Friday, 19 September 2014

Interview Experience ~ The First

So this might come as news to some of you, but I’ve decided to jump ship and look for work with another company. I’ve been scouting the interweb searching for new opportunities. I’d had a few bites, a couple of Skype interviews but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for my very first face to face interview in Japan. Because if I have ever experienced culture shock since being here, this is the very first time that I’ve been truly aware of it.

I interviewed for a position with a company called Berlitz. They are well-known in English teaching circles and apparently there was a branch in the Fukuyama city. After three weeks of back and forth emails (and a week waiting for a response), an interview was confirmed and I made all the necessary preparations. Because I couldn’t attend an interview at the scheduled time, I asked if I could interview earlier due to work commitments. They obliged so I was grateful.

Taking the Shinkansen would have gotten me to Fukuyama in twenty minutes but it’s also super expensive so I opted to take a local train instead. This was expected to take just under two hours so I bit the bullet, woke up seriously early, put together a moderately formal outfit and made my journey. I arrived there over an hour early and decided to find the location. The school was not what I was expecting. It was a rather old-looking structure on the first floor and there was no Berlitz logo in sight. I was feeling extremely sleep deprived so I sought to find a coffee shop but alas, at 9:30am in the morning, not a one was open.

Maybe this was a sign of things to come.

I opted for some water instead, downed about half the bottle and then decided to do the Japanese thing and arrive a little bit early. I walked up the steps and came face to face with about seven Japanese men sitting in an office. They gawked at me in shock and I suddenly felt extremely small despite the fact that I towered over most of them. I bid them “hello” and then my interviewer exited the office and an awkward introduction occurred whereby he confirmed my name and invited me to take off my shoes. What I found strange was that he didn’t even introduce himself.

Just pretend that this guy is Japanese and you've
basically got my interview today.
I was led into a classroom and the interview began. It turned out that Berlitz was opening a new school at the station and that our current interview location was an English cram school. I was asked a bunch of questions to do with my current experience and whether I could handle new ones. More often than not, he would simply make random grunts as I spoke but whether they were in approval or disproval, I don’t know. What I found peculiar however was that he would often repeat the same sorts of questions but in a different way and often asked me about my life in Japan. Whether he was trying to make me feel at ease or it was a simple interview tactic, again, I really couldn’t tell you.

The bomb was dropped however when he implied that they were really looking to fulfil the remaining part-time position as all the full-time ones had been taken. I can’t say my heart sank but in order to sustain my life in Japan, I know that I require something full-time. I expected him to terminate my interview right there and then but shortly afterwards, he stated that it was time for me to demo a lesson.

Now in the email he sent me, I had been given information about the “students” in my demo. I was to demo for two students, one of pre-intermediate level and one of upper-intermediate level. I had expected that my interviewer, plus another member of the Berlitz team would pretend to be students of that level; this was what I’m used to I suppose. Instead of two, however, I actually got three native Japanese students and this time, my heart did sink as I’d only prepared content for two students.

I started off okay. I introduced my vocabulary but as I moved in the meat of demo, I forgot to teach some of my content. I had also created worksheets but as I instigated the final task, I realised that even these were poorly structured. The “students” laughed about it and so did I, but I truthfully was dying inside. I finished the task and then wasn’t sure what to do until one of the “students” stepped outside the room and called the interviewer back in. As soon as he appeared, he muttered a rather informal “that’s it” and I said goodbye to the “students”.

Earlier, my interviewer had made a joke about covering my travel expenses. When he returned again, he handed an envelope with 5000 yen in it. I was so shocked that I’m not sure if I accepted it correctly (you’re supposed to accept with both hands in Japan) and shortly afterwards, I dropped the materials I’d used in the demo lesson all over the floor. I felt so clumsy and wanted to escape as quickly as possible until I was told that one of my “students” would drop me to the station. Again, I was shocked because these sorts of things do not happen in the UK. We are never reimbursed travel expenses and nobody offers to drive an interview candidate to the station. What’s more, the station was only a ten minute walk away also, so I found this extremely particular.

It was only after getting into yet another stranger’s car that I realised that this “third student” had probably been sent there to observe me as I demoed my lesson. I just hadn’t been told this and I really wish I had, because then I could have focused on the other two. I tried to instigate a conversation in the car and then fell silent until he started talking to me again so I spoke to him a bit more freely. He took me to the station as planned. I thanked him, we bowed in farewell and I couldn’t have scurried away into that station fast enough.

Upon reflection, I think even before having the interview, I knew I didn’t want the job as much. What I wanted however was the interview experience as it had been well over a year since I’d interviewed last. But I didn’t realise that I would actually be walking into a purely Japanese environment; I was expecting to see one or two foreigners walking around. As a result, I probably would have done a lot more research but I’m now starting to realise that the email address I’d be corresponding with should have been a dead giveaway. It had been created through Yahoo Mail.

The people in question were pleasant. They didn’t do anything bad to me but I felt a little shaken after the experience - epic culture shock, I believe. I highly doubt any of the men in that facility had met a foreigner like me before and I’d never been in an environment quite like that either. So as soon as I got on the train, I contacted people and found out that apparently, it’s not uncommon for companies to reimburse travel expenses to interview candidates here. It didn’t make me feel any better; I felt really weird accepting the money but I know that it isn’t custom in Japan to turn away kindness.


I was told I would be contacted with the result but I’d be surprised if they offered me the position. Irrespective, as I said, I don’t think I want the position as much and I especially don’t want a part time role. It was certainly an experience however. Next time, hopefully, I’ll be more prepared…and less sleep-deprived.

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