Interviewing

So you’ve finally gotten through the paperwork, essays, and letters of recommendation. You’ve waited the month and a half it takes to hear back. You finally find an email telling you that you’ve been selected for an interview. Now what?

Keep in mind that it is hard enough landing an interview. Though it’s hard to find actual statistics on this, it’s said that only about half of the people who apply even get to the interview stage. Of the people who get an interview, about half of them are actually able to go on the program.

It’s ok to be relieved to have gotten this far, but don’t let your guard down. The interviewing stage really is make or break. You can look good on paper, but in reality the JET Program is more concerned with your personality.

So here is a breakdown of what I did to prepare, as well as some mistakes that I made that you can learn from.

Before:

One of the first things I did when I knew I had the interview was I set up a meeting with one of the Japanese professors at my school. I had let her know beforehand I was applying and she agreed to help me practice with a mock interview.

We tried to make it as legitimate as possible. I showed up in a suit and we treated the situation as if it was the real interview. Afterwards, she gave me tips on my weaker answers and notes on my stronger ones. I was able to review this information and use it when I was rehearsing some of my answers.

Another way I prepared was by going online and simply searching for questions they asked in previous interviews. Even though I wasn’t expecting to get those same questions asked to me verbatim, they allowed me to get my thoughts flowing and I was able to strengthen some of my answers. You might even find more details about the interview that doesn’t relate directly to questions, such as how the room was set up or what the demeanor was of the interviewers.

I did not do this as much as I should have, but I tried to get friends and family members to ask me interview questions as well. While these were not as professional or taken as seriously as the mock interview I had with my professor, it is important to get various perspectives, especially from people who don’t really know what to ask. They might come up with some unexpected questions that will really make you think about how you’re presenting yourself, and they will be more honest with their feedback.

The preparing stage is not so much about predicting what questions they will ask so you can repeat a prepared statement, but rather it’s about thinking of the program in a new way and learning how to come up with answers off the cuff.

During:

No matter how much I told myself I wouldn’t be nervous, I still got nervous for the interview.

As I’m sure you know by now, the interview starts from the moment you walk into the room. There was someone working for the consulate there, as well as another aspiring JET waiting on an interview. I tried to be as friendly and confident as possible, mainly to reassure myself.

It is pretty nerve-wracking to be sitting around waiting for them to call you into the room, but it’s easier to calm yourself if you’re starting conversation with the people around you. It’s also nice to air out your thoughts slightly before the official interview, so you won’t be busy trying to recall everything that you planned when you get inside.

One thing is for sure: the interview is tough.

I’ve been on a lot of interviews in my life for all kinds of jobs. I was a business major and we often practiced interviewing in class. This interview really threw me off.

From what I could tell, the interviewers are trying to see how you react under pressure. This isn’t completely unusual, as most interviews are set up like this. But in my case, I was sitting on the opposite end of the room in just a regular chair. Nowhere to hide.

They asked a bunch of questions that related directly to my application, especially things from my Statement of Purpose. It’s a good thing I didn’t lie about my qualifications, because I would have been screwed.

One thing that especially struck me was the fact that I barely got a reaction out of anyone. Usually, when I’ve done interviews, I can usually gauge how well I’m doing based on the expression of the interviewers. In this case, there was nothing. No smiles, no frowns… I was lucky to even get a slight nod out of these guys. It was a tough crowd.

In addition, it’s important to remember that the people who are interviewing know good and well that people post their interview questions online and that many of the people who are interviewing have studied what to say. Don’t expect them to read off a list of questions that you can find from a quick Google search. They know better than this. Don’t even expect them to ask you basic questions to get you to elaborate on your resume. It is more likely that they’ll throw you a curve-ball where you think you know what they’re going to ask, but the actual question catches you off guard. That’s how it was with me.

As for the Japanese questions, these also took me by surprise. I (stupidly) didn’t practice beforehand because I knew that they were just bonus points, but when it came around to it, these really messed me up. Not because they were that difficult, per se, but because I was asked a couple of questions where I wasn’t sure about some vocabulary, and fumbled around like an idiot trying to respectfully ask the interviewer to repeat the question in Japanese. The embarrassment of royally screwing up a section that should have been easy left me shaken for the remainder of it.

Overall, I believe that they just want to see how you react in unfamiliar territory and under pressure. Considering you’re going to Japan for an entire year by yourself, they don’t want someone who will flake out last minute or will schedule a flight home when things get tough. If you can’t handle a high-pressure interview, then how do you expect to handle living in a foreign country for a year, dealing with situations that are always subject to change?

I have a few suggestions for those who will be interviewing. The most important is to stay excited. Show your enthusiasm for the program, as well as Japan.

I took some less than great advice, which was to not focus too hard on expressing how interested you were in Japan. The argument was that it was implied that everyone who is applying for the JET Program is interested in Japan, so by talking about it, you’re not really setting yourself apart.

This is somewhat true and somewhat not. If talking about Japan makes you excited, I recommend going on and talking about it. I tried to avoid talking about how much I loved Japan and instead focused on things that made me unique. While I think that was important, I feel that I was missing the enthusiasm that they were looking for. Rather than showing how excited I was for the chance to go back to Japan, I instead tried to downplay my enthusiasm. Because of this, I feel like I was a lot more boring than I intended to be, just because I was too focused on playing it cool.

I know this is easier said than done, but I also recommend not letting their intensity get to you. While it wasn’t an oppressive atmosphere, there were times when I was letting it get to my head that no one was responding to my answers in the way I was expecting. They took a lot of notes, and there were times when I tried to fill the silence by adding unnecessary details. This was a mistake, and I think it revealed how nervous I was.

Last but not least, I definitely recommend knowing your application inside and out. Know what regions you prefer and why. Know what clubs you said you are in and think about questions they might ask that would be related to these clubs. Small details that you might have included in your Statement of Purpose might stand out a lot more than you were expecting, and you might be asked about something you completely forgot that you included.

The application is describing your qualifications on paper. The interview is about showing them what kind of person you are.

It’s not enough just to be qualified. You must also have the personality they’re looking for. Your extensive knowledge of Japanese history does not count for much if you’re not the type of person who can handle dealing with kids.

After:

 

When the interview is over, it’s over. That was your last big chance to impress them, so there’s no sense in mulling over the parts where you messed up.

Leaving the consulate, I was pretty embarrassed. I screwed up a lot of the answers I had given and I wished that I had practiced more, or at least was more creative with my answers.

Now that I am able to reflect on my interview, I feel like I understand where my personal mistakes came from.

I went into the interview a bit too overconfident. Because I had been studying the program for so long and had experience in Japan, I felt like there was no way they could say no. The second they started asking questions that forced me to think creatively, I was humbled. Being jarred like this probably affected the rest of the interview and made me appear as more nervous than I was.

Some of my answers were too safe. I can’t imagine many places where I set myself apart because I was too worried about giving the “right” answer. They interviews tons of people, all of which are qualified for the position. You want to show that you’ve got something that no one else has, and I don’t think I was able to properly show it.

My body language also wasn’t great. Because the room is designed to make you feel vulnerable, I think I subconsciously presented myself as more reserved than I usually am.

I was more focused on making myself seem impressive rather than showing that I was enthusiastic for the program. The application you submit online was where you were proving you were qualified. The in-person interview is where you prove you’re the right personality.

I think all of these reasons are why I was placed as an alternate rather than shortlisted outright. I was upgraded fairly early on, so I feel like I was close to the top of the list of alternatives, but even so that’s not the preferred place to be. It added a couple extra stressful weeks onto my life, and I could have ended up waiting a lot longer.

This is my personal situation, and obviously not everyone is going to run into the same experience as I did. But if you’re going into an interview for the JET program, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes a little, or at least have a better idea of what to expect before you walk it.

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