Goodbye JET and Hello Future

Farewell JET and Hello Future!

So you have decided to say farewell to JET.   Congratulations on your decision!  I would like to share a few words of practical and professional advice for those packing up, preparing to find another job or pursuing further education.

Start planning now:  The next six months will go by faster than you think. If you don’t have a plan already, you might want to begin to think about what you want to do and what you need to do before you finish your time on JET.  Similar to when you were applying for colleges and thinking about dream schools and safety schools, consider thinking that way for what you want to do after JET.  While planning for your dream job, you may have to take a job that is not perfect, but is the step in the direction you want to go.  Or there simply may be a job that is just a job to pay the bills.  And that’s life.

Start saving money and budgeting for the future:   Goodbye JET salary. Goodbye reasonable Japanese healthcare.  Goodbye JET housing subsidies.  As all of you already know, JET is a pretty sweet deal.  It might be a good idea to have a nest egg saved because when you leave JET, oh how the money will burn away….quickly.  If you have some debt, try to pay if off before returning or begin to figure out how much you will need monthly when you return home.

Start packing:  All of us came here with just one or two tightly packed suitcases that were thoroughly measured and weighed countless times or one frantic time at the airport just minutes before your departure to Tokyo.  But none of us will leave with just one or two tightly packed suitcases.  In a matter of a year or several years, you have probably acquired a few things like the following:  more clothes, more shoes, more books, skis, a guitar, a ridiculously long katana sword, souvenirs from your travels, etc.  And before you leave, be ready to get all kinds of farewell gifts.  So once winter passes, it might be a good idea to pack up and mail back all of your winter belongings along with any sentimental paraphernalia from Japan.

Start cleaning:  Maybe you are a clean freak.  Or maybe you are afraid of soap and water.  if you are the later, it would be great to leave your Japanese apartment or mansion in a clean and orderly state.  Why?  Other than avoiding cleaning fees from your contracting organization, it is the considerate, responsible and thoughtful thing to do for your successor.  It is not fair to leave a mess for you successor in the middle of summer after he or she has  just arrived and is about to begin the rollercoaster ride of living in a foreign country.  So when your successor says “ただいま” for the first time, let it be a good first impression of their new home sweet home.

Rebrand your online image: So you need to find a job or you want to get an advanced degree?  While JET provides a lot of opportunities to have fun, Facebook  and other websites provide a lot of opportunities to share your experiences with the world.  So, you might want to delete or hide those pictures of Friday night’s party that are plastered all over Facebook now.  If you think potential employers don’t do informal background checks, guess again.  If you think an online post may detract potential employers, it might be a good idea to de-tag or delete that post.  At the very least, you can change your security settings.  On a related note, it might be a good idea to set up a Linkedin profile and begin professional networking before you actually leave Japan.  You can let people know in advance of when you are returning home and what kind of work or program you are looking for.  The people who know you the best can help you the best.

Market yourself:  So as JETs we sometimes say, “  My job is easy.” or “I have nothing to do.” or “I get paid to play with kids and to be an entertainer.”  There is truth in all of these statements.  I know there have been times when I questioned my role after a day of studying Japanese at my desk, playing sports with kids, playing the flute in a gym, cooking banana bread with kids, etc. I have asked myself, “ This can not be considered work can it?”  For some, the work we do is not always quantifiable or it may not be considered “legitimate” in some circles.  While our job responsibilities may not always be challenging, not everyone is willing to do what we do.

I argue these are some of the things you have gained from participating in the JET Program (in no particular order)

1.  Patience:  It takes patience to work in a foreign environment.  It takes patience to work at multiple schools, with multiple teachers and to find a nice equilibrium of working relationships.  It takes patience to listen and to communicate in a foreign language all day.  It takes patience to learn a new language.  It takes patience to do things that you don’t always agree with, but as an ALT (and possibly CIR) you must do because it is a job responsibility.  It takes patience to participate in a closing ceremony, opening ceremony, graduation ceremony, entrance ceremony and other ceremonies.

2.  Cultural sensitivity and awareness:  Whether it was an easy transition or a daily struggle, all of you have learned about the Japanese way of doing things like: classroom management, problem solving, conflict resolution, heating buildings, etc.  Whether you liked what you experienced or not, you learned to think differently and about a new perspective.  You learned to communicate with people from different cultural, social and linguistic backgrounds.  Considering many of you experienced living and working in multi-ethnic environments before JET, these cultural experiences on JET potentially translate to being more culturally flexible and capable of working in more diverse work environments.  And thus, potential employers see this as quite beneficial!

2.  Observation and active listening skills:  This may seem trite, but the ability to watch and to listen carefully are great skills.  By now many of you can pick up on subtle mannerisms and different forms of body language that are common in Japanese society.  Plus, half of every conversation is listening.  Since many of you came to Japan with limited or no Japanese language skills (I came with virtually none) you learned to listen and to watch.  So how does this translate to getting a job?  You are probably better at mirroring the people around you than before being a JET.  You probably can “read the atmosphere” better now than before being a JET.  You can probably identify the critical words in a Japanese speech better now than before being a JET.  All of this means you are better at solving problems and fitting into a work group.  And while interviewers look at competence and professional background, they also ask this question:  “Can I imagine myself working with this person?” or “Will he or she be able to fit in and to learn in this work culture?”

Tips for your resume

Include any volunteer activities you participated in.  Were you a part of Shimane AJET or National AJET? Were you a Tokyo Orientation Assistant or a Shimane Orientation Assistant?  Did you present at the Skill Development Conference?  Did you volunteer in the Tohoku region or abroad during a vacation?

Quantitative:  How many teachers did you work with?  How many classes did you teach weekly?  How many schools did you visit?  How many lessons did you prepare?  Even if the numbers are estimates, its good to let employers know how many and how often.

Japanese language skills?  Did you pass any level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?  If you haven’t done so yet, you might want to sign up for the JLPT and take it this summer just to show potential employers that you have put in the time and acquired a certain level of language skills. If you won’t use Japanese for the job you are applying for after JET, it really doesn’t hurt to share that you passed N5, N4, or N3 of the JLPT. I personally wouldn’t include if you passed the JET Programme Japanese Language Course because it isn’t a course or test that is recognized internationally.

Did you complete any TESOL or TEFL certifications or any other certifications while a JET?   If so, you may want to list it depending on the job you are applying for.

Did you initiate any classes in your community? Cooking class?  Eikaiwa? Movie club?  Sports clubs?  Something else?

Other tips:
If you are applying for jobs while still on JET, be sure that the verbs are in the present tense and all other verbs for previous jobs are in the past tense.

Be sure to write out acronyms in resumes and CVs at least the first time the word is being used because potential employers probably won’t know what JET, ALT, JTE or TEFL refer to.

If JET is your first job out of college and you need/want to make your resume longer, consider including an objective statement, volunteer section and a language section. Keep your resume no more than one page in length.  Remember that the person reading your resume will be looking at hundreds or thousands of resumes.  Sometimes less is better than more.

When listing your responsibilities and accomplishments as a JET Programme participant or any other previous employment, be sure to list no more than five points. Really think about what you did on JET and summarize those accomplishments into at most 5 points.

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