At some point in each person’s life, one has to find a job. Finishing JET requires a next step. If it’s entering work, be prepared to have a tough, but winnable battle ahead of you. In the Washington, DC area, there are many government agencies, businesses, non-profits, etc. that are looking for new talent. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that the area is also incredibly competitive. The articles below discuss ways to get ahead in the employment race.
- Finding Your Way – Jobs
- The JET Experience and Finding a Job
- Avoid Dread – General Job Searching Tips
- Survey Summary – The Job Search
Be patient. That is the single best piece of advice I received when I returned from Japan. Finding a job in any economy can be difficult, and we are still in a “recession”. Landing a job may take months. Don’t get discouraged. Enjoy your time back in America. Below is a list of things that may help you find a job, network, make friends, or keep you busy. They are tips, organizations, and ideas. Just know, you are not the first, nor will you be the last former JET looking for a job. There are thousands of us out there, many of whom have been right where you are.
Travel. (I know you just got back, but you have the time now…who knows when you’ll have the chance again!)
Visit family and friends.
Do something you’ve always wanted to do…short term, or follow a passion you’ve been cultivating.
Join JETAADC. (And come to the events! It’s a great opportunity to network!)
Reach out to friends from college. See what they’re up to!
Join a DC “Social League” (Kickball, Frisbee, Softball, etc).
Keep your LinkedIn page updated! Employers use it…make sure it’s up to date.
Although the favorite JET maxim “everyone’s situation is different” still holds true when it comes to post-Japan employment, there are some strategies that may help you to use your recent experiences and skills to connect into jobs, both with obvious and unexpected ties to your time on JET. I have been working in higher education since my return from Japan, starting as an assistant at a major research university with strong Asia connections then as a K-12 outreach coordinator and undergraduate student advisor. In my work, I deal with people from many fields and backgrounds that are looking to connect to Asia, and some advice I share with them is below.
If your Japanese is at a higher level, you might find it useful to attend one of the national or regional job fairs such as the Boston Career Forum (http://www.careerforum.net/event/bos/?lang=E) or work with an agency like TOP (http://www.top-us.com/) that seeks candidates for bilingual Japanese-English positions around the U.S. You may also want to look into companies that are owned by Japanese conglomerates – ask around or contact your nearby Japan-America Society (http://www.us-japan.org) to see if they have corporate members with Japan ties. This may also be helpful if you have a Japanese spouse looking for U.S. employment.
Many JET returnees find that they enjoyed teaching more than expected, and they may be looking for opportunities in education, whether as a K-12 teacher, staff at a nonprofit organization, or even working at libraries where you have the chance to influence the public’s perception. If location is flexible, consider looking for any of these characteristics:
- Location in an area where Japanese is taught in public/private K-12 schools – if your Japanese is relatively good, you may want to be certified in foreign language education, or you may want to teach at a district where international studies is a part of the curriculum.
- Nearby museums, foundations, libraries, or other organizations with ties to Japan or Asia – you may be able to find internships or other opportunities while enrolled in school.
- Presence of well-known grants in the region, such as U.S. Department of Education National Resource Centers (http://www2.ed.gov/programs/iegpsnrc/index.html), National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (http://www.nctasia.org) sites, or endowments that promote Japan/Asia activities or support graduate students via scholarships/fellowships in a large variety of majors and professional school programs.
- More than a few faculty who work on Asia in some way – this will mean more conferences, lectures, and events that will allow you to network.
For any line of work, your JET experience can be a great way to reference the skills you developed overseas, even those not related to education. My first job interview after returning was at a hospital, where I highlighted my ability to deal with sudden schedule changes, staff and clients from different cultural or language backgrounds, unexpected occurrences, and taking responsibility for my own work. Even for careers with no obvious connection to Japan, being one of the few employees with international experiences can be a huge boost to your resume, and you might mention in your cover letter that your work overseas has given you a skill set that you want to take full advantage of at the position advertised.
It’s a tough situation many people are facing – finding employment. Job seekers from entry-level to high-level management are having a hard time getting jobs and keeping them in the current economic climate. It is very easy to get depressed while job-hunting (trust me I know!) but very important that you do not let it overtake you. A positive attitude does wonders for how you approach job hunting and how you come off to potential employers.
There is a lot of information on job searching out there – the information below, JET publications (do not throw out all those handbooks you’ve been given!), and your university’s resources are all excellent and reliable places to start learning.
- Where to Start?
- Informational Interviews
- Cover Letters
- Should you take the job?
- Remember . . .
First, get organized and create a plan! What do you want to do? What is attainable with your current experience and skill set? One of the biggest hurdles in job searching is not knowing what you want! This can lead to an aimlessness that can hinder a successful job search. Try to discover what you really enjoy doing and/or are really interested in. Then, research what is available for you and how to approach it. Utilize connections, books (I’m fond of What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles), online resources, etc. to find companies in your industry, job titles used for your level, possible plans of attack, etc. If there are a few industries you are interested in, that’s ok. Research and apply for jobs in all of them.
While you are researching and applying you may find that getting the job you really want is taking longer than expected. Do not panic. Having a job, and therefore an income, can be more important than having the job. There are some options while you continue to apply for jobs.
- Get a temporary or part time job.
- Join a temp agency (if you are interested in a certain type of position, e.g. IT, do some research and find a temp agency specifically geared towards it).
- Volunteer with an organization/industry you are interested in.
All of these activities a) give you more experience, b) let you utilize and create skills, c) provide connections, d) allow you to experiment in a specific industry/field, and most importantly, e) can lead to something more permanent. You can also use the time to gain attainable skills that will help you land a job, such as language or computer skills.
Now for a very important topic – making and utilizing connections. Your success at obtaining a job is not wholly dependent on your great skills and wonderful experience. Who you know is a vital part of job searches and in the current job market this fact seems to hold more and more weight. Networking is key! Networking does not mean you’ll meet someone at a happy hour, chat about your similarities, and they’ll offer you a job (although anything is possible!). Networking is about utilizing the knowledge of others to help you navigate through industries and learn about opportunities. It is an excellent way to get an informational interview, a name of someone you can contact in a company you’re interested in, ideas for where to look for openings in your industry, advice about where/how to start in your field, simple encouragement and much more.
Of course in this day and age, making connections in not all about meeting up with people face to face! The power of connecting online is an important key to networking (and a great way for those who aren’t as comfortable with happy hours, etc. to successfully network). Today, LinkedIn is used for everything from new graduates perusing entry-level job openings to major companies choosing new CEOs. A basic account is free on LinkedIn and upgraded accounts with more options are available for small amounts. Take the time to learn how to set up and work LinkedIn and please note that there are more elements/functions to it than are obvious at first.
Suggestions for utilizing LinkedIn to the fullest include:
- Choose a “Professional Headline” that covers as many bases as possible.
- Post a professional picture.
- Keep your resume up to date.
- Create a summary/story about what you have accomplished – think in terms of results not responsibilities and how you can help people (responsible tooting of your own horn encouraged).
- Join 15+ groups and have 125+ contacts.
- Be found! Throw questions out or answer them in your groups, start and join discussions, send articles and opportunities, etc.
- Remember this is not the same type of social network as Facebook and Twitter – always stay professional.
Don’t know where to start? Join the JETAADC group and your college alumni group and connect to friends and people you already know in your fields of interest. Then expand out. Of course, LinkedIn, while currently the most used networking site, is not the only online option. Networking is a great way to find about other such sites that will be useful to you.
Whether networking in person or online, the most important thing is to stay in touch with those you’ve connected with and to keep moving forward! Every so often check in with that person who gave you a name of a friend in the industry you’re interested in. Maybe they have another contact or excellent tidbit of advice. Also, connect with that friend you were told about. If that person then gives you a name, connect with that new person, etc. And of course, in the world of networking return favors by helping those who you can!
An informational interview is a meeting in which you request general advice about an industry or career rather than seeking a specific job. Informational interviews are a way for you to gain knowledge. They are about learning, not selling yourself – that part of the job search comes later. When asking for an informational interview, make sure you indicate your connection with that person – whether you met at a networking event, know a friend of his/her who suggested you make contact, or you received his/her name from a specific alumni or other group. Always remember, you are asking for a favor! Be polite and clear in your invitation. Ask for a specific amount of his/her time and offer to meet him/her at work or a coffee shop/other informal setting, as is best for him/her.
These interviews are an amazing source of information if you prepare properly. Think about what you want to know – about a specific position, about the specific organization, about the industry in general, ideas where to find job listings, what specific skills you need in the industry, hints on what is most important to succeed at a specific task or in general, etc. You are the interviewer and you want your interviewee to talk about him/herself! Have a ready-made list of questions you want to cover in order of what is most important to you. Each person will want to ask different questions, but here are a few to start thinking about:
- How did you get into this work?
- What is a typical day like?
- What are the frustrations? What are the rewards?
- What type of education/skill set is necessary for the position I’m interested in?
- What are the opportunities for advancement?
- Do you belong to any professional organizations? Should I join now?
- Do you see my international experience as beneficial in this type of organization? If so, how?
- What is the potential for the industry? What will growth be centered on?
- What are the typical job titles in the field?
- How much flexibility do you have regarding dress, working hours, vacation time, and place of residence?
- If you were starting again, would you do anything differently?
- How would you advise I go about looking for an entry-level job?
- What is your biggest impact in your position? What is the company’s biggest impact?
- If you were hiring someone at this time, what would be the most critical factors in making your selection?
At the actual interview, make sure you are dressed appropriately – there are dressing tips in the Interview section below. If you are meeting him/her at a coffee shop, you don’t need a suit, but remember to stay polished and modest. Also, be prudent about time. If you asked for 20 minutes, do not go over unless s/he indicates it’s okay. Bring a copy of your resume, but do not have giving it over be the goal of the interview! S/he may ask for one, or you can politely ask him/her if s/he is interested. At the end, ask him/her if they have any suggestions for others you can talk to. Afterwards, make sure you send a thank you note!
Your resume is a way for a potential employer to quickly see the education, experience, and skills that you have to offer. Its purpose is to convince them to learn more about you. A resume answers the questions “Have you?”, “Can you?”, and “Will you?” It allows a potential employer to know who is a good candidate for the position.
Everyone has different suggestions for resumes, but there are certain things that stay the same! This is a brief description of your experience and abilities – it should be one page. If you need to fiddle with fonts and margins to make this work, do so within reason and make sure you save/send it as a pdf so the formatting does not get changed. Also, the style of your resume should be the same throughout the document. Feel free to incorporate bold or italics to catch the eye of the reader.
It is important to use the correct types of words in your resume. If the reader is sorting through hundreds of resumes, there is a chance that they will take 30 seconds/resume, focusing on the first word of each bullet point, so make sure you use action verbs and do not keep using the same ones! You can easily find lists of good resume action verbs online. Also, when appropriate, try to incorporate items from the job description into your resume. Do research and learn what language is used in the industry – keywords are very important. In fact, some larger employers use a computer program to identify the best candidates by searching out keywords in resumes that match the organization’s requirements. A resume should focus on what you have accomplished so use specifics and as many numbers as possible. Many JETs will list language skills. Be accurate with your level. If a job is dependent on language skills they will test you in your interview. Japanese, as well as many European languages, have an examination system. State the test you passed as your language level. Or, if you did not take something like the JLPT, take a look at the Foreign Service language level descriptions. However you describe your language level, be very wary of the term fluent!
While it may be easier to create a single, awesome resume and send it out every time you apply, it is more effective to “cater” your resume to each specific job. How do you do this? Create a “master resume”. This is not something to send out to potential employers, it is a way for you to save time but still individualize your resumes to different jobs. In your master resume, you keep a standard format but you do not worry about space. List all your jobs and experiences and, using your action verbs and numbers wherever you can, describe what they entailed with bullet points (or whatever format you’ve chosen). Be thorough. When you go to apply, think about what is most relevant to the job. Copy and paste the most related jobs/experiences from your master resume in a new document. Choose the bullet point descriptions that best fit the job description specifics – a general rule is 2-5 bullet points/job in your application resume. If you need to change an action verb here and there to avoid repetition or include a key word, do so. Then, edit and proofread multiple times. In the end you’ll have a resume worthy of being sent out for a specific job.
The types of information included in a resume are fairly universal –identification information, educational background, experiences, skills, etc. You can arrange this information in different ways, however. A chronological resume lists your jobs, internships, volunteer work, etc, in a time line and is great for people who do not have a lot of experience or experience that is not too varied. A functional resume focuses more on areas of expertise and defines your skills in reference to a specific area. It’s good for people who have a more extensive or diverse work history or who may want to come back to a field they have “taken a break” from.
Below is a resume template reworked from a University of Chicago Career Advancement Services and Resources pdf.
City, State Zip Code
Institution, City, State
Degree, (expected) Month Year
[Note: Include GPA, class rank, or any other exceptional academic honor that might inform employers of your scholastic achievements.]
EXPERIENCE [Note: If doing a chronological resume list most recent first; if doing a functional resume use 2+ headers of specific types of experience, e.g. Education Experience, and list jobs underneath appropriately]
Organization, City, State
Title, start Month Year – end Month Year [Note: you can bold your title or your organization – whichever is more relevant/important and switch which is on top, but be consistent and keep the location with the organization] * Describe your experience, skills, etc. in bullet form
[Note: Include bulleted description above. Start with action verbs describing your skills and include details that will help employers understand your accomplishments, skills, knowledge, personal characteristics, and experience level. Include quantity, frequency, or impact of your work whenever possible. Consider answering the following questions to help you write more effective bullet points but do not use sub-bullets in the resume; longer descriptions may lend themselves to using sentence fragment/paragraph style instead of bullets:
– What did you do? What were the results of your work?
– What were your accomplishments?
– How did you help the organization? What impact did your tasks have on your colleagues, your department, or the organization as a whole?
– What did you learn? What skills/knowledge did you enhance?
– How does this experience relate to your internship/employment goal?]
ACTIVITIES, COMMUNITY SERVICE or LEADERSHIP [Examples of descriptive headings]
Title, Organization, City, State, Dates
[Note: This section can be formatted exactly like your experience section or you can omit a description. If this section’s experience is more relevant to the type of work you’re pursuing, consider putting it above experience.]
[Note: List computer, language, and any other technical skills you possess. Other types of skills (e.g., communication skills, organizational skills) should not be listed, but rather incorporated into your descriptions above.]
If a resume is a way to let a potential employer know what you have done, a cover letter is a way to let them know what you can do for them. A cover letter is an advertisement. It should explain why you are a great applicant. How do you fit the company? How do you fit the position? How are you unique? Represent your accomplishments, professionalism, individuality, and passion in relation to the job to answer these questions. Tell a story, giving an example of your greatest success and how it relates to the job you are applying for.
Remember, your cover letter is often the writing sample a potential employer uses to judge your writing skills. Take the time to be thoughtful about what you write and edit carefully! Watch the number of times you use “I . . .” to start sentences. Avoid generalizations. Write formally but naturally – stilted prose is not the way to get an interview. Also, it is better to use the active tense and avoid –ing endings when possible. It is of utmost importance that you are very careful if you are copying and pasting. Do not address the letter to a different company than the one you mention in the body!
Even though some copy and pasting may occur, make sure you do not send out generic cover letters. Each cover letter you use should be written for the specific job application. If you want to create a “master cover letter” similar to your “master resume” to save time, do so by having a list of specific examples of when you accomplished x. Think about what is often required in the types of positions you are applying for when deciding what stories to have on hand. When the time comes to apply, wisely choose which example from your master cover letter best fits with the job (but be prepared to write something completely new if nothing from your master cover letter is the right fit).
Below is a cover letter template reworked from a University of Chicago Career Advancement Services and Resources pdf.
Your street address
City, state and zip code
Mr./Ms./Dr./Prof. first and last name of person
Position or title
Name of organization
Street address of organization
City, state and zip code
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr./Prof. last name of addressee:
- Give the person a reason to read on. Give an overview establishing your qualifications, interest, and cite the position.
- Do not start with “My name is…”
- What’s important to mention? In general, experience in the field if you have it.
- If someone recommended that you write to a specific person, start with his/her name; for example, “Mark Smith recommended…”
- Mention the reason for writing to that company/organization if the reason is compelling.
- Do not say that you are the ideal candidate if you cannot prove it.
Second (and Occasionally Third) Paragraph:
- Elaborate on your qualifications in the context of the position—you can mention relevant jobs, courses, etc. Keep in mind the job description.
- Stress what skills and attributes you have to offer. Identify those parts of your experience (paid and unpaid) that will be of interest to the employer. This can be done in either one or two paragraphs.
- What’s the next step? Here’s where you thank the person. “Thank you, in advance, for your consideration” and similar alternatives are fine.
- You can request an interview. There are many different ways (of varying levels of assertiveness) to handle this, but they will not make an appreciable difference as to the outcome.
- If appropriate, you can tell the reader you will follow up. If you will be visiting that city, indicate the dates you will be there.
Interviews are often the last stop before getting a job. It involves you answering the questions of one or more interviewees who work directly with the organization. You’ve advertised yourself on paper, but now you need to be able to sell yourself face to face.
Presence is important. Smile, be friendly, and use eye contact. Do not do anything wild with hair, make-up, perfume/cologne, etc. Your clothing should be professional and polished regardless if you are applying for a grocery shelf stacker position or a CEO position. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. For most jobs, a suit and tie is best for men. For women a suit, skirt/pant and jacket, or conservative business-style dress can all be appropriate. Although it sounds strange, footwear is important too – don’t wear scuffed or casual shoes and do not wear sandals. Even if you know the organization has a relaxed attire atmosphere for employees, remember you are not an employee yet!
Preparing for an interview is key. Do research on the company. Become familiar with the job description so you can refer back to it directly when answering questions. Know yourself! What are your key selling points and be prepared with specific examples. Think about leadership, teamwork, interpersonal/communication skills, analytical/quantitative skills, and your accomplishments and abilities. Also prepare 3-4 questions for the interviewer. These should be things you cannot just easily find. For example, “What’s your typical day like?”, “What is your favorite part about working here?”, “I’d like to know about the work environment of the company/team”, etc.
Don’t forget to practice. Practicing in front of a mirror lets you master eye contact and realize what you do with your body (avoid wild hand gestures or touching your face/hair). Practicing with a friend lets you get feedback on the quality of your answers and possible unprofessional verbal habits (avoid using hmms and umms and don’t start your answer the same way every time).
Next, perform at your interview. You are building rapport with the interviewer and selling yourself, so drive the interview. Speak the truth. Be articulate and concise. It is very important to answer the questions you are asked. Even if you get stumped you can recover by giving yourself a bit of time with a, “That’s a great question. I hadn’t thought of it before. Let me think for a second.” Do not answer with, “I don’t know.” It is common for the interviewer to ask if you have any questions – you do! You will have already prepared a few questions, but don’t expect to ask all of them, two is more realistic. Many jobs do not require references with your resume and cover letter, but even so have a sheet of paper with you at your interview with three references. Interviewers often ask for them at the end of an interview. Lastly, make sure you get everyone’s business cards.
Finally, after the interview, send a thank you note. An email is fine, especially if you are pressed on time, but a handwritten note is also nice. Make sure you send a thank you to everyone who interviewed you. Additional interviews are sometimes required. Just repeat the steps above for each interview.
Here are a few common questions you can expect at an interview (additional common interview questions can be easily found online):
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to work here?
- What are your three biggest professional weaknesses?
- Tell me a time you worked through a team conflict.
- When have you come up with a creative solution?
- How did you respond to ________ scenario?
Employers often ask for a list of references. These should be professional references of people who have worked with you closely and know you well. Include the name, title, organization, address, phone number, and email of each reference. Make sure you ask someone if s/he is comfortable with being used as a reference. S/he will be helping you get a job, which is a big responsibility!
As JETs, it can take a little extra work to get a reference from a co-worker in Japan. Make sure someone who knows you, your skills, and your experiences is the one drafting the letter, even if your principal wants to be the one to sign it. Be very clear what you want – format, focus, and content. “Boasting” about talent, skills, accomplishments, etc. is not the norm in Japan, so carefully explain what you’d like him/her to cover. You can even give him/her a list of selling points that are important to explicate for the specific job. Provide a sample for him/her, or direct them to the Manual for Contracting Organizations the school receives. Offer to help any way you can, e.g. you may be asked to edit.
With the difficult job market these days, you may just want to say “yes” to the first thing you are offered. However, make sure you think carefully about the different aspects of the job. Salary and benefits are important and DC and its surrounding areas are expensive to live in! Fully understand the job’s responsibilities and working conditions. Think about job security. What about advancement opportunities or useful training you may receive? And, most importantly, consider if you will be ecstatic, happy, fine, apathetic, or miserable as a result of the job. After thinking about all these things, decide if you will accept the job or politely decline.
It is never a simple task to get a job. It requires a lot of hard work and endurance on your part. When you feel the pressure, remember that there are plenty of people out there to help you! Friends and family, the JETAADC community, and your university alumni association are a few of the places where you can find support and advice. Above all, don’t give up. People rarely get the first job, or even one of the first fifty jobs they apply to. But, they do get a job. You can do it!!!
First jobs of returning JETs are often . . .
- A temp in the JET Office at the Japanese Embassy
- A teacher or tutor
- An internship
- A job that utilized a skill originally fostered as a hobby
- A job at your school while completing graduate work
- A local Japan society or organization
- An hourly wage job
—The vast majority of people who filled out the survey are no longer in the same position and/or company/organization. They held their first job for a couple of months to four years.
—The current jobs of people who filled out the survey are greatly varied! Some examples include: education – higher, international, administration, etc., law, international development, marketing, consulting, government – agriculture, foreign affairs, etc., medicine, pharmaceuticals, human rights, business development, clean energy, data analyst, and communications.
Current salaries of returned JETs who completed the survey are . . .
- 36% significantly more
- 11% somewhat more
- 14% about the same
- 7% somewhat less
- 18% significantly less
Having a JET experience helps one enter work through . . .
- Language skills
- Having international experience, being globally aware, and able to integrate into different societies
- The ability to relate to international people and understand things from a different perspective, and exposure to new viewpoints
- Being able to interact with students and teachers
- A strong background in presentations and public speaking
- Professional communication and interpersonal skills
- Cultivated writing and editing skills
- Experience with confusing/difficult situations and people
- Developed leadership and teamwork skills
- Professional experience (especially straight out of college) and connections
- Important JET attributes:
- Self-motivation and independence
- Flexibility and adaptability
- The development of your passion and focusing career interest, for example:
- Education and/or teaching
- International relations
- Linguistics and language
Ways to talk about JET in job application materials . . .
- Creative ways you learned to approach and adapt to ______________
- Challenges faced and how you overcame them/found solutions
- Explain when you took initiative
- Share how you grew and when you were singled out as an excellent employee
- Emphasize training received (e.g. seminars, workshops, orientations, etc.)
- Use specifics: number of classes/week, lessons/day, children/class, etc.
- Skills gained and developed: language, flexibility, adaptability, team work, communication, interpersonal relations, etc.
- Focus on international experience, global worldview, thriving in and sharing different cultures, and working with people from a variety of backgrounds
- Don’t forget to describe the non-classroom parts of your job – conferences, adult classes taught or tutoring, etc.
- Don’t sell yourself short and at the same time don’t exaggerate/outright lie
- Pull the parts of your JET experience that have the most relation to what it is you seek and put them in the forefront –> Build a narrative: Tell a story how all your past experience leads to the job you are applying for
Suggestions for networking in the area . . .
- Don’t wait! Make connections as soon as possible
- Places/ways to connect
- Social networking and email
- Meetup groups
- JETAA resources, events, and members
- JICC events
- JASW events
- The Embassy of Japan
- Alumni network of your undergraduate and/or graduate schools
- Go beyond JET connections – there are many networking events, public lectures, conferences, etc. for various fields held in the DC area (definitely focus on the free ones, they are just as useful as some expensive groups)
- Join listservs related to the professions you’re interested in
- Informational interviews/coffee discussions are incredibly useful
- Learn to sell yourself efficiently and recognize appropriate approaches for differen settings
- Don’t limit yourself – somebody who works in an industry you aren’t interested in could be the best friend of the boss of the organization you’re dying to work for!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!