If you have always wanted to teach English in a Japanese school, having to be interviewed by Japanese administrators is something you’ll be expected to do. I was interviewed by several Japanese school officials last year, when I briefly considered moving from Thailand to Japan to teach English. Each interview was actually quite nice and far easier to get through than I expected. If you too will be going through the job process soon, here’s what to expect during an interview for teaching English in Japan, and how to make sure you’re successful.
Be on time – Unlike many places in Asia, the Japanese tend to be quite punctual so be sure to make a good first impression by arriving on time. Or, if you’re being interviewed via Skype or on the telephone, make sure you are in a quiet room somewhere at least 15 minutes before the expected time.
Dress conservatively – Whether being interviewed in person at a Japanese school or via internet on Skype, dress conservatively. Sure, you might wear the latest Japanese street fashion when you’re out and about (any Mori girl or gyaru fans beware), but that’s not appropriate for a job interview in Japan.
Wear a typical ‘teacher outfit’ of a simple yet well-cut dress shirt, conservative pants or skirt, and black, navy or brown shoes. Yes, it might seem stuffy but the idea is to get the job. Once you start work, you can then figure out what everyone else is wearing and dress appropriately.
Smile – I always immediately smile in any job interview I have in any country. It relaxes you and the interviewer, and he immediately thinks “What a friendly person”. Being a teacher in Japan or anywhere else means you can make your students relax and feel safe to learn.
In an interview for a teaching job in Japan, the interview is assessing if you would be a good fit for that particular school and if you appear to be a teacher students can relate to. Smile. Everyone loves someone who is friendly.
Interview styles of the Japanese – When interviewing for a job in a western company, having a panel interview is quite common. Interviewing for a teaching job in Japan, however, seems to usually mean you will be interviewed by just one person with the very occasional panel interview at some schools.
I had five interviews over a period of a month, and only one school had two interviewers. Every other one was just the interviewer and me over Skype, and friends already teaching in Japan say the one-on-one interview style is usually the norm.
Don’t sell yourself – While in the west, it may be good to be exuberant and ‘sell yourself’, that’s not often appropriate in Japanese society. Japanese interviews tend to be professional and respectful to both sides without a hard sell expected from the person being interviewed, and that’s expected to occur on both sides. In Japan, like in any other Asian culture, being aggressive in any form isn’t often looked upon well. Do, however, be positive and upbeat and act as though you do want the job. After all, you do, right?
As for what to say, talk about your past experience, if any, and mention why you want to teach in Japan. You can be more exuberant about your excitement over a possible Japanese teaching job, however, as even the Japanese want to know you’re excited to be coming to their country.
Questions – The questions you will be asked by a Japanese interviewer are usually about your education, your teaching experience, if you have worked with children before, and you may even be asked if you feel you can acclimatize to living in Japan (I was in one interview, although as I’d already lived in Thailand for eight years, the interviewer said the question was ‘just a formality’). They will probably also ask you why you would accept an offer at that school above any other, so have your answers already prepared.
You can also ask questions of the interviewer, and now is a good time to ask about the school and the students and to show that you have done some research about them before coming for the interview.
Don’t ask about salary, benefits, perks and free apartment at this point (or reimbursement for your airfare if you’re being interviewed on Skype). It’s seen as ‘bad form’ as all of that will be spelt out for you before you accept any offer.
During the five interviews for teaching jobs in Japan I participated in, I was given immediate offers at the close of the interview on two of them and then heard back from one more with an affirmative answer within three days. Friends teaching in Japan tell me immediate offers are quite common, particularly if you already have teaching experience and have worked with children in the past.
All in all, my experience interviewing for a teaching job in Japan, wasn’t that much different than my interviewing in Thailand, Korea or the United States. The only big difference I noticed was how low-key the Japanese tend to be, and how being professional and non-aggressive yourself can go a long way to getting that important job offer.