The CIR Interview Perspective
First things first- you really need to prepare. The best thing that you can do to pass the interview is intelligently use the time that you have before the interview. With the interviews coming up really soon (maybe some of them already happened?) you’re going to want to already have at least a couple weeks of anticipating questions, and preparing and rehearsing your answers under your belt. In my case, I studied with my parents, my girlfriend, Japanese teachers at my university, my roommates and by myself for 3 weeks before my interview and I probably could have used another week or so. Studying with many different people is also a good strategy as long as you have the confidence not to lose yourself in the storm of advice, corrections, suggestions etc. that you will inevitably receive if you choose to have multiple study partners.
I prepared for things like “good cop bad cop” and other tricky interview scenarios, specific questions about Japan, specific questions about my own qualifications and experiences and general interview questions. I prepared everything in English and in Japanese.
Before you ask, yes, you do need Japanese for the CIR interview (and I think it probably wouldn’t hurt for the ALT interview while we’re at it). How much Japanese? Well, instead of trying to prepare Japanese that you will need for an interview, instead try to think about the level of Japanese required to work in an entirely Japanese office. Yes, you need kanji. Yes, you need to use 敬語 (at least です・ます form). Yes, you need to be able to read and write! And yes, you should be able to do all of these things while you are feeling less than 100 percent. Now, that all sounds like a lot. That’s because it is. You need to be good at Japanese to be a CIR. That’s why preparation is the most important thing you can do to pass your interview.
Other things you should prepare: Questions for your interviewers (it might be a good idea to even write your questions down on the pad of paper you bring to the interview, so that when they ask you if you have any questions, you can be like, “Why yes, I do!”). Nice clothes (in other words, get a suit) – this includes getting a haircut, cutting your nails, shaving or trimming facial hair to a conservative length (you can always grow it back when you have the job), taking out piercings (this is recommended for men and women) and covering up tattoos. Honestly, if you have tattoos that you can’t cover with formal business wear, you should either be prepared to wear make-up or something every day, or have a damn good answer or explanation for it. I have 4 tattoos myself (which I disclosed on my application) but because they can’t be seen in business attire, it was a non-issue. Unrelated to tattoos – I brought a pack of gum with me and chewed a piece until I entered the consulate so that my breath wouldn’t be stinky.
Now, obviously, I can’t get into specifics. I can’t tell you what questions were asked of me, I can’t tell you exactly what Japanese words/phrases/kanji I had to know or what my “interview test” was, and I can’t tell you how to pass your CIR interview. What I can tell you are some things that I felt worked for me.
Before you read the following, be aware that every consulate conducts different sorts of interviews and every year the interview at each consulate changes. I have spoken to a number of CIRs from all over the world, and while the general themes tended to be the same, the specific content of each interview was different. Even CIRs from different consulates around the United States report experiencing quite different interviews.
- The first thing that helped me was centering myself before I even entered the consulate. I decided that my interview really began as soon as I set foot in the building, so I made sure to leave my nerves and my doubts (as much as possible) with my dad who was waiting for me in the Starbucks a couple of blocks away. “I am going to rock this interview.”
- When I entered the consulate, I made sure to be polite to everyone. You never know who you’re going to meet. This may seem trivial, but it’s very important (not just for interviews, by the way. Being polite to everyone is a pretty critical life skill, so if you don’t normally do this, here’s your chance to start!) “Would you please tell me where the JET interviews are taking place?”
- I didn’t look at any of the study or prep materials that I had brought with me to New York while I was waiting for them to call me into the interview room. I left them all in Starbucks. Like I said before, you should have prepared so much that cramming isn’t necessary. Cramming has been proven to be a detriment to public speaking, and an interview is basically public speaking in front of a very small crowd. If you prepare properly, you should know the basic concepts of your answers backwards and forwards so that, in case you forget what you had planned to say, you still have an idea of what you should say. If you cram, you will be focusing too much on the exact words you had written down to say. This is a perfect recipe for freezing up mid interview, and nobody wants that. So leave your prep materials somewhere else. Now that you’re only carrying a note pad and a pen, and maybe some business cards, you can use the time before your interviewer to talk to the JET greeter who will be waiting with you and others who have similar time slots.
“Let’s do this.”
- Use this opportunity wisely! I was lucky enough to get a former CIR as my greeter, so I took the opportunity to ask him questions that I felt would help me in my interview. If you ask the right questions, you can get an idea of the sort of job-specific questions that might come up in your interview. Also, having a conversation will help you to relax and get your brain and mouth moving. I even used this time to test out one of the questions I had prepared for the interviewers.
“How important do you think your own personal definition of 交流 is in achieving your goals as a CIR?”
Okay, so you’ve done everything. The prep, the waiting, the talking. Now, they’ve called your name. Don’t freak out. Remember, you’ve got this, and you’re going to rock it. Nerves will keep you balanced, but you need confidence too. It will help your physical preparation and your mental preparation to assume that your interview will be entirely in Japanese, but it should go without saying, don’t forget your 挨拶 when you enter the room! On the other hand don’t be distracted because you’re constantly second guessing yourself. Thinking things like, “Damn! I should have bowed instead of shaking his hand!” is a totally unnecessary thing to have crowding up your mind. As long as you are being polite, it should not matter which culture’s manners you use. So don’t get caught up in indecision and self-deprecation. Have confidence in your resume, your application, your personal statement and your preparation. And, have confidence in your skill to articulately explain those things to your interviewers in an easy to understand way.
During the interview, it is a good idea to try to think about the whole process like a conversation. Although the focus is on you, there is such a thing as talking too much. Similarly, asking questions of your interviewers can be a positive thing (and a useful tactic if you are feeling like you need a second or two to think) but asking too many questions is not good.
Remember to smile and show off your charm! Nobody wants to hire a pessimist or someone who’s going to be a bummer to work with.
If you find yourself confronted with a question that you are unsure how to answer, take a second to breath, and then start to talk. It can help to picture a concept, especially if you are stuck answering a difficult question in Japanese. This concept should guide your speech towards a conclusion. Saying something is important! Awkward silences are the worst! Also, if you are speaking in Japanese, it is not “against the rules” or what have you to begin a truly difficult question with, そうですねー、難しい質問ですね！ so that you can give yourself a couple of seconds to relax and think about your answer. Japanese people do it all the time! Just be careful not to overuse it (this goes for あのー and まあ and any other “filler word” you can think of in Japanese and in English).
When your interview is over, remember to thank your interviewers for their time! Also, it can help to decompress by talking with someone in detail about your interview. For me, that someone was my dad, and he helped me feel very good about my responses and he also helped me to compartmentalize the portions that I felt didn’t go very well. There’s no point in being depressed or beating yourself up about something you’ve already done and can’t change; so if you can’t put yourself in a place where you can at the very least learn from the experience, it is helpful to have someone who can calm you down.
Final thoughts: The most important thing you can do is prepare thoroughly. I cannot stress this enough. If you aren’t going to prepare, don’t bother taking the interview. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and you won’t learn anything. So please please, please prepare!
Good luck, and I hope to see you at the CIR Mid-Year Conference this November!
The CIR Interview Perspective was written by my friend & colleague Jeremy Eckstein (2015-present CIR), who is willing to answer any additional questions in the message section below.
He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on February 8, 2016, in JET Program(me), Uncategorized and tagged 2015, 2016, 2017, 4, ALT, Assistant Language Teacher, challenge, CIR, college, Coordinator of international relations, english, Fukushima, fun, goal, internatinal, interview, Japan, Japan Exchange & Teaching, Japan Exchange and Teaching, Japanese, Jeremy, JET, JET program, JET Programme, language, martial arts, mental, mindofrion, mindofryan, okinawa, prep, ryan, study, themindofrion, themindofryan, tip, tips, university, wait, work. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.