Top Ten Tips from the JET Returner’s Conference

Attendees at the 2011 Conference for Returning JETs (Photo credit: Dan Moeller) 

NOTE: The reference numbers following each paragraph refer to footnotes at the end of the article.

by Dan Moeller

For some of us, we’re currently packing up (mentally) and getting ready to be shipped back into the oh-so-inviting economy of our home countries. I’m sure the recent Returner’s Conference in Yokohama loomed in a lot of returning JETs’ minds as a great opportunity. The problem is that attendance was limited to 500 participants and not everyone had the time and money to attend. For me, the round-trip shink fare and hotel were enough to cause me to get all my meals at a nearby konbini. It’s a shame attendance to this conference is such a burden; it was a three day professional bonanza chocked full of important career tips, interview and resume help, as well as all-around guidance. It’s a great thing I have an outlet like the Wide Island View to let everyone in on ten golden nuggets I garnered from the event. Drum roll please…

10. Microsoft Word – Take Word off your resume. Knowing Word these days is like knowing how to breathe! No one is impressed by simple word processing skills anymore and, in fact, such skills are generally expected. What is important? Skills that are directly applicable to the position you’re applying for. If you’re shooting for that Times journalist position that opened up, it would be relevant to mention you know your way around Adobe Premier and most video cameras, and that photography has been your hobby for the past ten years (assuming that you do really know these skills).  (ref. 6)

9. Required Experience – Don’t vote yourself out of a job because you don’t meet the “2+ years experience” requirement. The position description includes all the desired traits of an ideal candidate. People are hired that don’t meet all of the requirements. The question now becomes why are you qualified. Explain what sets you apart from the next applicant in your cover letter/email. Surely, your JET experience counts for something more than “experience teaching large groups of uninterested and/or shy students whose progress left something to be desired.” Hint: I’m not going to work this one out for you.  (ref. 4)

8. Japan Stories – “Oh no! Here comes another one of [insert name here]’s Japan stories!” If you haven’t heard this yet, you will. It’s very alienating going back to your home country with a brain bursting full of years of experience in Japan with no one to really listen or understand the comments and stories you want to share. You can suppress the stories and general Japan reflection in a way that silences it forever. Or, you can find outlets – local AJET groups, travelers of the world, friends with experience abroad, etc – to cultivate your Japan memories into something I like to call “growth.” Inevitably, you will meet people with mindsets not yet exposed to some of the enlightenment that we have unconsciously accumulated over the years. These different mindsets may vary from odd biases to stark racism. The solution is to breathe, take your time, and answer thoughtfully.  (ref. 5)

7. Volunteer – It’s a giver’s game. The time you put in on, for example, the board of the local AJET team will surely be noticed and rewarded in some sort of holy/karma/pay-it-forward occurrence. Really. This could mean just getting your name out there, paired with a little “I give my time to the community” line on your resume. This could also mean bumping into your future reference for landing your dream job at the embassy. Also, the experience can be priceless, and is most always transferable.  (ref. 1,4)

6. LinkedIn – Get a free account. The effort put into building a profile is quite minimal compared to the exposure, references, networking, etc.  You profile is a virtual business card and can be linked anywhere (even your resume and email signatures). Also, considering your future employers will be perusing your page be sure to include any of your (professional) websites and/or websites you have contributed to. LinkedIn is also a great resource to ask for an informational interview from an employee of a company you’ve had in mind. This is as simple as a 15 minute chat over a cup of coffee (which you sprung for, of course) while you barrage this person with all of the questions you have about this company. This person may like you enough to run your resume to his boss. Wait, did you forget your resume?  (ref. 1,4,6)

5. Internet Dirt – 45% of employers use social media sites to research job candidates. 35% of those employers found reason not to hire said candidates. Don’t be a part of this statistic. Do an extensive Google, Yahoo, and/or Bing search for your name in all its forms. Clean up your Internet dirt before you begin your job search. It would be a shame to be wholly qualified for a position and then not get it because of those pictures of you and your drunken buddies throwing slabs of meat at the beer pong losers in the frat house basement (although there was a perfectly reasonable explanation, I just…can’t…remember…it). Don’t think that something of yours can’t be found online. It would also be advantageous to begin monitoring your comments and tweets.  (ref. 1)

4. Flat Lining Resumes – How can you shock them back to life? The first method is qualitative. Google “resume action verbs” and you’ll find a plethora of websites listing these strong words, search-able by category. You will find words to help you say exactly what you mean, but in a gripping tone. The second method is quantitative. Which is better: “Started English club and pen pal system” or “Founded weekly English club involving 25 students and 10 teachers; initiated 50 student pen pal exchange program with three schools in Mexico”? Surely you were much more interested in the latter description. Finally, be sure to list anything that you have done or achieved as the “first, youngest, only, or best” to do so.  (ref. 2,3)

3. PAR – It is a good idea to already have thought about your answers before being questioned at an interview. Hop on Youtube and catch up on some of the numerous interview question videos available. Of course, practicing these questions implies that you know and can reference your resume with ease. The PAR (Problem, Action, Result) comes in handy when the interviewer hits you with a tell-me-about-a-time-you-encountered-a-tough-problem question. This is the time to wax about your problem solving history. “I was having trouble with the TPS cover sheets so I invented an email system that bypassed it. All eight of my bosses commended me on my good work and I was elected employee of the month.” You should have three to five of these experiences memorized to some extent (although I’m having trouble rounding up three from the dusty corners of my brain).  Ganbatte! (ref. 2)

2. Your References – When you hear “your references” I’m sure you have two or three candidates in mind. Stay in touch with them! You should communicate with them more than just the email asking them for the reference letter. Maybe you haven’t talked to them in years. Find out what recent papers they wrote. Are you sure they remember you? Shoot them an email catching them up on your current life. Ask about theirs. Tell them why you loved their lecture on “The Mating Habits of Earthworms.” The point is: a busy professor will not drop what they’re doing to help a student they can’t remember. If you’re looking to beg a Japanese colleague whose English is not perfect (or not present at all) it seems the best way is to write it for them and let them review it and sign it. (ref. 1,3)

1. Walk Me through Your Resume – This is a very common line used by interviewers. They are testing if you know your facts and if you can really sell yourself with a good attitude. Although you should give them an ascending chronological account of your education and experience, don’t just spout out what they can read from the document in front of them. Bring life to your resume. You should make it seem as if every action was a choice you wanted to make (rather than a friend’s suggestion that seemed slightly better than your current job at the time). I chose “A education” and learned “B skill,” then I chose “C job” and gained “D experience,” etc. Every action should shoot right into the next step up until now, in which this position/grad program is the next logical step. (It is the next logical step, right?)  (ref. 2,3)

I hope you give these suggestions some thought and put some to use. My information comes from these conference presenters (please peruse their helpful sites!):

1. Ryan Hart – Kibble & Prentice Sales and Communication Services Coordinator

2. Vince Ricci– VincePrep Founder and Owner

3. Leah Gowron– Monterey Institute of International Studies Director, Alumni Relations and Annual Fund

4. Jim Weisser – PBXL Inc Co-founder and CEO

5. Adam Komisarof– Associate Professor at Reitaku University (thoughtfully, slowly)

6. Justin McCurry – Guardian Correspondent

4 thoughts on “Top Ten Tips from the JET Returner’s Conference

  1. Haha, when I took the photo (on my cellphone) the flash sound made like three people turn around and give me weird looks. Is there anything else you especially learned from the conference?

  2. God… I am totally “that guy” with the Japan stories at my new job…

    I just can’t stop comparing the group of Elementary School kids I teach all day to those five years of teaching Elementary School kids in Japan…

    They both have cute uniforms, they both speak a language I don’t understand (ok, sometimes they break out the Spanish), they both get served a school lunch I really can’t eat…

    Ahhhh… kids.

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