February 20, 2009

JET Program Part 2: The Interview

"With great power comes great responsibility."

Uncle Ben was a smart guy. His words of wisdom helped Peter Parker become Spider-man, but they won't help you ace the JET interview. Sorry.

If you're anything like me and actually care about getting on the JET Program, it's hard to describe the JET Interview process as anything but nerve wracking.

I spent weeks (okay, months...) prior to my interview researching the program, preparing answers to interview questions, and thinking about how I would respond to some of the trickier scenarios they might throw at me. I also spent a lot of time lurking around several JET Program online forums. In particular, found the
I Think I'm Lost Forum to be a big help because of their dedicated sections for applicants and interviewees - complete with past questions, advice and FAQs (available here).

I'm not sure how many other people prepared this way, but that's just how I went about it. Going into my interview I felt confident, certain that I was an ideal candidate for the position and determined to impress my interviewers. I left the interview room feeling less certain about all of the above, but more on that later.

I think my first problem might have been lack of sleep. Because I was stressing about the interview I got about an hour of sleep beforehand - under eye bags aren't the best way to make a good first impression. So after ice packs on the eyes, lots of make up and donning my sharp Executive-esque suit I headed to the University of Toronto to plead my case.

For the most part, everyone in the waiting room was very quiet and everyone waiting in the hall outside their room looked a nervous wreck. They had a video playing for us to watch in the waiting room. It was about the JET experience as an ALT and CIR. It was actually pretty good and I got some ideas from it that I used later in my interview so you should probably pay attention to it.

After the video there was a really awkward silence as the group of us realized we had 10 minutes to kill before we headed to our interview rooms. I decided to talk with one of the girls at the registration desk who happened to be a former JET. She was really nice and we had a good chat about what it's like to be the only white person living in a rural town in Japan. I believe her name was Andrea and she was incredibly nice - exactly what I'd imagine a former JET to be like. I felt really good after talking to her and totally ready for my interview.

When the time was right, I headed up to my designated room where they were waiting for me. There were only two people on my panel - a female former JET and a male member of the Japanese Consulate. The female JET was very friendly and the gentleman from the Consulate was very stone faced, but I'd kind of expected that going in so I was prepared for it. (Even so, it does a number on your nerves!)

The interview was about 25-30 minutes long and they asked me a variety of questions, with some of them being a little odder than others. I was one of the lucky (or unlucky?) few who got to do a teaching demonstration. More on that later as well.

Their first question to me was "How did you hear about JET?" Followed by, "Tell us about some of the research you've done into the program and Japan."

After those preliminaries were out of the way they focused primarily on my teaching experience. They asked what my most rewarding experience in the classroom was, as well was what my most challenging experience was. One question I thought was a little strange was they asked me to give an example of an instance in the workplace where I'd put my code of ethics into play.

They also asked the following in no particular order:
  • what my Japanese speaking ability is
  • what Canadian landmarks I'd show to people in Japan
  • what three things I'd bring with me to explain/share Canadian culture
  • how I'd combat homesickness
  • how I would feel if I didn't get my first choice of placement
  • what my special skills and hobbies were
  • how I would get involved with the community
  • what volunteer work I'd done
  • what experience I had working with/teaching young children
  • what aspects of Japanese culture I wanted to explore
  • what qualities I had that would make me a good applicant

There were also several scenario questions they threw my way. One had was getting me to describe what I thought a typical day as an ALT would be. I gave a pretty detailed answer and they seemed pleased with it. For Scenario #2 they asked what I'd do if my friends and I made plans to go out on the weekend, and we wouldn't be back until late Sunday night, but I had a big day on Monday at school.

All in all I think my answers were okay to all of the above - showing that yes, I'd done my research, I had a brain and I could be an excellent ambassador to Canada.

Then came the dreaded lesson.

"We want you to demonstrate your teaching ability to us," they said wearing knowing smiles. "We're you're students and we know very little English. Teach us about colours."

Teaching about colours is easier said than done when all you have is a chalkboard with white chalk and 10 seconds to prep. Needless to say I think my lesson sucked hard. My drawings were horrible and overall I thought it wasn't very engaging. At one point I added a happy face to my deformed sun just to make it look somewhat better. By the time I finished the former JET looked like she was holding in hysterical laughter (not the good kind) and the member from the Japanese Consulate was stone-faced. They did participate when I asked them to though, which was merciful of them. I have to thank them for that!

Once the interview was over I asked them a couple questions of my own. I asked the former JET about what one of the hardest things about moving to Japan for her was and then I asked them both about what my chances of working with younger children were since I knew the BOE's are planning to introduce the English language program at the elementary level and I really wanted the opportunity to work with children. They basically said that it's up to the BOE wherever I got hired.

And that was it. I got up, thanked them, shook their hands and was ushered out the door.

I spent the entire rest of that day mulling over all the things I wish I'd said/done differently, things I should've told them, ways I could've done my mock lesson differently... Honestly I was driving myself crazy until I realized that at this point it's entirely out of my hands. If I'm accepted, awesome! If not, I'll move on to Plan B. Either way I'll be in Japan teaching English at some point next year. If it takes me a little longer to get there it's no big deal.

I'm glad to have the interview behind me and I'm ready to go on with life as I knew it before my JET application (while I wait for the final results to come out in the first week of April).

My advice to prospective JET interviewers is this - be friendly, SMILE (seriously it was stone faces everywhere when I was waiting), be enthusiastic, and know yourself. Know what you want, why you want to be in the program and all the reasons why you'd be an ideal candidate. And for the sake of doing better than me, prep yourself for several different styles of mock lessons (colours, national holiday, self-intro, lesson on your hometown/state/country, etc.). Colours was the one mock lesson I
didn't prep for and that oversight just might have screwed me, so it's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared :)

Best of luck to everyone who still has to interview or will be interviewing next year. I've given you all the advice I can, now go forth and impress. With any luck I'll see you in Japan ;)

- The Genki Canuck

Onward to Part 3: The Results