very interesting replies to their questions, but they were sadly underplayed by my lack of eye contact. The lesson to be learned here is to not be afraid to stare a little and convey your ideas with confidence.
Taking up more place in a discussion is something that I need to work on. Of course, not knowing where I stand in a new environment, I wasn’t too sure of what I was allowed to say, or when it was time to take a back seat to the discussion and let others shine. This once cost me a job I was applying for in a group. Everyone was in an open discussion, with the interviewers observing us and, by being too softspoken, I wasn’t memorable to them an so, I was cut after the interview stage. Of course, those interviewers didn’t consider the possibility that might be a little bit shy, nor that I don’t like to be pushy in a group. Luckily for me, the JET interviewers were able to see past that small problem, and allowed me to move onto the next stage. Voicing one’s opinions is therefore very important in order to show your enthusiasm and skills in problem solving.
For those who are non-native English speakers, or speakers of several languages like myself, the enunciation and pronunciation of words in an interview context is highly important. Of course, applying for a job as an English teacher, this might seem like a given, but sometimes without knowing, a word from a foreign tongue slips into the conversation, or a misplaced accent on a vowel throws your rhythm off. Apparently, this happened to me during the interview. Honestly I don’t remember, but I trust their ears and good judgement on the matter. Possibly due to stress, my French accent might have popped out on certain words, creating a break in my demonstration of linguistic skills. In all honesty, I found this news to be very embarrassing, seeing as I am a native English speaker, but my day-to-day life is conducted in French (grocery shopping, university courses, going out with friends, etc.), which obviously has taken a toll on my native tongue. The main thing to remember here is to calm your mind before speaking, and not think too much about what you are going to say. Just let it flow naturally to prevent this from happening.
I hope my personal experiences were helpful to you future JETs, and that you can but this information to good use. Until next time!