The JET interview was something I practiced and prepared for basically every day since I found out I’d gotten one. A lot of blogs and websites have dedicated posts to nailing the interview, and they’ve got some great advice! One in particular that I’d recommend is this guide from Tofugu:
Through all your preparation and research, though, be careful not to overwhelm yourself. There’s SO much information you can find, and it can all start to run together after a while. So, to try and streamline things just a little bit, I’m going to dedicate this post to the top three pieces of advice that helped me the most during my interview.
- Be prepared to improvise a lesson
The three people who interviewed me asked me on the spot to pretend that they were my students, and teach a short lesson to them like I might if I went to Japan. According to other JETs I’ve met in Shimane, they were asked to do the same thing. To be safe, you should be prepared to improvise a lesson, too. To be clear, when I say be prepared to improvise a lesson, I don’t mean you need to prepare materials that you might use in a class. The things the interviewers are looking for with this request are:
-Your ability to think on your feet and jump into new situations
-How clearly you speak
-How you might handle a classroom
Think of it this way, your application has convinced them you might make a good teacher. Now, they want to see you in action.
When I was asked to improvise, I immediately stood up out of my chair. I asked the interviewers if there was anything specific they wanted to see me teach, or if I could just do anything. One of the interviewers said, “Act like you’re introducing yourself to a class.” So I did.
I said hello and my name. The interviewers said hello back as my “students.” I asked them to call me Ms. Laura or Ms. Payne. Then I said something brief about how I was from Oregon, and you can ski in Oregon. At this point, a couple of the interviewers pretended to be having a side conversation. Since I had been talking about sports, I pointed at these two interviewers and asked, “Do you like sports?” They replied, and then told me we could move on to the next interview question.
You may do something similar or different than I did. Whatever you end up doing, here are some important things to keep in mind:
-When you’re asked to improvised a lesson, stand up. Jump right into it
-Speak slowly, clearly, and with simple English. Use hand gestures while you’re talking
-Engage your “students” wherever you can. For example, saying, “Hello,” or “Good afternoon,” and having them reply, or asking simple questions. And if it looks like your “students” are starting to space out, bring them back to the conversation
No one’s expecting you to teach a long, complex lesson. They just want to get an idea of what you might be like in a classroom. Show off your communication skills!
- Prepare, but don’t over prepare
There are plenty of blogs and websites that give examples of questions the interviewers might ask. This is nice, because it helps you to think about the questions beforehand, and prepare an answer. However, be careful not to be completely rigid in how you answer. I once read a blog post by a JET interviewer that explained when this can be a problem.
In this post, the interviewer explained that he had asked a question like, “How would you represent your home country in Japan?” The prospective JET being interviewed answered something like, “The three things I would bring to represent my country would be…”
The question, “What three things would you bring to Japan to represent your country?” is a question that has been asked in interviews before and might be asked to you. However, it might not be asked. The interviewer in this case hadn’t asked what three things this interviewee would bring. The question was more general than that. The interviewee didn’t notice this before they answered, though, and gave the answer to a slightly different question.
When I was preparing for my interview, I took note of questions I would most likely be asked. I came up with answers, but I didn’t strictly memorize my answers. For example, I thought it was likely that the interviewers might ask me how I would handle someone in Japan asking me something like, “Are all Americans fat?” I came up with a plan to answer that question in a way that was calm and informative.
When I did the interview, I was asked, “What would you do if a coworker asked you, ‘Do all Americans have guns?'” I changed my answer so that the details were different from what I’d prepared, but the overall tone was the same. What the interviewers really wanted to know with this question was how I would handle myself around awkward questions or situations. The important thing wasn’t to have a perfectly crafted answer, but to give an answer that would show the interviewers that I could stay collected.
This said, when you do the interview, the best thing to do is not to memorize all the potential questions interviewers might ask and memorize an answer for each one. The best thing to do is be prepared for the most likely questions, listen carefully when the questions are asked, figure out what the interviewers want to know about you with each question, and then tell them what you think they should know about you.
- You don’t have to answer right away, and be prepared for a Japanese test
Before you answer any question, it’s okay to take a few seconds to think about your answer. This might work to your advantage, actually, because it shows the interviewers that you’re thoughtful and deliberate. Taking your time can also help with your nerves. If you’re like me, you may have a tendency to stumble over words. When I did my interview, though, I made a point to think for a second after each question so I could put my thoughts in order before I spoke. This helped my answers to be much more eloquent. Make sure not to take too much time before answering each question, though!
Also, during the interview, you will probably be asked some simple questions in Japanese to gauge your language skill. When this happens, don’t worry if you don’t understand a question. Testing your Japanese is just a way for you to gain a few extra points with the interviewers, and they don’t expect you to be perfect. They just want to get an idea of how much you can communicate in Japanese if you’ve said you’ve studied it.
In my interview, the interviewers started my Japanese test by asking me what time I woke up in the morning. They asked me a couple more questions after that. The questions gradually became more difficult. I barely understood the last question, so I asked them (in Japanese) to repeat it. I still didn’t understand, but I tried answering anyway with what little I had understood. Honestly, I don’t think I answered correctly at all.
It’s okay to ask interviewers to repeat a question. It’s okay to answer if you only think you know what they asked. It’s also okay to tell them you’re sorry, but you don’t understand. Once I finished my interview, I wished I had just said I didn’t understand the last question. I thought pretending I knew the answer when I didn’t understand would work against me, but it turned out okay. The point of this is, just try your best and the interviewers will see it.
To close, good luck with your interview! You’re definitely going to be nervous, but if it helps, remember that your interviewers are human. They’re expecting you to be nervous and expecting that maybe you’ll make a few mistakes. But as long as they can tell you’re doing your best, you’ll be okay. Some interviewers are former ALTs themselves, and so they understand the position you’re in. Just be genuine, be prepared, and be excited for everything you’ll get to do if you pass this interview.