2 November 2010

Secrets of the JET Programme: What you ought to know about getting on JET

JET Programme Logo

The two of best years of my life – that’s how I describe the time I spent in Japan on the JET Programme.

JET is a government scheme that puts English speakers into Japanese schools. Over 2400 New Zealanders have done it since 1987 and it’s easy to understand why. JET is by far the best English teaching programme in Japan. A generous salary, new friends and the opportunity to see the world – it’s an all-round attractive package.

I get lots of emails from friends who want to apply. Applications are now open so it’s a good time to look at what’s involved in putting together an application. This post covers the application process, the things to say and do to get accepted, plus some bonus tips for those who make it through to the interviews. But first, the things you should know about JET before you apply.

Is the JET Programme right for you?

JET is the best. JET is run by the Japanese Government, and while there are other private schemes, they don't pay as well. That, and JET has bonuses like medical insurance and decent holidays, plus you get your flights to Japan at the start and end of your contract paid for.

Teacher training? – you don’t need any. I learnt to teach English to second-language speakers before I applied and some JETs are former teachers. However, I estimate 90% of successful applicants have NO teacher training. Having said that, any teaching experience (or related skills such as presenting experience) are worth emphasising in your application.

JETs get paid 3.6 million yen a year (before tax). How much you have left over after your rent, power and food have been accounted for depends on where you live and how good you are at managing your money.

It's impossible to predict where you might end up or what kind of school you might teach at. JET Programme people have a saying, ‘every situation is different’. They drill it into you until you're sick of hearing it. But it's true. Every situation is different. In Japan, I taught at one school. However, there were teachers in my area that taught at 26 different schools. That’s a lot of names to learn. Just keep in mind when you’re applying that you could end up anywhere.

What all the successful JET applicants have is an interest in Japan. I’d say that’s the number #1 criteria for getting on. Being sane comes a close second – they don’t want you coming over here and killing yourself as a couple of people did in the early years of the programme in the 1980s. You need to be flexible, open-minded and self-reliant. Having said that…

JET is a well-established programme with a comprehensive support network. There is a system in place to help you if problems arise.

There’s a 13% success rate. 190 people applied to do the JET Programme in Wellington in 2007, 25 were chosen. Applications were actually down on the previous year as people had confused JET with Nova – another English teaching company in Japan that went bust. Logically, you’d expect applications to be up this year. JET is a secure job and it’s excellent money under the current exchange rates. As far as I can tell (from talking to the JETs from other countries) the application process has the same level of difficulty wherever you go.

Avoid the message boards. I assume you've been checking out Big Daikon and IThinkImLost (ITIL). I did the same before I applied. Those two sites contain a lot of apathy (Big Daikon in particular). They don't represent the views of most of the JETs I've met. Most people are more than ‘human tape recorders’. Cynicism leads to more cynicism. Those sites are good examples of that.

Things you should know about applying for JET

The basics:

  • Applications open in October and close in December.
    Start working on your application early. A JET application is difficult to throw together at the last minute.
  • You must have a degree or have completed your studies by the time you leave for Japan (July/August). It doesn’t matter what you studied, but you must have studied something.
  • The JET application is made up of an 11 page form, two (relevant) letters of reference and a personal essay. In addition, you have to provide evidence of your nationality (a copy of your passport), a copy of your graduation certificate along with your academic record and a copy of your criminal record, which you have to apply for in advance. And when you’ve got all that together, be sure to make two more copies. You must send three complete sets of all your application documents.
  • Applying to JET is a drawn-out process. Applications close in December. You find out if you’ve got an interview in January, which then takes place in February. After your interview, you wait until April to find out if you’ve made it on. The lucky ones attend a pre-departure orientation in May. You finally fly out to Japan in late July/early August.

How to put together a successful JET application

The application process is very involved, so it's worth reading it through in advance. The application form and requirements for the New Zealand JET Programme are available on the Japanese embassy website.

What’s in it for them? What’s in it for you?

The essay is a major part of your application. In it you need two sections: (1) Why you want to do JET (a love of Japanese culture, want to meet new people, to have first-hand experience of a culture, learn Japanese etc.) and (2) What you can offer (an in-depth understanding of the English language, a willingness to talk about your culture, previous intercultural experience etc.).
You need to show you have an interest in Japan. If you've been to Japan or hosted a Japanese person or have been learning Japanese then write about those things. It's about showing what's in it for Japan, but also being honest about what's in it for you.

Demonstrate your interest in Japan

I would recommend doing something tangible that indicates your interest in Japan. Most of the 2008 Wellington JETs had taken Japanese papers at University. Some had even done their degrees in Japanese. I took a Japanese night class at my local high school. It was a very basic introduction, but it was enough to show the interview panel that I was genuinely interested in going to Japan. Show them that you want it.

Bonus advice: Acing the interview

Congratulations! You put together a strong application and you’ve been asked in for an interview. Here’s what to do if you interviewed for JET:

Dress to impress. Business attire is a must.

Swot what you wrote in your essay. They'll be referring to what you wrote in your application, so that's a good place to start your preparation.

Expect them to be hard on you. The interviewers will have their poker faces on, so don't expect an indication of whether they like you or not. Most people leave JET interviews with no indication of whether they got on or not.

They'll do a basic grammar test to check you can identify errors – straight-forward stuff. You'll get extra points if you can tell them why the errors are errors.

You've probably already Googled 'JET Interview questions' and found a list of things you may be asked. Just remember that most of those questions are from the American interviews. I found that they didn't really ask any of them. They were more interested in talking about me as a person and what I could offer JET.