You require triplicate versions of the paperwork, collated (without staples! Hear me? NO STAPLES. UNLESS IT SAYS TO STAPLE IT!) and presented in a certain order. I have a theory, and this borders on conspiracy, that your ability to collate papers and follow instructions to a T is an aspect of your “ability” score.
But even if it isn’t – pay attention to detail. Scan every page for small print informing you about how to present the form. Read every question before answering. Don’t answer questions that it asks you not to answer. Don’t skip them, either!
Do feel free to use additional sheets of paper when the application lets you do so. The more you put down, the better off you’ll be, so don’t skimp just because the form doesn’t let you get it all down. If you are worried that maybe the experience is sort of relevant but maybe not? Write it down. Let JET decide if they are going to consider it. Don’t sell yourself short.
The Placement Preferences Conspiracy
The application asks you to rank regions where you could be placed; it also asks for vague preferences like “rural” or “urban.”
An area of considerably widespread Internet panic is this idea that you won’t get accepted if you say you want a large city, or if you request a popular destination, because so many other people want that destination, too. This is nonsense. Say exactly where you want to be placed. This information is used only AFTER you are accepted to the program, and it is used by the ministry that places you – not the ministry that accepts or rejects you.
Now, do I know this for a fact? No. But neither do anonymous internet trolls. But let’s consider it rationally: The placement process is long and arduous. Going through the placement process before deciding on accepted applicants is insane. Furthermore, Japan is not going to punish talented candidates who request Tokyo just because everyone else is requesting Tokyo. They’ll simply assign you somewhere else.
Now, you might be placed into competition for large, popular cities – Tokyo, Kyoto/Osaka, etc – with a lot of people who want the same location. And if your application score isn’t high enough, you will definitely be placed somewhere else. And if you haven’t selected somewhere where you are top ranked: You might not get any of your three choices. However, you won’t be rejected from the program at that stage.
The same goes for your requests concerning rural or urban placements. Be honest. Sure, you may be asked why – and don’t disparage the alternatives – but that won’t weigh against you, unless your reasons involve sociopathic pastimes.
That said, understanding this system, you may be tempted to be strategic. That would mean making your first choice a city or region that is interesting to you but less interesting to someone else, in a bid to make sure you get your second choice. This kind of stuff is questionable, and I think that so few people get their first-placement preferences that you may as well just shoot for the gold and see where you land.
If you think you have holes in your application score, you might want to cut out the competition for Tokyo and Kyoto (etc) just so you have more options listed on your preference sheet. Perhaps request a prefecture nearby – with trains, you can get anywhere easily. But if you have good reasons to live in Tokyo or Kyoto, and you think you have a solid application and will get a top score, don’t hesitate to reach for the stars.
On Taking Anti-Depressants (or having other medical conditions)
This question might seem out of place or far too personal for a job interview. The fact is, though, the JET Programme’s worst fear is that the people it hires from abroad will “break contract,” which leaves schools in a bind. Schools without an ALT are severely inconvenienced when somebody leaves, especially since ALT hiring season comes just once a year. If a JET leaves, the school may hire someone privately – and then, that may lead to the JET Programme being locked out of that school for up to five years or more.
So this question is really asking: Are you going to get so depressed that you leave Japan?
The fact is, plenty of people have said yes and have gone on to get JET positions armed with bottles of Zoloft. If you need to handle this in your essay do it, but don’t feel you have to. If you’re asked, the key point is to stress that your depression did not interfere with your responsibilities. If they did – there’s no reason for the JET people to know it. Have a story in your pocket about something you accomplished in spite of your depression, just in case.
I suggest resisting the urge to explain yourself for depression or any other medical conditions in the SOP, unless they tell a story showing why they should hire you. Focus on your positive contributions, because the anti-depressants or requiring medications will not be a big deal unless you make your entire application about your experiences with depression or illness.
On Bringing a Significant Other
You can apply for JET with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but unless they get on JET, that significant other (SO) can’t actually work unless they earn their own visa. And without that visa, there will also be restrictions on how long your SO can stay. For Americans, a tourist visa is easy to get – just show up, and preferably have a ticket showing you plan to leave within 90 days (though that isn’t strictly required) – but you’ll need to renew it after 90 days, which means leaving the country and coming back. This is by no means guaranteed, either. Immigration can deny your re-entry if they think you’re abusing the tourist visa.
On top of that, working – and even looking for work – is technically illegal on a tourist visa.
So when JET asks you if you are bringing your SO, you’d better have a plan ready: Will s/he live off of savings? Telecommute to a job at home? Be careful and do your homework. Make sure you have a plan that actually works.
If you are married, it’s a different ballgame. Married partners of JETs can earn spousal visas which allow them to work part-time, or at least, to stay in the country. If you’re married, you’ll still want a plan, but it’s not as crucial for winning over the JET Programme. An unmarried partner, on the other hand, will raise questions, so just be ready: How will you support yourself? What will your SO do with their time?
A Note About Mentioning Manga
Internationalization is important. This basically means the exchange of cultures between you and native Japanese people. It means having something from your own culture that you can share with them.
This is why a lot of “otaku” kids – who love Manga and studied Japanese for 17 years and brag about how long it’s been since they’ve watched a movie in English – often don’t get into JET. It’s not because JET doesn’t want people who speak Japanese (they love people who speak Japanese) or people who love Japan (they love people who love Japan). It’s because these kids make the mistake of writing about Japanese culture instead of about themselves. I haven’t seen these essays, but I bet that a lot of them were doing the famous “nice guy” thing: “But I love Japan sooooooo much! You have to let me in!”
It don’t matter how much you love Japan, man. Japan’s gotta love you.
Now, I’m not saying that loving manga is an instant rejection. That’s a rumor that floats around the internet all the time, and I’ll tell you why: Because a large number of applicants for a teaching-in-Japan-program are interested in anime and manga. That’s a given. And many of them are going to be rejected.
Why? Because talking about manga in a sea of manga-loving applicants doesn’t set you apart. Having the largest collection of manga is less interesting than what you’ve done with it. Did you start a manga club in university? A blog or message board? Did you self-publish your own manga when you were 17? Did you study a specific aspect of manga in university? That stuff will make you stand out. Absolutely mention that.
JET cares about what you do, not what you like. You can get into JET and admit to loving Naruto and Pokemon. You just probably won’t get into JET if all you have to show for it is a weird condescending attitude toward the Powerpuff Girls.