The Interview

The fact that I passed the application stage of the JET Programme was quite an accomplishment for me because that meant I was a step further than I was the previous year.

But it also caused me plenty of new stress. Now I actually had to meet them face to face and show them why they should pick me. Now I knew that if I was rejected after this point, it would be because of me, not because of some piece of paper.

I received my interview notification last January that I would be interviewing in Denver in nearly a month. Of course the nerves didn’t really hit until the day of, and my mind was racing on the drive down to Denver and later in the office.

The Panel

The JET interview was panel style. My panel broke down like this.

  • First there’s someone who works for the Consulate. In some cases it might be your future JET Coordinator. Mine was a Japanese woman who I believe was playing the role of ‘bad cop’; she kind of glared at me the whole time, and never smiled.
  • Next there a JET Alum. The one on my panel was a former CIR who actually went to my university. She was being the ‘good cop’; acting friendly, smiling, and telling me it was okay when I stumbled on a question.
  • Last was a member of the local Japanese community. His role seemed to be ‘no talking cop’. He smiled at a couple of my answers, but stayed relatively quiet.

The Interview

After the panel members introduced themselves, they started to ask me questions. They each had a copy of my application in front of them, and as near as I could tell a list of questions. All the questions I was asked are out there on message boards like, so none of the questions really surprised me.

The criteria for JET is so freakin’ vague, it’s hard to say what they’re looking for. But I do think the main thing they want is to make sure you’re not going to freak out and quit. It’s why half the medical questions on the application are depression related. Many of the question I was asked were related to how I would handle being in a foreign country so different from my own (in other words: will I freak out?).

My questions (as best as I can remember):

  • Tell us a bit about yourself and why JET.
  • What would make you a good ALT?
  • What if your JTE only uses you for a “human tape recorder”?
  • I see you applied last year, what have you done to better prepare yourself for JET?
  • What are some issues facing Japanese-American relations?
  • What if your house has no heating?
  • How would you handle isolation?
  • What three things from your hometown would you bring to Japan?
  • Why have you requested this particular prefecture/region?*
  • What three American movies would you show Japanese teenagers?*
  • How would you get students interested, especially if they have no reason to learn English?
  • What would you teach the students about art? (my major)
  • How would you use art to get students interested?
  • What if you are invited to get a beer after work?*
  • Do you like karaoke?
  • Did you consider studying at Kansai Gaidai? (the university my school had a program with)
  • Do you have any questions for us?*

I was asked the question about my placement request because I put Kagawa as one of my preferences. I have two friends placed there, which is why I requested it, but in JET’s eyes, this is not a good reason. I tried to spin it by saying I know some people there (didn’t specify they were JETs) and therefore I will have a support network in place, and also some b.s. about getting ‘the real Japanese experience’. If you get this question try to think of a more “international” reason like you studied there, you have a Japanese penpal there, or your city/state has a ‘Sister City/State’ affiliation with that prefecture (apparently they love that kinda crap).

I completely bombed the “3 American movies” question, it was ridonkulous. I over-thought it (How old are the kids? What if the movie was made in America but is about a different country?) and as a result my brain just blanked. I got through it, but I would definitely think about these various “3 things” questions.

For “beer after work” question, I said that I would go, and that answer was the most favorable response I received. Even the “bad-cop” widened her eyes a little bit.

I don’t think I did too well on the “do you have any questions for us” question, because I only asked one question. In retrospect, I would have tried to direct one question to each panelist.

And given Japan’s lack of central heating anywhere, I now conclude the “what if your house has no heating?” question is a trick.

My tips to you

As I mentioned before, I believe the main point of the interview is to test for the “freak out” factor; they have to invest a lot in each JET participant and don’t want anyone who gives off the slightest hint of “this person might go home for Christmas and never come back.” When asked a hypothetical, I think it’s good to recall a story where you faced a similar situation. Emphasis you’re up for any challenge.

In addition to that they’re looking for your “genki” factor; that chipper, excited, happy disposition that will win you over with plenty of Japanese kids (and might make you feel like a big phony, at least it does me sometimes). Definitely remember to smile.

Like I said before, the panelists take on roles. Most accounts of JET interviews that I have read recall there being a “bad cop” who doesn’t smile and asks the tough questions. It’s important to remember it’s not you, that panelist is being that way with everyone, so don’t take their lack of emotion too seriously.

I also wouldn’t sweat the more “trivial” questions, like in my case the question about current events. It’s not a bad idea to check out the Asian-Pacific section of BBC news or something, but I’d scan the articles at best. You don’t need to prove yourself an expert in all things Japanese, just that you’re interested.


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