So You Wanna Be A JET: Interviews


There is a plethora of common questions asked during the interview available online.  Some are very generic, some are controversial, some are teaching related, some are IR related, some are SOP based, some are just plain out strange.  There are so many options and be prepared to answer them all. 

If you practice the Qs enough, you should be able to recognize them quickly and be able to answer them just as quickly.

ESID but the questions typically start out vague.  Questions such as: Why Japan?  Why JET? How did you hear about JET? These are pretty basic and what you should already know by now, considering you had to answer them in your application.

Speaking of your application, the meat of your interview will consist of questions about your application and your SOP.  You need to know your SOP inside and out and be prepared to answer them.  Therefore, ESID.  One person’s interview will be completely different from another’s.  You might also be asked for information beyond your SOP, such as “What do you like about Japan that you haven’t already discussed?”

Culture shock is another common theme for questions.  They want to see how adaptable you are and how you will handle stressful situations.  Chances are you’ll be moving to a different country without any major connections there.  If you’ve been to Japan before, you might know some people there, but for a lot of incoming JETs, they are starting completely from scratch.  Your mental health is very important, yet it is also something that isn’t too openly discussed in Japan.  They want to make sure you will be able to handle being homesick or just daily life. 

You should look up information on the JET Programme and local chapters/groups for this portion.  I mentioned that beyond already having a lot of connections in Japan to go to when I need help, I could easily reach out to one of the other JETs nearby in my prefecture or via the various JET Facebook groups.  On top of that, your country’s embassy/consulate might host regular events which you could go to.  Mission Japan [U.S.] has 6 locations, the embassy itself and 5 consulates, throughout the various islands.  On top of this, there are 6 embassy owned centres, such as the American Center Japan, where you can go to outside of just the consulates for events and information.  For US JETs, I recommend utilising these resources for your work.  They will typically provide you with free materials for your office or school to hand out or use.

Another popular theme is related to your position.  CIR and ALT questions might vary, but overall the theme remains the same.  What would you do if your co-worker said something that offended you?  What if they took credit for something you did?  What if you were used as a human recorder?  What would you do if your co-worker made a mistake during a conference/lesson?  Some JTEs make mistakes during class, likewise for gov’t officials on publications.  What if you have a problem with a student or visitor?  If you are an ALT, keep in mind that you are an Assistant Language Teacher.  Japan is very strict on this overall.  Your Japanese Teacher of English or Homeroom Teacher are the ones with the official Japanese teaching credentials.  Even if you have teaching credentials in your home country, they don’t exactly transfer over to Japan.  You are not officially allowed to disciple students.  This is up to the JTE/HT.  They want to see how you would handle such situations.

A big theme that might emerge is regarding to “controversial” topics.  These might include race, guns, sex/gender, your personal life, the military, or politics.  Japan does not typically discuss politics or societal issues openly but being bombarded by your students nonstop about if you have a significant other or if you’ve gained weight are free game.  However, some people might be more eager to discuss politics or the military with a foreigner to pick your brain.  You need to figure out how to answer these properly while remaining a cultural ambassador for bilateral relations.

You should also know your country to an extent.  You don’t have to be an expert in all things English/Singaporean/Canadian/American/etc.  But you should know some famous places/people/events/cultural aspects.  You might be asked to give an example of 3 things/places/people/food you recommend or would teach your students/co-workers about.  You don’t want to just list them off but give reasons why you chose them over others.  Also, please don’t just repeat the question and then give an answer.  Make all your answers fluid to the questions.

You can ask questions about the questions to get more details.  This might even help you get more points by being engaging.  Just keep in mind you are on a strict timer and don’t want to waste the entire time asking follow-up questions before answering.

Another major theme might be related to why you are applying to JET or that specific position when it is different from your background.  Not all JETs come from an educational or international relations/political background and that’s fine.  But be prepared for them to grill you on why you are applying to something outside of your field.  If you are fresh out of Uni, you will have more flexibility to go along the lines of trying new things.  They might not focus so much on this if that’s the case.  However, if you have been in the workforce for a while and JET will be a career change for you, why are you doing it?  ESID.

I come from a background heavily involved in both IR & politics and teaching.  I got grilled from both the ex-ALT and the ex-CIR about why I chose one over the other and how I could benefit from either one.

It is also okay for you to laugh during your interview.  Yes, you need to take it seriously and be professional.  However, you should try to engage your panel and make an impression on them.  If you are telling a story in relation to a question, make sure you’re smiling and, if it’s funny, laugh.  Your embassy/consulate/Japanese interviewer will probably be the strictest one.  If you get to laugh, I’d say you’re doing pretty good. 

The consulate interviewer will probably be playing devils advocate and ask you critical questions about your appearance, style, or mannerisms.  If you have tattoos or piercings, or were in the military even, they might mention more than once how you might not be able to go to places while travelling (Onsen) or be viewed differently.  You might have to cover up your tattoos and piercings at work, even in the summer, are you prepared for this?  Don’t take offence to these types of questions but think rationally how to answer them.  They are asking them for a reason.

You should also know something about Japan that interests you to input at some point during your interview, particularly if it is not super common (i.e. anime/manga).  The Japanese interviewer will latch on to any mention of Japanese history or cultural aspect you bring up.  As with your SOP, try not to mention anime/manga if possible.  If its something your heavily involved in or what got you started in Japan, it will come up.  But don’t focus on it entirely.


Additionally, if your consulate/embassy has any upcoming events, it doesn’t hurt to know them.  I had my interview on February 8th, 2019, which was the last day for interviews.  The following Monday after my interview the LA consulate was going to host a speaker event.  I came across it just a few days before my interview and realised that I knew the speaker.  While I couldn’t attend the event due to work, I mentioned it when I discussed being able to attend events in Japan from my embassy/consulate and how I could remain involved with JET/Japan after JET.  Turns out, my consulate interviewer was the one hosting/coordinating the event.  She was pleasantly surprised to hear that I knew of the event and had an interest in it.  Yay, bonus points.  It won’t hurt you to do some research beforehand.

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