The Application Process
Now that you’ve decided the CIR position is right for you, it’s time to prepare the application, which will be available in late September/early October 2011 for the 2012-13 departure group. The application will be due in mid-November 2011. (Check here for last year’s deadline, which should be updated soon.)
This article is based on my experienced in the 2008 (2009 departure group) interview. Please follow the guidelines on the JET website for the 2011 (2012 departure) application, as they may have changed. Please keep in mind that the interview structure may also have changed.
1. Start now. You’ll need [updated] 2 letters of recommendation; I asked a Japanese professor from my summer language program and the student advisor of my graduate department, with whom I had also worked during my part-time job at the Center for Japanese Studies. Professors are going to be busy at the start of the school year, and the letters will be due before midterms, so ask early! (Of course, if you have relevant work experience, you may also ask a non-academic employer.) Start outlining a statement of purpose, too–your reference writers may want to know more about your background or outside experiences. This was true in my case, as I did my BA and MA at difference schools.
2. Play to your skills and experience. For my statement of purpose (2 pages), I highlighted the combination of my educational experiences and my pre-professional experiences. In my case, these included studying abroad in college; advanced Japanese coursework, with summers at Middlebury Japanese School; and my M.A. candidacy. For my pre-professional experience, I had interned at the Japan-America Society of Colorado and worked as a student assistant at the U-M Center for Japanese Studies. I was also involved in volunteering for both JASC and CJS.
Most of the CIR applicants will have a B.A. in Asian Studies or a related field, 4 years of college-level Japanese, and one study abroad experience. However, CIRs are a diverse bunch–many CIRs studied abroad in high school, worked with outreach programs, did research in Japan, or speak other languages besides Japanese and English (or one’s native language). I happened to have an MA, but most CIRs do not, and post-graduate work is definitely not a guarantee that you will get this job. Why do your skill sets and experiences set you apart from the rest, and how will they help you as a CIR?
(Note: if you are an undergrad considering applying for a CIR job in the future, now is the time to do internships, volunteer, and go above and beyond your language coursework!)
3. Ask someone at your current or former school to help with your statement of purpose. Schools with Japanese language programs and Asian Studies majors tend to have someone who knows about JET recruiting. In my case, the Student Services Coordinator at my graduate program was kind enough to help me edit my statement of purpose.
4. Have a mock interview. The head of the Japanese department at U-M was a former JET interviewer and ran mock JET interviews, and she generously fulfilled my request for one. Ask around your Japanese and Asian Studies departments to see if there are any former interviewers who will help you.
What to wear
- If you do not own a suit, now is the time to get one! This is a formal interview, so a formal black or grey suit is best; avoid suit separates if you can. Your dress shoes should be black or brown; if you are wearing heels, keep them low. I wore a light grey pantsuit with a navy button-up dress shirt, a pearl necklace, and black shoes. Men should wear ties. Your suit should be clean, ironed, and fit you.
- If you are on a student budget, try TJ Maxx or other discounted overstock stores or consider borrowing a suit if you are on a very tight budget. My Ann Taylor suit cost me $60 total, and a relative hemmed and tailored it a bit for me. As a CIR, you’re going to need a good suit anyway, and if you decide to go another route in your career, you will probably need an interview suit for that path, too.
- My general advice is to be neat, clean, and professional. Keep your jewelry to a minimum, especially piercings, which you should probably remove if possible. If your hair is long enough to be pulled back, a neat ponytail or bun will be good. If you have facial hair, trim it neatly. For women, light makeup is fine. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I (still) look very young, so I wore subtle makeup to try to make myself look more professional.
- Posture: sit up straight—this alone will help you look grown-up and confident. Don’t hunch your shoulders, and don’t cross your legs. Eye contact is important, as is smiling. Remember how excited you are about this job!
1. While the ALT interview focuses on the the applicant’s teaching skills and plans for the classroom, the CIR interview has a portion in Japanese to test your language proficiency.
The following is based on my experiences in 2008 (for the 2009 departure group). Be aware that the style may have changed since then.
I was asked to read aloud and then to answer questions about two news articles, which were provided for me. One was short, like a quick report, and one was longer and a bit more in-depth. Afterward, I was asked general content questions (“What was the article about? What did the report find?”) and opinion questions (“Do you think that need-based scholarship funding should be expanded? Why?”). To practice, go to The Asahi, The Mainichi, or The Yomiuri Shinbun and try reading articles aloud. The articles did not use very specialized language–I didn’t need to become an economic expert overnight–but having skills with reading for content and knowing the meaning and pronunciation of words was important. Another tip is to study for (and take) the N2 in preparation for this job, since the Japanese level needed to work as a CIR is about the same.
2. For the English portion of the interview, I was asked more about my background, why I thought I was qualified for a CIR position, what I wanted to do as a CIR, and how a CIR position would aid my future career. In my case, I was also asked how I would integrate myself into the community, especially if I received a rural placement (which I did); what kind of problems I thought I might encounter (loneliness, isolation; which I did) and how I would cope with them and help others cope with them (which I did); and about how I would react in certain situations at work.
3. The JET experience is meant to contribute to cultural understanding while you are working as a JET and to jump-start a career that will continue to foster good relations between Japan and the US. In addition to being asked what you can offer the Program, you should consider how JET will help your career and your future involvement in your home country’s relationship with Japan.
4. A difficult question for a CIR interviewee is “If you were offered an ALT position instead, would you take it?” This question is tough, because your committee really does want to know whether they should consider you for ALT work if you’re better suited to be an ALT rather than a CIR. Keep in mind, though, that, as a JET coordinator friend of mine once said, “An ALT position is not a condolence prize.” Don’t apply to be a CIR hoping you can get an ALT job out of it.
It’s a tough call, so think this out before hand and be sure to have a good reason. There’s not a wrong answer–if you think you could also be an amazing teacher, too, then be honest; if you want nothing to do with teaching (good luck on that, most CIRs end up doing some), then be honest and tell the interviewers. It’s not a trick question.
5. Prepare questions of your own: Ask intelligent questions. You don’t want to ask questions that are explained on the JET website, of course, but one of your interviewers will be a former CIR. I believe I asked my interviewer about how his experiences as a CIR figured into his post-JET and current career.
6. Thank your interviewers for their time. I believed the three of us bowed and shook hands, so make sure you’ve got a good grip and a proper bow.
Stay tuned for Part 3: Life as a CIR!