Monday, February 21, 2005

Advice from a JET interviewer

Yesterday was my first experience sitting on a JET interview panel, and it was interesting to see the inner workings of the selection process. Since this will probably be my last time interviewing (I'm going on an extended stint abroad in April), I thought it couldn't hurt to share some of the things I observed.

The panel was composed of myself (JET alumni), a semi-retired International Relations professor who recruits for other exchange programs, and a career Japanese diplomat. We each filled out evaluation forms and averaged the scores, although other panels might have handled their scoring differently. It was pretty easy to reach a consensus on who passed, who would be an alternate, and who failed the interview as some were obviously outstanding while others we were uncertain about.

As for the weight of the interview, while it is true that Tokyo makes the final decision, it is rare that they go against the opinion of the reviewers/interviewers.

A couple of weeks before the interviews we were sent a packet giving us an idea of what JET was looking for in interviewees. We based our questions on the application form, and essay. I mostly asked questions about approach to teaching and cultural adaptibility issues, the prof asked questions about knowledge of American and Japanese cultures, interests, personality issues, etc. The diplomat did the Japanese language quizzing and asked about perceptions of Japan, its education system, etc. There is no set format for the interview - we asked different questions to each interviewee, at our discretion - so there is no way to "cheat" on the interview. We did some role-play, we asked some current events questions, we even threw some left-field questions out there just to see how the person would react.

Here are some pointers:

- SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY. It is an almost automatic fail if the native Japanese speaker cannot understand your English.

- SMILE. While you don't have to be super-genki, a glum/nervous disposition means many points off.

- DON'T EXAGGERATE - it's better to say no Japanese than say you speak japanese and then can't do a basic introduction. Another thing I noticed is that some people wrote about interests or experiences on their application that they were not able to explain very well in the interview. This looks bad.

- BE INTERESTING - some people seemed to be reciting things they had practiced in front of the mirror at home. Others seemed more genuine and gave thoughtful answers to our questions, even if they weren't the "correct" answers.

- KNOW SOMETHING - we were disturbed by the fact that some people had very little knowledge of current events, American history, or Japan. Some expressed an interest in Japan but had seemingly done very little to pursue that interest other than applying to JET.

That's all I can think of right now. We passed 6 out of the 10 people we interviewed, with a couple possibly ending up as alternates. I was impressed with the level of applicants; there were no truly bad interviews, just some that were obviously better than others.

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