Written by: Leslie Wier
One of the biggest concerns I have heard from many JET Participants regarding professional development is about post-JET employment. The job market for young professionals can be terrifyingly competitive. Fortunately our time on JET helps cultivate the kinds of qualities and experiences that employers often look for, and this is an excellent starting point. Next, it’s a matter of knowing what we want and then going after it, which isn’t always easy and requires some honest self-reflection. The work is out there, but the reality is finding it is going to take a very real and concerted effort. With some positive but realistic thinking, some action, and some resources from this article, I hope your quest to find employment after you leave the JET Program will be a resounding success.
I have found that JET participants generally tend to fall into several different categories regarding their outlook on post-JET employment. I realize not everyone will fit into one of these narrowly defined groups, and you may find that your career interests center on more than one. I myself am a Dreaming Educator, sometimes a Wishful Thinker longing for the simplicity of the Straight Shooter. Who and what you are will also change over the course of your career history, and that’s OK! As I am sure we have all learned during our tenure on JET, flexibility and adaptation are good things!
The Company (Wo)Man
The Wishful Thinker
The Professional Student
The Straight Shooter
“I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.”
There are many things that you want to do, but you are having trouble focusing on just one path that will, hopefully, lead to long-term success and happiness.
Be Realistic: You are not alone. I would like to recommend a book to you called “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. If you have read it, go back and read it again. It is very easy to feel societal pressure for instant results and gratification, particularly when our time on JET is limited. However, you should realize that one of the luxuries of your time on JET is that you have time. Use it. You do not need to decide right now what you will do for the rest of your life. Even if you do, it’s likely to change 10 years from now, and that is OK. Your time here is like an oasis in the desert—a secure position from which you can comfortably choose where to go next. If it takes you a little while to figure out, so be it. Enjoy the journey.
Be Active: Do what makes you happy. I don’t mean play video games and read comics to fill the entirety of your spare time (unless you think you can use this in a future career!). Rather, use your time productively to learn something new. As a familiar motivational quote often misattributed to Mark Twain goes, “Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” If you don’t know what you definitely want to do, figure out what you might like to do. Then, educate yourself. Dedicate yourself to being a lifelong learner, see where it takes you, and allow yourself to not be afraid of the outcome.
Key Resources: Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) from providers such as Coursera and edX as well as Open Course Ware provided by some of the world’s top universities are great and (usually) free opportunities to explore and learn. The MOOCs in particular are also a good opportunity to network with other students all over the world who have the same interests as you.
If you feel lost, reflecting in writing on your future career path can be helpful. This roadmap at Idea Sandbox (http://www.idea-sandbox.com/sfyi/jan08sfyi/) is fantastic for helping you to focus on your passions and values as a first step. Typing the key words “career planning” in your friendly neighborhood Google search box will also turn up a wealth of different planning processes to choose from.
“I want a well-paid, well-respected teaching job.”
Either prior to or during your time on JET you have realized that you enjoy teaching or have a vested interest in education.
Be Realistic: While JET does not require participants to have any qualifications specific to the field of education, if you are interested in education and teaching as a career it is absolutely essential that you, well, know how to teach. You’ve gotten some real world experience during your JET tenure, but it’s unlikely to have provided you with any long-term training or expertise. Competitive employers are going to require experience and credentials in education. If you plan to teach K-12 anywhere in the world, you will also have to fulfill certain requirements that pertain to your location of choice. Unless this is something you already have, the bottom line is, it’s back to school for you. Rarely a bad thing!
Be Active: This category has a host of job options available, and choosing which is the best for you can be daunting. Do you want to remain in Japan and teach EFL? Do you want to return to your home country, perhaps even travel to a new country, or teach a different subject? Are you interested in a different grade level or in administration? The first step is to decide where your interests and values lie, and then to research your next steps from there.
If you plan to remain in English as a Second Language, while a well-respected TEFL/TESL certification is definitely a great credential to have and is often the minimum credential required by employers who directly hire English teachers, a master’s degree in TESOL or a similar educational field is going to open many doors for you and is almost always required if you wish to work in higher education.
Once you have decided where you want to go and the role you wish to adopt as an educator, networking with other educators who work in similar roles is going to be one of your greatest assets in locating jobs and discovering what might be available to you.
Key Resources: The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) is the leading professional association for language educators in Japan. There are chapters all over the country that provide learning and networking opportunities. As the premier association in Japan within the field you are currently employed, this is an education resource you should absolutely take advantage of, even if you do not plan to remain in education in Japan or in TESOL.
The TESOL International Association also has a number of resources available to professionals looking to further their career in ESL, including a job search and directory for teaching degrees and qualifications. Check it out here: http://www.tesol.org/enhance-your-career .
For the English teaching job search in Japan, check out Ohayo Sensei (http://www.ohayosensei.com/), a highly comprehensive, bi-monthly newsletter of teaching jobs in Japan.
If you are interested in teaching or educational administration in a different country for early childhood education or K-12, you will need to research the requirements for that country. If you are unsure of where to start, check out the Ministry/Department of Education for that country and for the specific region in that country that you plan to live. You can find requirements and points of contact for teaching certification from some of the main JET English speaking countries below:
The United Kingdom: http://targetpostgrad.com/study-areas/teaching/pgce
The United States: http://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html
Here is a list of worldwide English language education associations: http://www.tirfonline.org/resources/teachers-associations-worldwide/
Another growing sub-field of education is international student advising. If you think you might be interested in the administrative aspect of working with students from different cultures in education, I recommend you also look into the National Association for Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA). The After JET Conference this year also has a great informational PowerPoint on the growing field of International Education, found here: http://www.jetprogramme.org/documents/conference/ajc/2015/International%20Education_P.pdf
The Company (Wo)Man
“I want a non-English teaching job in Japan.”
You want to remain in Japan but have decided English teaching just isn’t for you. You are able to communicate in a business setting in Japanese, or you are willing to put forth the immense effort to learn.
Be Realistic: While your ability to speak English is of great benefit to you, Japanese employers are generally going to prioritize hiring Japanese people. This means you are going to need a very specific and highly sought after skill to make you competitive. Here are some questions to ask yourself: How good is my Japanese? What do I know about the hiring process in Japan? What do I know about Japanese work culture? What do I know about the status of my career interests in Japan?
Even further, you need to be completely sure that you can handle the culture of the Japanese work environment. This means at the very least, excellent time management and stress management skills, adaptability, and cross-cultural communication skills. It’s all or nothing here, no, “I think I might be able to handle it.” You need to be completely confident that you can.
Be Active: Google is your best friend.
Key Resources: The website for the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta has a good list of job search websites to get you started, but in almost all cases you are going to need advanced proficiency in Japanese (http://www.atlanta.us.emb-japan.go.jp/nonteaching.html).
If your Japanese needs some work, you may consider looking into Genki Jacs, a very flexible Japanese language and culture school in Japan that was started by a former JET. The school has good reviews from other JETs and will even provide information to give to contracting organizations for requesting leave specifically to study Japanese. Finally, something I am sure we are all tired of hearing, seeing, and thinking about, you should take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Use it as a benchmark, a study motivator, and a resume qualification.
“Get me the hell out of here!”
You have absolutely no desire to remain in Japan or in the field of education, whatsoever.
Be Realistic: The time you spend on the JET Program will provide you with valuable experiences that can be applied across various career fields – don’t waste it. Your biggest asset is going to be transferable skills that were acquired during your JET tenure. In particular, if you are moving into a completely different career field you will need to know how to make yourself sound like the best thing since sliced bread.
If you know pretty early on that you plan to enter into a different career field, it is absolutely necessary that you start networking and developing professionally in that field even while you are still on JET. I cannot count how many times I have heard the sentiment, “JET is just like university all over again!”
You will regret wasting your time. I promise.
Be Active: One word: Resume.
“Ugh, gross, but Leslie, I don’t want to…”
Too bad. Your resume is what is going to attract employers to you. If you are moving into a different field and haven’t had the opportunity to network, how good your resume is will determine whether you will even be given a second glance. Write your resume. Re-write it. Write it again. Ask other people to look at it. Take a course on resume and professional writing. Make it phenomenal, and start now. Keep a regular, running list of your responsibilities and extracurricular activities for easy reference.
Key Resources: The Monterey Institute of International Studies at Middlebury College has produced a great list of transferrable skill sets applicable to JET participants, and it’s a good place to start: http://www.jetprogramme.org/documents/conference/crj/2012_crj/Transferable_Skill_Sets.pdf
There are a lot of creative ways to develop your resume that can make it a lot more interesting for you, and potentially more attention grabbing for employers as well. Create a LinkedIn profile and keep it up to date. Use it regularly to see what others are doing and how they present themselves professionally. And use it to start networking with people in fields that are attractive to you. Also, websites like Vizualize.me (http://vizualize.me/) and Re.vu (http://re.vu/) help you turn your professional experience into a visual, story–like representation of your resume.
The Wishful Thinker
“I want a good job in Japan that doesn’t require advanced Japanese language skills and isn’t teaching English.”
You need a new job, but you have decided that English teaching just isn’t for you and your Japanese skills could definitely use some work.
Be Realistic: Ask yourself something. Would a foreigner be able to immigrate to your home country and obtain a legal job above minimum wage without being able to communicate in the local language? I can guess what the answer is. Remember, Japanese employers are generally going to give priority to Japanese people, which means you have to make yourself stand out. Your ability to speak English helps with this, but unless you are working in some very specialized career fields, Japanese is usually a necessity.
Opportunities to work for non-Japanese employers absolutely do exist however they are going to be rarer than English teaching (and therefore very competitive) and will generally be close to the major city centers.
I recommend if you are in this situation that you be open to relocating.
Be Active: If you wish to live and work in Japan long-term and do not have an interest in teaching English, developing an advanced proficiency in the Japanese language is going to be one of your greatest assets. I realize this takes time—the reality is you may need to buy time with a job you may not be so keen on. Study, study, study. Active, consistent networking is going to be one of your greatest tools. Research both professional associations for career fields which you are interested in and groups and associations in your area that have regular and active English speakers. You may also consider looking for employment in foreign–owned companies, or embassies and consulates of English speaking countries. U.S. Military bases also employ non-military personnel. Finally, you may consider freelancing.
Key Resources: Embassy and consulate websites. Freelance and E-commerce hosting websites. Google. Constant and active networking. Japanese. You have a lot of work ahead of you.
The Professional Student
“I want to get my PhD in International and Comparative Education, and then I want to get a second master’s degree in Translation and Interpretation followed by a year sabbatical studying intensive Arabic in Lebanon. During this time, I would also like to complete a bachelor’s in Photography and…”
This may or may not be yours truly. You get the idea.
Be Realistic: In the words of Master Yoda, “Patience you must have my young padawan.” And money. Let’s face it, unless you’re very lucky and/or from particular countries that have very liberal and progressive attitudes towards education, furthering your higher education is not going to be cheap. My personal rule is, if it puts you into severe debt for a good portion of your life, run very far away.
Be Active: First you need to decide where you want to go and what you want to study—and whether it will be worth your time. You need an exit strategy. What will you do after you get that degree? What careers will it open for you? Don’t go back to school just because you don’t know what else to do. Develop a five or ten year plan specific to your professional career and determine how graduate school fits into this plan.
The work involved in choosing the right grad school and program is a full-time job, especially when it comes to making sure it will fit into your budget. There are a lot of factors to weigh in the decision—money, time, location, future career prospects, subject area interest, application requirements, etc. Carefully think about what factors are most important to you. This all requires a great deal of research – if you’re going to go to grad school, you need to get used to it.
Key Resources: There’s some good advice here (http://www.nextscientist.com/choose-graduate-school-program/) on how to choose a grad school program that is right for you.
If money is an issue and you are not able to get funding, many universities will provide part-time tuition as a benefit to full-time employees, making administrative positions in universities highly sought after. Start looking at the job-listings for universities in areas you might be interested in living.
The Straight Shooter
“I know exactly what I want to do next and how to get there.”
Get on wit’ yo bad self.
Be Realistic: Life is change and with this comes the unexpected. Always have a backup plan.
Be Active: Actively research and plan out (write it down!) your options just in case your first choice falls through. Make sure your backup is achievable and within your reach, ideally something you already know how to do or something you are passionate about. Think about how you can transfer your skills between different career options and take advantage of training and development that can also be applied across fields.
Key Resources: All of the above.
All in Good Time
Choosing the next step to take on a career path is a daunting process for anyone. You are not alone! It takes careful and deliberate reflection as well as flexibility and adaptability. However, even a single year on JET will open up doors for you that didn’t exist before. Actively search for and take advantage of opportunities to grow and learn with positivity and passion, and your path will naturally fall into place.
The After JET conference is a great source of information even for those who have decided to stay in Japan a little while longer. Check out the presentations on career and professional development from the 2015 conference here: http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/current/conferences/handouts/2015ajc.html
Finally, remember that if you remain in Japan, whatever work you decide to pursue should be in accordance with the allowances afforded by your current immigration status. Good luck!