Thousands of people come from all around the world to work on the JET Program every year. Most work as Assistant Language Teachers, but there are also many positions at municipal offices. This guide by former JET Ryan Olson tells it all, including the pitfalls to watch out for.
January 08, 2009
A Guide to the JET Program - The Application Process
CIR or ALT?
I had originally applied to be a CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) at the
recommendation of my Japanese professors, but got a call from a woman at the JET office
in Washington early on after applying. She explained that I probably didn't have enough
Japanese experience at the time and offered to change my application to the ALT (Assistant
Language Teacher) category (which I gratefully accepted).
While I wish that I'd been able
to demonstrate my Japanese ability in an interview -- indeed, I think I spoke and read more
Japanese upon arrival than at least a couple of the new CIRs I met -- I have no regrets
about becoming an ALT instead, and appreciated the chance to change my application. I
should note that this is not necessarily standard procedure, and that the decision of
whether to apply as a CIR or an ALT should not be taken lightly. At least three years of
college-level Japanese including participation in an exchange program seems to be the minimum
There are currently over 6,100 participants in the JET Program, 90% of them as Assistant
Language Teachers (ALTs). ALT's team-teach with Japanese teachers in junior and senior high
I think the things which helped my application the most were my previous experience abroad
in Tokyo, excellent letters of recommendation thanks to my Japanese professors, and an
articulate essay and interview. (You'd be surprised how many people who apply simply don't
write clearly). I think that experience abroad, not necessarily to Japan, but to pretty much
any foreign country, is one of the most revealing standards they have to judge an applicant
I'm not sure how much my Japanese ability helped in getting me the job. I do know, however,
that I have benefited tremendously from being able to understand what's going on here in day
to day life. I will go so far as to say that I think my experience has been better than those
of some of my peers because of that.
All things considered, Japan is relatively easy to get
along in on English alone, given a flexible personality and the right acquaintances -- but,
it's a whole lot easier, especially on the nerves, if one can get along in the vernacular. A
semester of college-level Japanese provides the basic survival skills, and all the foundation
grammar should be covered by the third semester. In my opinion, a very worthwhile investment.
ELT News is the website for teaching English in Japan and worldwide and for those looking for English teaching jobs. If you're involved in the English Language Teaching (ELT) Industry, then this site is your home. If you're looking for an English teaching job or another English-related job, check out our teaching jobs section.