Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The JET Programme ~ The One With The Interview

As you already know, I applied for the JET Programme back in November last year and last week, I received an email and letter inviting me to an interview. Cue shock-horror! Because you see, the last time I’d applied to the JET Programme, I was rejected…and rightfully so I might add. I don’t remember what I put in my application, but I do recall not following such simple rules as putting my application pack in the correct order. Nevertheless, despite doing things correctly this time and having someone look over my personal statement, I still hadn’t expected I would get an interview considering that the programme is extremely competitive. New graduates are introduced to the JET programme and some apply constantly every year. In actuality, I had damn near forgotten about it until I received that email. Thus, I systematically had one week to prepare.

This is virtually how my interview went:

For you see, it started off pretty well. I was a little wobbly, but I started to feel pretty good until they dropped that question. That one bastard question! But I always find that in any interview I’ve been in, there’s always one question that trips me up. And low and behold, it surfaced.

I’ll start from the beginning, shall I?

I arrived in the area of the embassy about thirty minutes before the time I was asked to arrive. In order to calm my nerves, I took a walk and listened to some music. My MP4 player died halfway through, but I felt strangely tranquil. Mariah Carey can sing! I entered into the embassy about five minutes prior to the designated arrival time. Went through security. Signed in and sat down opposite a Japanese man. We exchanged “hellos”. I managed to catch words of his conversation and felt quite proud of myself for being able to understand. Then another guy who was interviewing also emerged. I introduced myself as I saw he had his passport too (they requested that we bring identification with us); he seemed just as nervous as I was but I didn’t get to talk to him much as I went to the bathroom to change out of my thermal leggings – it was a furnace in there. When I came out, the representative was there and so it began.

I don’t know what the experiences of other embassy’s are, but the whole thing was very formal. We had to distribute any recording devices into lockers and then when we entered into the interview area. We were also, instructed not to speak to one another even though I distinctly recall two other participants who came in after us, who were having a rather in depth conversation.

We were told to sit at a table and given a short grammar test. It wasn’t too bad. Circle the odd word out. What is the difference between these two sentences? Correct this paragraph. Which word fits this definition? Afterwards, we chatted to the ex JETs about their experiences with the JET DVD playing in the background and then were led back outside into a small waiting area. Minutes later, an old white guy poked his head out of the door and invited me in.

I was happy there were only two of them instead of three and I shook their hands. The other interviewer was a Japanese woman with that phenomenal Japanese poker face but I didn’t feel intimidated by her strangely enough. The room was quite big and there was a screen across it which makes me consider whether there might have been someone on the other side listening in… Nevertheless, I wasn’t thinking this during the interview, but I was still as nervous as hell.

As soon as I came in nonetheless, the man mentioned that he thought I’d been interviewed previously. I clarified that while I had applied back in 2009, I had been rejected. The interviewers exchanged looks and I can’t help but think that they fully intended to do something horrible had it emerged that I had had an interview previously.

I’m not sure if I remember my questions properly - it was all a blur - but they were something along the lines of this:

Why JET and why Japan?

This is standard procedure and I had my answer ready. I mentioned anime (yes, I went there. People say that you shouldn't but I mentioned it in my personal statement as well and I still got an interview) and that I had read some books utilising a historical Japanese theme. The English guy homed in on this and asked me how that would apply to modern Japan. I launched into knowledge about the behaviour and the level of politeness used in historical Japan and even in current Japanese society. I mentioned my knowledge of keigo and the Japanese woman seemed impressed.

Introduce yourself in Japanese.

Despite the fact that I mentioned on my application that I had no Japanese ability, they asked me to introduce myself in Japanese. I think it’s because I mentioned my interest in the language in my personal statement. I did this and they seemed quite impressed. Granted, I have been told that my pronunciation is pretty good so I think this is a saving grace. My level of confidence was rising and the initial nerves began to dwindle. 

What’s your Japanese knowledge and what have you been doing over the years to improve said cultural awareness.

The English guy mentioned that I’d indicated I had a TESOL qualification. I mentioned that I was currently doing a Japanese-English language exchange. I’m sure I mentioned something else, but I don’t remember what I said. They seemed satiated.

Give us a possible activity where you had to illustrate a grammar point.

I launched into an activity I was going to do on my TESOL course. Money Bingo. The English guy wanted me to clarify what the grammar point was but I think he came to his own conclusion in the end. He also, dropped in that I need to be careful that the grammar point doesn’t get lost in the activity. As I sit here writing this however, I realise I should have probably mentioned the Murder Mystery idea I actually did implement when I was teaching Modals of Deduction.

What do you know about the Japanese education system?

I mentioned the 6-3-3-4 system with High School and University not being compulsory. I mentioned the emphasis on reading and writing and the 100% literacy rate. I mentioned that students in Japanese schools may be a bit shyer. I mentioned cultural events like Bunkasai/Bunka no Hi and Sports Day. Pockets of information like that.

Tell us about an experience of being a community where you stood out?

Had this ready. I’m Black. I’m British. I went on holiday to visit a friend in his mountain village in Granada, Spain. The children stared at me. Hard. The rest was history.

What could you introduce to Japanese people?

I picked food and mentioned baking a Victoria Sponge…etc. They mentioned that it might be difficult as some schools don’t have ovens. The Japanese woman said that when she came to the UK, she had to learn to use one.

Do you play any sports?

I mentioned that while it's not a sport, I do attend zumba classes. I think they liked this…or at least the Japanese woman did as she mentioned it later.

What are any after school clubs that you could introduce to the Japanese people.

I mentioned I could introduce a games to children e.g. British Bulldog, Stuck in the Mud, Bench Ball…etc. Probably should have said zumba.

As a teacher, stand up and introduce yourself as if you were speaking to a large room of people in two of three sentences.

I think I spoke loudly enough for them. The English guy thanked me and made some notes.

And then there was the that question which was about British culture. He asked me about the Scottish Referendum and I froze. I know vaguely about it, but I rarely read newspapers so my knowledge of current affairs is limited to hear’say. But no, the man didn’t stop there. He asked me to recommend places to visit in Wales – what do I know about Wales? And then he asked about England and for the life of me, I was so flustered at that point that I couldn’t think so I blurted out Canterbury for its festivals to which the guy than stated that festivals happen everywhere. I mentioned Cambridge for its architecture, but he wouldn’t drop it and wanted to know what about the architecture specifically so I just admitted that I didn’t know anything about architecture in the slightest and knew at that instant that any hope that there was had been dashed* as he began to school me on the importance of knowing about British culture.

The Japanese woman asked me an additional question along the lines of what I could bring to the community or something – I don’t remember – but I do recall saying that maybe I could launch a medieval banquet with jesters, kings and queens, lords and ladies…etc, in order to introduce this aspect of British culture. The English guy then asked me who my favourite King was and I answered “Not King but Queen - Elizabeth I”. I think he liked this but I’m not sure.

They asked me about my tattoo and I explained that I was aware of the cultural significance of the tattoo in Japanese society. I remember that every time I'd say something e.g. I mentioned that it was really small...etc, the English guy would follow up with a comment as if he wasn't sure if I understood the cultural significance of a tattoo in Japan. I ended with the fact that I'd keep it covered.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure the question that they asked towards the end e.g. “Is there anything else you’d like to say about yourself?” was a means of disguising the fact that I’d bombed the cultural question quite badly and I needed to say something that would save myself, but I waffled incredibly and came off desperate.

The English guy finished by asking me what I intended to do in the next year – this makes me consider that I definitely haven’t got it now, but - I said, I hope I’d be teaching English in Japan and he asked me if I’d considered other companies. I listed a few and then he asked why I thought the JET programme was better. This question was easy because obviously teaching English and teaching about culture are two very different things. I said that companies like Interac, ECC..etc are just jobs, but the JET programme is about internalisation, and cultural exchange and I’d like to be a part of that.

They thanked me, I shook hands with them both again and left with my tail between my legs. I said a quiet hello to the guy who was waiting in the waiting area and then collected my belongings and waited in the hall all emo-like until I was collected by a member of staff and escorted back to the embassy reception. (I wonder if I should have done that now however considering that there were probably cameras watching me).

I look at it now and realise I had some good bits, but that British culture question was a very important one as it basically quantifies the “E” in JET – Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme. I think I fulfilled the “J” and the “T” to some extent, in my interview, but the “E” will stand against me. What’s more, when I signed out I think I was one of the first people to leave.

Ultimately though, I don’t think I’ll make it onto the JET programme. It’s very competitive. Interviews will be taking place over the next six weeks meaning they’ll be interviewing hundreds of applicants. I needed to walk out of it today feeling neutral but I walked out feeling horrible.

I hate job interviews with a passion anyway, but if anyone’s reading this and hopes to join the JET programme some day, I would say – know your culture; current affairs and politics included, even if it’s just a bit. I think the reason why I was asked these questions however was because I didn’t mention anything on how I would promote British culture in my personal statement and that’s where they caught me out.

Best of luck to any future JETters.

*I look back and realise that I could have said Brighton for the British seaside culture. –headdesk-


  1. I'm London Irish and will be interviewed next Tuesday in Ireland (as I have an Irish passport) me thinks the E part of JET will do me too!!!! Oh well!! Thanks for the advice on the interview questions, its very helpful..god knows what I will say on Ireland being a Londoner! LOL!

    1. Best of luck with your interview. They might ask you something completely different as "Every Situation Is Different"...somewhat. :)

    2. Hi Melissa
      This page has been very useful in the week leading up to my interview. I had mine this week. I have to say, I found it nerve wrecking. I ran out of time for the grammar test as I wasn't told it was being timed (I managed just over 50%). The interview itself didn't go too well either, I don't think I was specific enough in my answers... We'll just have to see. If I may ask, what are you currently doing (that is Japan/JET related)?

    3. You might surprise yourself. I thought my interview was horrible but I was made an Alternate. It was annoying to be one but I wasn't rejected out right I guess.

      I'm current working for a private eikaiwa in Hiroshima. If you still want to work in Japan, keep persevering. If you want something bad enough, you'll get there in the end. I truly believe that.

    4. Thanks for this im so happy i came across it. Thanks Mel and also for letting us know youre in Japan now!

    5. Hey Mel, thanks for the insite I dont really read the newspaper at all either so im going to brush up on that.
      My interview is next Monday in Trinidad, im nervous , but going to Japan is really so important to me and a big accomplishment

    6. Good luck with your interview. I didn't know they'd started recruiting from other West Indian countries as well.

    7. Hi Ashley,

      I was just wondering how your interview went and if you got offered a place? I'm also interviewing in Ireland next week although I have only lived there for 3 years, 5 years ago. So I am worried that I won't be 'Irish enough' which is a weird thing to say!

      Thanks :)

  2. Thanks for posting this. My interview is in 2 weeks in Boston and I (like everyone else) am getting more and more nervous for it.

    What company do you currently work for? How did you find it? Also in your opinion what are the pros and cons of your current position?

    If the JET program doesn't pan out for me, I definitely want to keep searching for more opportunities.

    1. Hello Kaba.

      Thanks for the comment. Best of luck with your interview. More Americans get hired than anyone else in the world so you stand a good chance. For me as a Brit, it's more difficult.

      I currently work for Peppy Kids Club and I found it online as with most ESL positions. Unfortunately, I can no longer talk about PKC in detail due to my contract with them but if you hunt around the internet - various sites like Daves ESL Cafe or Gaijin Pot should have the kind of information you're looking for.

      All the best. =)