Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on the JET Program or how its application process is done. All the advice and situations discussed in this series will be primarily based off my own experiences, as well as those of my friends and colleagues that are or were a part of the program.
You’ve started your JET Programme application and have now come across the Statement of Purpose (SOP). The SOP is possible the most important part of your entire application, followed by your references. It is the section that you should spend the most time working on. You want this to be as perfect as can be. The SOP will typically cover three main sections: Why Japan? Why You? Why JET? This may be broken down further and will be discussed later on.
If you have ever had to write a personal statement for a school admissions essay or a cover letter for a job or internship, this will be like that. However, do not think of this as just a normal cover letter nor just a personal statement. You should think of this as a combination of the two, tailoring your job application in a personal manner to connect with the selection committees.
The SOP was the longest and hardest part of my application. I had my general application filled out pretty quickly, drawing from my current CV for most of the necessary information. However, it took me over a month to get my SOP perfected to how I envisioned it. It took me weeks to just get to a starting point that I liked. I kept tossing out draft after draft. If I didn’t feel that my interest as a third-party reviewer was captured in the first paragraph—hell, the first few sentences—then I tossed it and started from scratch.
The more I kept adding on, the more my Imposter Syndrome kicked in. I began to doubt myself, my abilities, and my achievements. Why would I be selected over someone else? Are my achievements really achievements? Will this really work? I would have to stop and take a breather numerous times while writing it just to make sure I didn’t limit myself or be my own worst enemy. I kept pushing through it and then, one night, I ended up writing out the entire thing in one main sitting—with a few small breakdowns in between—and that was what stuck. I went back and edited it a million times, as well as had it proofread by others, but I eventually had that “this is it” moment and had an SOP that I was satisfied with.
The general requirements should be the same throughout all participating countries, but make sure you double check with your specific application instructions! Embassy employees working with JET that have gone through posts on the SOP have reached out numerous times to reiterate this fact. Follow whatever instructions you are given by the JET Programme itself.
For the US, 2 pages is the maximum. You should type up your SOP in an external document application and copy and paste it into the online application text field. This will auto generate the paper to how it should be formatted. This means that you don’t have to worry to much about formatting your SOP, in terms of font/margins/font size/etc. I do recommend that you use a 12pt sans serif font (such as Arial) or the go-to Times New Roman, and double space your SOP with standard essay margins. Why should you care if the online portal does all the work?
Double check your application instructions. 2019 Canadian applicants had specific font/style requirements, and UK applicants had more similar to US applicants, I believe.
Just because your SOP is 2 pages in your own document app doesn’t mean that it will be 2 pages in the online portal.
Have you ever had to use an online application form before and have it cut you off? Unlike Twitter, where it will show you exactly how many characters over the limit you are, you’ll have to figure this all out yourself by constantly reviewing your rough draft in the online portal. You’ll most likely have to cut it down a few times before it fits exactly onto 2 pages on the portal. JET has explicitly stated numerous times that they will not give anything beyond 2 pages the time of day. This is standard in any post-graduate or professional setting. If you are given a limit/requirement and you can’t follow it, then there is no need for them to waste their time on you. Don’t waste your words beyond this limit.
You should be able to sell yourself concisely and precisely in as little words as possible. Tell a story without overly flowery language or overselling yourself/coming off overconfident.
Make your SOP as engaging as possible from the start. Get the committee involved in your life—in you. They read hundreds of thousands of applications during this process and if they don’t get interested right away, well, bye Felicia.
You want to answer the questions posed to you in a fluid manner. Please don’t just write out the questions and a short answer after that. This is not an exam, but rather an essay. Make sure your SOP has a logical flow to it, connecting all of the pieces together. Do you remember that logline/synopsis section a while back in your general application? You can use that as an outline of how you will write your SOP.
JET? What’s that?
Make sure you know about the JET Programme and what its all about. The purpose of the program is all in the name, the Japan Education and Exchange Programme. It does not focus entirely on one aspect over the other. Regardless of it you’re applying for the ALT or CIR position, you will be actively representing both aspects while on the program, and your SOP should too. Read up on JET and its mission statement. Get to know the program as well as you can to figure out how you fit into it.
195 [recognised] countries in the world and you chose Japan. Why? You could have gone anywhere if you just wanted to travel or work overseas. Why is Japan special? What made you interested in Japan? What was the spark, that one ripple, that caught your attention and washed over you? You want to connect this section to your entire application and your entire SOP.
If you’re interested in anime/manga/j-dramas/j-pop/etc., that’s fine. Nevertheless, don’t focus your entire attention onto this. Some people tell you to avoid this all together; however, if that is what sparked the fire in you, then its fine to discuss it. Just, don’t focus your entire SOP on it. Mention it and how it impacted you and move on. Try to focus on your thoughts and actions after whatever sparked your interest. How did X inspire you and your journey to Japan?
What can you offer to Japan/the community?
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t revolve around entirely around you. Pity, I know. It would make my life so much easier if things always were about me, but alas, there is always some quid pro quo involved in the world.
JET and the Japanese government want to see how you will be able to contribute to their society while on the program. Whether you are an ALT or a CIR, you’ll find yourself thrown into the community and you’ll either sink or swim depending on your adaptability and compatibility.
JET has no shortage of candidates interested in the program each year and numerous applicants are qualified for the jobs offered. However, there are only a limited number of vacancies. There are plenty of eager fish in the sea if you cannot see yourself contributing to society in some form. It is not just about what your interests are and what you think JET will do for you. It is also about what you can do for JET. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch your back. But like, don’t actually try to touch your panellists or anything. That’s creepy.
Being a JET is a job. Many people seem to forget about this when they are applying to JET. In a nutshell, your application is a job application, one which you don’t even know your exact employers until just before you move across the world to start work. You need to rock this SOP and stand out to them. What will you do in the program that will make a lasting impression on the community or JET program? What ripple will you cause? How will you capture the world?
Keep in mind that your job, your work, while on JET will not stop when you leave the office/school but continue the entire time you are in Japan. People in your community will recognise you on the streets. Your neighbours or local government may invite you to events. You are a cultural ambassador. You represent your country, your employer, and JET.
Think of any clubs or activities you plan on joining. What are your hobbies and how can you continue them in Japan? Be as proactive as possible here! Try to give specific examples of how you plan to be involved. It could be through volunteer work, neighbourhood watches, English clubs—hell, even going a local yoga class counts. If you can sell the notion that you will be engaging with the locals and showing off your country (and in turn the bilateral relations between Japan & your country), then you’re set.
Try to connect this to the first part of your SOP in some way. What inspired you to get involved in Japan and how will you give back to it.
What can you offer to the program?
Similar to the previous section, but more geared towards your past experiences.
What experience do you have under your belt that can help both JET and yourself?
Make sure you’re not just rehashing your CV experience here. Use this to expand on your CV. You’ve done great things sure, but you’ve already listed them out earlier. Explain them here. Why will these make you an awesome JET? How will it convince your Contracting Organisation to keep partnering in with JET in the future?
Give as much detail as possible without overkilling it here. You want to stress your flexibility, adaptability, and enthusiasm here. If you have leadership skills, those are also good to discuss here. Any cross-cultural experience, especially with Japan/Asia? Write it out.
No two placements or situations will be the same on JET. Even if you live next to another JET, their experiences will be different from yours. Every situation is different (ESID). JET wants to see that you’ve done things in life and can relate it to what being an ALT/CIR entails. They want to see that you can handle whatever life throws at you.
If you’ve just graduated Uni or are about to, that’s fine. Most applicants are in the same boat. But, come on. Unless you were an absolute hermit and never left your flat, you’d have had to have been involved in the community somehow/somewhere. You can spin pretty much anything to fit this criterion if done correctly—volunteer work, internships, part-time work, clubs, even school assignments/group work.
Ok. So, you’ve talked about how you go into Japan, what killer skills you got, and how you plan on taking over the world contributing to Japan. Now, you can finally talk about what JET will do for you.
Think about how JET will help you both personally and professionally. In what ways will you come out of the JET program? How and why will your personal growth occur while on the program?
Again, you could go work in any country in the world. Hell, a lot of other international jobs are less competitive than JET. If you want to teach abroad, why not EPIK? If you want to teach in Japan, why not Interac, ECC, or AEON? Why JET of all the programs and how do you think that JET fits into your own personal goals? Tie in your future goals here, both short and long term.
JET is looking here for how you will continue to promote Japan and JET not only during the program, but afterwards in your daily life. Whether you stay in Japan post-JET or return to your home country, how will you use what you experienced on JET in the future? While in Japan, you’re a cultural ambassador for your home country. After JET, in your home country, you’re an ambassador for JET and Japan. Keep this in mind while brainstorming these last couple sections.
Don’t copy someone else’s narrative or tone of voice. You can easily google previous/current JETs and find a few SOPs online, but you want to use these as a resource for advice not a carbon copy. First, plagiarism will ruin you and your career. Don’t do it. Second, be confident enough in yourself to make your own impression. Use what you find online as a reference to see what worked and what didn’t. But, don’t just write something similar because person A got in, so obviously that is what JET wants. No. Your SOP is a representation of you and who you are. When you go to your interview, you will have to know your SOP inside and out. They will grill you on what you wrote and if you get caught up in a lie or embellishment, you’ll be in trouble.
Make sure you give yourself time to work on this bad boy. Its hell. I had so many times to go back to it because it just didn’t fit and feel right time and time again. You’ll make numerous edits to it. Don’t rush yourself. Take your time. This is the most important step and it needs to feel perfect to you. Set yourself apart.
Highlight your skills and achievements answer the prompts entirely and capture the reader’s attention.
Triple check your SOP. You already should be double checking your entire application before submitting it but go over your SOP time and time again before you go over the main application for final submission. Proofread it until you have it memorised. Ask friends, family, and colleagues to review and edit it.
Print out a copy and edit it on paper. Your brain gets tired from reading on a screen after so long, so you’ll most likely have missed a few mistakes and not catch them until you print it out. Last thing you want is to have horrid spelling or grammar on a job application, especially one where you are meant to display a grasp of the language. Put it in Grammarly to catch any funky language.
Overall, tell a story. Your SOP is your opportunity to shine light onto who you are beyond just being another statistic or CV. Make it engaged enough to capture their attention. Think of this as one of those Uni entrance essays where you must sell yourself. Try your hardest to capture their attention right away.
Does your SOP tell your panel who you are and quickly? Will they be able to understand you and know that you are JET material in just two pages? It’s not just your first panel who will read this, but your consulate/embassy, your interview panel, people in Japan at the three ministries and CLAIR, and then at various contracting organisations throughout Japan for them to make their placement selections. Even after placements have been announced, you might find that your office or school passed around copies of your application for your colleagues to know about you. It wouldn’t be surprising for random people you work with to have read your SOP.
You’ll want to make this 2-page statement leave a lasting impression on everyone.
Good luck JETsetters!