In my previous post last week, I looked at how to go about coming to Japan to work as an English teacher. Today, let’s look at the process in greater detail. What steps are most likely to give us an edge over the competition?
For outstanding candidates applying from outside of Japan, the opportunities are there if you know how to sell yourself effectively to prospective employers. Here are some helpful hints.
Be realistic about what you’re taking on
First of all, think carefully about the type of job you wish to apply for. Remember, if you work for an ALT dispatch company such as Altia or Interac then your working week will be roughly Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. with the possibility of occasional weekend work for school festivals and events. Eikaiwa jobs will include both weekend and evening work. However, if you’re more of a night owl then this may appeal to you.
Also, be aware of the salary. Sometimes the salary advertised online is merely an estimate or an OTE (On-Target Earnings) figure, and not actually your take-home pay. Some schools have a fixed monthly salary, whereas others have rather complex pay-per-lesson schemes, or a daily rate. Also, in the case of ALT work, you may find your salary greatly reduced, or no salary at all paid on the months when there are no classes. You’ll need to budget for this.
The JET program, mentioned in my previous article, offers a similar work schedule to an ALT, albeit with a slightly higher salary.
Additionally, the advertized figure will be a gross salary; tax, health insurance and pension aren’t deducted at this point. For the average English teacher’s wage, the net take-home salary each month will be about 40-50,000 yen below the gross.
Of course, working and living in Japan is a dream for so many of us, but it is vital that your dreams and ambitions are tempered with realism. Be honest with yourself and don’t take a job that offers a salary you can’t realistically manage on.
Conduct a thorough job search and treat each individual application with respect
Of course Gaijinpot is still the number one resource for job hunting in Japan, but simply finding jobs is only a small step. Take the time to build as thorough and detailed a resume as you can. Remember also to prepare your own, paper resume as well as the one you build on the website. Some companies will want to see both.
At this stage, I wouldn’t worry too much about a Japanese resume. Initial resume screening at English teaching companies is typically carried out by native speakers, so the Japanese translation is redundant, and may in fact hinder you if you are applying for an entry level position.
Also, and I cannot emphasize this enough, an individualized cover letter is absolutely vital. Too many people cut and paste the same text into dozens of applications. This is a sure-fire way to get your application rejected at an early stage. Always keep the contents of the letter focused and relevant, referring where possible to specific requirements mentioned in the job ad, and why you fit those requirements.
…an individualized cover letter is absolutely vital.
Which brings me onto my next point:
You are a worker, not a tourist
One of the other major reservations many recruiters have about bringing teachers in from overseas is the concern that they are simply here on a long vacation and may not take the job seriously. In your application, and subsequent interviews, remember to keep your focus on why you would be a good teacher in Japan, not just why you want to come to Japan.
Getting a good teaching credential, such as a CELTA or a TEFL certification before coming here, is a good way to show you are serious about teaching. I personally recommend the CELTA, especially if you want to work in an Eikaiwa.
In the interview answer clearly but don’t say too much
This point can be a tricky one for some teachers, especially if you come from a more outspoken culture. It’s a cultural difference perhaps but in places like the UK and the US, an outgoing, inquisitive attitude can be seen as a good thing but not so in Japan.
Many interviewees, particularly in a Skype scenario where it is harder to judge the interviewer’s reactions, tend to talk too much, or ask too many questions, and in doing so, damage their chances.
Speaking frankly, companies here want staff who are stable, compliant and able to follow company instructions without asking too many questions. Asking too many awkward questions, or displaying too much of a carefree attitude could potentially harm your prospects.
Don’t get despondent if you get a few rejections
I’ve been teaching English in Asia now for almost 11 years. However, it took me nearly six months to tie down my first job in Tokyo.
When I was finally accepted to my first Eikaiwa job in August 2006, I had already been rejected by more than a dozen companies, including failed final interviews with both GEOS and NOVA (largely because of point number 3 mentioned above).
I see many comments and posts on Gaijinpot from people expressing their frustration at getting continually rejected from jobs here in Japan. All I can say is: keep going, don’t give up!
When I opened those rejection letters back in the summer of 2006 if you had told me that I would be here, a decade later, advising the next generation of newcomers on how to get a head start in Japan I would have said you were crazy. It just goes to show, anything is possible.