This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Connect.
Emily Frank (Hokkaido, 1993-1996)
What value does your JET experience add to your future job search?
If you are planning to go into a field that’s directly related to what you’re doing now, the answer is pretty obvious. But how about for people who don’t want to teach, translate, or work in direct US-Japan relations?
The truth is simply doing what you’re already doing is valuable, and there are other ways to add experiences that will appeal to future employers.
First of all, think about what it is you’re currently doing. If you’re an ALT like I was, it can be tempting to think of your role as just reading sections of a textbook out loud, but think a little deeper. You’re actually doing things like fostering intercultural exchanges (sometimes in two languages) and building rapport with students, faculty, staff, and parents. If you’re a CIR, you are doing things like coordinating international relations and making cultural presentations.
Regardless of your official role, you’re also living and working in another country, which means you’re adapting to local culture and learning new social norms, demonstrating enormous adaptability. A bullet point that lives on my resume in perpetuity is, “Exceptional interpersonal communications and rapport-building skills, as shown by experiences living and working abroad.” (Feel free to use that, incidentally! Just play with it a bit so it feels like yours.) So really dig in and think about how your time in Japan has changed you, and how those changes are potentially appealing to future employers.
But there’s also more you can do while you’re still on JET to make yourself an exciting candidate.
If you know what you want to do when you return, you can find activities that support that. For instance, if you see yourself working in localization, ask to help edit tourist brochures in a way that’s more appealing to those from your home country. If you want to work in travel, be sure you’re offering to take foreign visitors around your region.
If you hope to continue working in a field related to Japan, of course, you will do yourself a lot of good by formally pursuing your Nihongo studies and preparing for the JLPT. Volunteer for local translation and interpretation tasks, and maybe even get to know some business leaders in your town. If you’re close enough to a major city, you can even see if there’s a way to meet government officials and help out when they meet officials from other countries. (If you’re not a CIR in that city, though, be sure not to step on any toes! Other JETs will be good connections for you in the future, but not if you get a reputation as a jerk.)
Unfortunately for many of us, though, we don’t really know what we want to do when we get home.
So if that’s you, don’t worry, you can still do things that will be exciting for employers to see. Just focus on things that matter to you.
For instance, I organized a beach cleanup in my town because I couldn’t walk along the little strip of shore without seeing everything from fishing lines to discarded bicycles. Organizing events always looks good on a resume. It involves getting local government invested, working to schedule people to show up, marketing (I had several ALT friends from nearby join us), getting equipment, and, Japan being Japan, giving a speech before and after the event. I had no idea at the time that I would eventually be speaking and organizing events as part of my professional duties, but I did know that I wanted that little stretch of water behind the Lawson’s to be a place where I could picnic on a nice day.
Like many of you, I also had some eikaiwa classes with interested adults in my town. One was mostly for younger travelers and one was for the women in town who mostly wanted to socialize and meet the resident foreigner—which isn’t a piece that makes it to my resume, of course.
Since I didn’t leave Japan with a desire to be a teacher, I wasn’t initially sure how to capture those experiences, but I knew they must be important. So what I wound up focusing on is the demonstration of my ability to communicate to diverse audiences, and to adapt to the needs of the group. Think about things like that the right way and they begin to look an awful lot like leadership skills!
In other words, spend some time reflecting on your day-to-day life and what that might mean to a possible employer. The things you do naturally aren’t actually effortless if you think about them in more depth. It may seem completely natural to hop on a train to another town to teach a lesson there, but you have to figure out how to get a ticket or a pass, where that next town is, how to adjust your teaching to a different group of students, what the train announcements mean—more than is in your conscious awareness when you hop on!
When I’m counseling job seekers, I usually encourage them to start by writing up a list of their accomplishments. These can be personal or professional because they will likely overlap in a few places. When you write them down, be sure to capture what abilities and strengths you have that let you succeed. When you get in the habit of noting these things, you’ll find you have some great stories to tell, both on your application paperwork and in interviews.
And, of course, you won’t be alone when you do get home.
Join USJETAA or your country’s/local JETAA chapter, and make a point of attending events. Other JET alums will be your best support network, and many of those senpai are really excited about helping you succeed. (Also, you will have a built-in audience of people who will never get tired of your stories about living in Japan!)
Emily Frank (Hokkaido, 1993-1996) graduated from Smith College. After spending a lot of time afterward feeling lost, she eventually got a master’s degree in counseling and now helps others who are similarly lost regarding careers. She spent over 12 years working in career counseling at a large public university and has been in private practice with her company Denver Career Catalyst since January 2018. Emily is based in Denver, but does distance work with clients from all over the globe. She has been able to offer free career counseling to more than 50 JET alumni in the past through USJETAA grants and has enjoyed reconnecting with fellow JETs that way.