Tips for the JET application: Part 3

As I lurk the message boards and see everyone frantically trying to get their materials together and asking questions about every little thing about the JET Program application, I am trying to think of more tips, and really only one come to mind.

Tip 6, Take all advice with a grain of salt: Okay, maybe not all, but at least 90% of the advice you’ll find online should be taken with a grain of salt. You see, since JET’s application process is so long and involved, it has this way of making everyone who has made it onto the program (and even people who didn’t) instantly think they’re experts on all JET matters. It also has a way of giving these new “experts” an undeniable urge to go online and dispense advice to JET hopefuls. All these people have may have good intentions, but that doesn’t mean their advice is sound. JET message boards and blogs are often a hodgepodge of conflicting information, half-truths, and downright falsehoods with the occasional facts and good advice sprinkled in.

So how do you separate the good advice from the bad? I say the best think you can do is consider who you’re hearing the information from.

JET Program Coordinators
Should you take their advice? Yes (most of the time)
In the last couple years, I’ve noticed an increased presence of program coordinators on message boards which I think is a great thing for JET hopefuls as they can clarify a lot of the misconceptions of JET and the application process. However it does make it clear that even within JET, some parts of the program are still a bit of a mystery and still vary greatly from country to country and even among consulates in the same country. I’ve also seen some of the coordinators dispense advices that’s based on their own personal preferences or pet-peeves about JET applicants and not based on anything official.

Current and Former JET Participants
Should you take their advice? Sometimes
Trust me, becoming a JET Participant doesn’t mean you get a book with JET’s selection secrets. You’re not told why your application or interview was better than others, or why you are placed where you’re placed. Just when you’re ready to say “I think this factor and that factor are very important to JET,” you’ll meet a JET who doesn’t fit the profile AT ALL. All a current/former JET can do is say “This was MY experience, and you may have a similar one or you may have something the opposite.”

Aspiring JET Participants
Should you take their advice? Um . . . probably not.
Seriously, every year I see a few know-it-alls dispensing advice on Statement of Purpose or how to chose their placement preferences and then I see they’re applying for JET as well! Aside from basic grammatical advice or general application advice, an aspiring JET who’s pretending they know anything about the JET selection process, well-intentioned as they may be, is usually doing more harm than good.

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So you’re applying to JET again

or “Tips for the 2nd time JET Program applicant”

*note* This post is for people who are applying to JET again after an unsuccessful attempt. If you have done JET and wish to do it again, check out the comment section.

It’s about that time again; the JET application is out soon and people are getting ready to subject themselves to the tortuously long process of applying to the JET Program on the promise of being to whisked away to the exotic land that is Japan. Many JET applicants will be bright-eyed first-time applicants, likely in the final year of their bachelor’s degree, having no reason to believe they won’t get the good news in April that a few short months after their graduation, they will be heading to Japan!

Then there are the 2nd time applicants, you know who you are. You sent in your carefully reviewed application last fall, were reasonably confident you would be selected over the multitude of ya-hoos that apply to the program, and then failed to get an interview. Maybe you still lurk around the message boards, filled with rage and/or sadness as you wondered how on earth all these people got in ahead of you. Maybe you flirted with going to Japan with Interac, or one of the eikaiwas. Never the less, here you are, planning to apply again.

The good news is you’ve already been through the whole application process, which does give you a leg up in some regards. But there’s probably plenty of room for improvement, here are a few tips. Continue reading

Tips for the JET application: Part 2

A continuation of my tips to JET applicants.

Tip 3, You have more international experience than you think: On the application, there’s several sections were you fill in your teaching, international/inter-cultural, and Japanese experience. Do you best to write down something, anything in these sections. You might have a lot of experience in one area, but writing down 10 things in the international experience section isn’t going to make up for writing nothing in teaching or Japanese experience sections.

The first time I applied, I had nothing in the “Teaching” section, but the second time I put down that I volunteered with ESL students (I only did it for a month) and was a lab monitor for three semesters (I determined that talking people through computer and printer trouble every time I monitored qualified as “tutoring”). It might have just been the thing that got me an interview that second time.

For those worried about lack of international experience, you can list pretty much any time you’ve stepped foot outside your country as international experience. If you’ve barely left your home town, try to think of anything cultural you’ve done. Did you host an exchange student? Take part in an international fair at your university or in your town? Attend French club regularly, or even semi-regularly? Write it all down.

Don’t worry if your “international experience” isn’t related to Japan at all. As I wrote in the JET FAQs, international experience is going to show you’re adaptable to different cultures, which is arguably the thing JET wants the most from a participant.

By the way, if you have some related event planned and it’s happening after the app due date but before the interview dates (like an int’l fair in December, or a trip abroad over the holidays) I’d go ahead and write it down since it will be applicable come interview time.

Tip 4, Statement of Purpose; Ask not what JET can do for you: All you really need to do in this 2-page double-spaced essay is talk about your experience and why you’ll make a good JET. Sounds easy in theory, but in practice this is probably the most stressful part of the application. And I did it twice. Here are some quick tips:

– Don’t talk about your love of Japanese pop culture: If you have some nice story about how you meet a Japanese exchange student who liked the same anime as you and that lead to a lasting friendship, put it in. Otherwise it’s best to just avoid mentioning Anime, Manga, Visual Kei, whatever. Some might say that if an anime is what got you genuinely interested in Japan, you can mention it, but the JET app reviewers already know Anime/Manga is most people’s first encounter with Japanese culture.

– Ditch the flowery language: This isn’t an Ivy League Dissertation, it’s an essay for a job where you’ll stand front of 14-year-olds and try to get them to pronounce “month” so it doesn’t sound like “mouse”. Your SoP should show you can communicate well, so keep your writing clear and concise.

– It’s about them, not you: Of course you should talk about your qualifications and what you hope to gain from being on JET, but don’t forget to talk about what you can do for them. When you’re done with your first draft, go through and see if you can’t eliminate a few I/Me/My’s. Also check the “what I’ll gain” verse “What JET will gain” balance. Do you have a whole paragraph about what you want to gain from JET but only one or two sentences about what you’ll do for JET? Try to even that out

Get someone to proof-read it: This should go without saying (you should get someone to proof-read your whole application, actually). Get a couple opinions; I recommend you ask someone who doesn’t have anything to do with JET or Japan just so you can get an outside perspective. If you get two or more opinions, you’ll probably get conflicting advice, so that’s where your good judgement has to come in.

(2nd time applicants) Don’t completely scrap last year’s SoP: If this is your 2nd or even 3rd time applying, you’ve already put a lot of work into an SoP, so why start from scratch? Dig out that old SoP and read through it. Cross out the weak parts and circle any passage, sentence or even just phrases you feel are still strong. See if you can’t incorporate that into your new essay. Of course re-reading your old SoP might just reaffirm you want to write a completely new essay, and that’s fine too.

Tip 5, Chillax: Hey, I was there (twice): reading and re-reading my application, revising my essay, triple checking that I had everything in the right order. Really what I needed to do was relax, take a break for a day or two from the app and do other things. You don’t get bonus points for sending in your application early, so take your time. Print out the check list and maybe have a friend go through the papers with you, making sure everything is there.

Once you send it in, it’s out of your hands. Don’t re-read your SoP because you’re likely to find a typo which will just cause you stress. Don’t second-guess your placement requests or the way you worded your international experience. Really, just try to forget about the whole thing until January.

And so ends my tips (for now). As I said before, I don’t mind answering any questions, so please comment.

Tips for the JET application: Part 1

It’s October, which means the application for the 2011 JET Program will appear, and hundreds will start crawling the internet looking for tips and tricks to making their application stand out. As someone who went through the application twice, I thought I’d offer some word of wisdom.

Please keep in mind that I’m not any kind of JET insider and don’t have any secret info about the application process. I can only base this on my personal experience and stories I’ve heard from fellow JETs.

Tip 1, Get your sh!t together: The JET website already has a list of documents they want you to send with the application. Get going on this now, especially transcripts from study abroad (if you did). If you haven’t graduated yet, you’ll need some sort of “intent to graduate” form. My university told me to print out some BS thing online, and though I have no idea if that cost me an interview my first time applying, it probably didn’t help. Tell them you need a letter on university letterhead with a seal or signature from the registrar.

Tip 2, Your placement requests don’t matter (until they do): I’ve met plenty of people whose requests were Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto and still managed to make it on JET, so no, requesting big cities won’t earn your app an automatic trip to the round file. However if you get an interview, it’s very likely you’ll be asked why you picked a particular city or prefecture, so have a good reason for picking that place (or come up with one by interview time). Good reasons are: Did homestay there, hosted a Japanese person from there, your home town has a sister city/state relationship with that city/prefecture, your Japanese significant other is from there (by that I mean spouse, being engaged sometimes doesn’t cut it).

While I don’t think requesting a big city is gonna count against you, you can look at the data yourself (in the JET pamphlet) and see how likely it is you’ll be placed there. There’s 9 JETs in Tokyo (they ain’t in Shinjuku either, most of those JETs are on a tiny islands hundred of kilometers from Tokyo Bay), there’s also only 9 in Kanagawa-ken. Many major cities use private ALTs exclusively, so if you really have your heart set on Yokohama, JETs probably not for you. You might think you’re more likely to get your first choice if you choose a less “popular” prefecture, since not so many will request it. Not necessarily; I had a friend who requested Fukui, then ended up on Shikoku.

It’s just not worth stressing over placements since the Contracting Organization’s preferences (they can request that their JET be a certain gender and nationality) will take precedence over your requests anyway. Some towns always request a JET from a certain place because of sister city relationships, some placements are meant for couples, or for JETs bringing children.

So, pick wherever you want, try to have a good reason for that request, but be open-minded because they’re gonna place you where they place you. Or you can just not write down a placement request at all.

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So there are your first couple tips. Come back soon for advice on what to write for international experience, and the dreaded Statement of Purpose, spooky!

I’m more than happy to answer questions, so please leave a comment if you have any!