I initially thought I didn’t have much of a chance of making it in the JET program. God obviously had a different plan, and I am now on my second year teaching in Japan. But before I got here, I was just like you, browsing the internet for suggestions on how to make my application stand out. The following tips are mostly gleaned from my own experience. I have added things on here that I remember searching for online but couldn’t find when I was putting together my application.
The essay is important! The essay is probably the most important part of your application. They are looking for enthusiastic individuals. If you can communicate a sense of enthusiasm in your essay those are major points in your favor! As with many other jobs, they are looking for someone who is open minded, a self starter, eager to learn, gets along well with others etc. Shine that in your essay. Also notice the word “exchange” in the acronym JET. They are looking for people to promote internationalization. Add your intentions to internationalize with others during your time in Japan and exchange cultures. Lastly, ask some trusted individuals to proof read your essay. Their feedback could make or break your essay!
Teaching experience and working with young people are more important than Japanese language skill. I was really worried that my lack of speaking Japanese would work against me. It didn’t. I think my teaching background scored me points and not to mention it really helps me on the job here in Japan. If you are looking to apply to JET in the future, start volunteering, get a job or do something to get that experience of working with the younger generation.
Your experience working with others from different countries counts! If there is time before you apply, get involved in some kind of international club or organization. If you haven’t already, make friends from different countries! You don’t have to start when you go to Japan, start right now in your home country and make your application look even better for JET. (It’s also very fun!)
Help the people writing your letters of recommendation. I learned a lot from this process. First of all, it really helps your professor (or whoever) if you give them the final copy of your essay. It gives them ideas on what exactly you are applying for. Giving reminders to them also helps. A quick email, or a short phone call is fine. Not a day before you need it either! Also, most professors wouldn’t object if you gave him or her a list of the major things you have accomplished, your GPA, etc. to help write a more effective letter. It will make life easier for everyone!
Be honest about your medical issues. I have several health issues, and was worried it might lower my chances if I put everything down. I am truly thankful that I was honest on my application. I was placed in an apartment that is a two-minute walk from an English speaking doctor, and a 15-minute walk from the town’s hospital and emergency room. Who knows where I would be if I hadn’t been honest about everything.
Be honest with yourself. I have experienced teaching in America, and have substitute taught every single grade. I knew I preferred working with junior high and high school students over elementary school students. If I was completely honest with myself, I know I wouldn’t be happy doing full time elementary for an entire year or more. So, I checked that I didn’t want to be considered for elementary. As a result, I am working only in junior high schools and am very thankful I was true to myself. Maybe you love working with elementary kids, but that is not my point. Remember to be honest with yourself and think about what you can handle for at least an entire year.
Know that you might not get your first choice for placement. I have heard too many stories of how people are placed the exact opposite of where they requested. Unless you pick some area where hardly anybody wants to go in the first place, don’t get your heart set on it! I just put no preference.
Follow directions. This may seem obvious, but I’m serious. I know the directions may sometimes seem a bit meticulous in an American lens, but looking back on it, I think it was possibly my first taste on Japanese culture. Place all your documents in the exact order, and do everything like the picture on the checklist. An old friend of mine who was in charge of hiring (not for JET, another company) gave me some good advice. She told me that she didn’t even read applications that didn’t follow directions. It is an easy way to validly filter out a bunch of people. I am not positive that JET does this too, but please don’t take that risk! Take the time to follow every direction! Even if it seems silly or optional!
I hope that gives you some tips on how to make your application a little stronger, and even a more likely candidate for the JET program. Of course always remember that these are all my opinions and nothing beats carefully reading the current up to date directions on the application website. Please disregard any of this advice if the actual source tells you otherwise! Good luck!