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It’s been about four months since I’ve left Gunma after my year on JET. I’m currently working full-time at a private school teaching third grade as an aide, while also actively looking for the next step in my career. Finding a job is on everyone’s minds as they end their tenure in Gunma. I think about Japan pretty often, and came up with a list of things I wish I knew (and wish I did) while I was in Japan. Hopefully, this can help you in preparing to go back home or wherever life leads you next.
Things to do while in Gunma:
1. Get more involved
GAJET and JOMO JET are great organizations that can help you build your resume and gain leadership, event planning, public speaking, web development, and many other kinds of transferable skills. I advise you to take the initiative and give your all to your community. Start a conversation club, put together an international seminar, or implement youth programs at your schools and cities. These types of projects are fulfilling and make for useful anecdotes in job interviews and networking events. You get out of JET what you put into it!
2. Start your job search earlier
On average, it takes about 3-6 months to find a job. I’ve heard of new graduates taking up to 10-12 months. As soon as you decide you won’t be signing another year on JET, you should already be looking for the next step in your career.
3. Save more money
Because of the time it can take to find a job, it’s safer to have a backup fund to pay for living and job searching expenses like networking events, classes, career center access, or even career aptitude tests. I believe that you should get as much out of your JET experience as possible but it’s important to live within your means, don’t pre-game every event or go out for yakiniku every weekend. On that note, I made sure events with schools and staff were prioritized above all else – you only have so long with them! Work enkais and school functions are still some of my favorite memories from JET.
4. Research. Research. Research.
Work smarter, not harder! There’s no point in applying for jobs when you aren’t even sure what kind of jobs you want to do or are a good fit for. Most JETs have tons of down time at school and researching about yourself, your strengths, your passions, and potential job avenues could be a productive use of your time. Instead of applying for 20 jobs and getting called back for 2 or 3, really put all your effort into applying to the handful of jobs you would love and be a great fit for – it will become evident to employers as well. I recommend starting with getting to know your Myer-Briggs personality type and taking the Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0. There are many tests online that can help you determine what industry you would be a good fit for. For women I recommend The Muse and Levo.
JETs really do have a lot of downtime, whether after school or on the weekends or one of the 40 national Japanese holidays. I wish I had taken online classes or learned new skill sets because what I’m finding now is that I am lacking qualifications for the jobs I really want. If I had taken the time to research and learn skill sets specific to the industries I’m passionate about, the transition back home would have been a much easier process. Professional and personal development should be an ongoing process and it will be that mentality that will get you to the second, third, and fourth steps in your career. Go out and get that experience and knowledge you need to succeed after JET.
6. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test – the JLPT
Well I actually did study for this and I took N3 in July, but I wish I did N3 in December and N2 in July. Your Japanese will improve exponentially because you live in Japan – you hear it, speak it, and read it daily. Taking these tests in Japan while you are immersed in the language and culture around you will give you that edge you need to pass. Start a study group and get your friends together weekly, you can be social and productive all at once – WOW! I’ve gotten many calls from recruiters simply because I can say that I passed N3, it quantifies my Japanese language ability and makes my resume more attractive to international employers. It doesn’t even have to be the JLPT, you can spend this year where you’re paid and have lots of free time to study for graduate tests like the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, among many others.
It’s said time and time again: “it’s who you know”. I’ve come to learn that networking is one of the best lifehacks out there. Do all you can to keep in touch with people who can help you professionally. Use Facebook to keep in contact with people who inspire you, update your LinkedIn, and cold-email people for informative interviews about their work space and position. It’s much easier to keep in contact with a professor who you looked up to as a mentor than it is to email him/her out of the blue when you need a letter of recommendation. Additionally, the top piece of advice that life coaches give to young professional is to find a mentor. Mentors can really guide you to the next phase of your career and beyond because they’ve been there. Find a mentor back home or even one in Japan. They in turn, can also provide you with access to their network as well. Start your networking by reaching out to people and getting to know more about what they do and how they got there. There is a plethora of applications and websites available to us in the digital age to make these things easier – use them!
You should continue to do the things above throughout your job search, even after getting home! Realize that simply getting a job is not the end goal. Professional development, networking, and research can and will get you that raise, the next promotion, a career change. A career is fluid and ever-changing; you should always be prepared for the next step.
Here are some things to do when you get home:
1. Join your JET Alumni Association Chapter
Joining your local JET Alumni Association Chapter will provide you with chances to talk about Japan until your voice gives out, but it will also give you exposure to the US-Japan international relations community and network. In my case, JETAANC (JET Alumni Association of Northern California) provided me with professional development and networking events to attend after arriving home. I had the chance to meet the Consul General of Japan in San Francisco and many members of his office in a small setting, as well as many other employers and organizations that have close ties to the embassy. In addition, by joining JETAANC and volunteering, I get to improve my resume by learning new skills for JETAANC. It is also a good chance for you to extend your mission in Japan and bridge the gaps between the US and Japan.
2. Take Japanese classes (and JLPT tests)
Many community colleges and private organizations offer Japanese lessons in your hometown. You could go for a certification or work towards passing the JLPT N2 and N1 on your own. In the Bay Area, there is an organization called Japan Society that offers Japanese language and JLPT classes of all levels – JET alumni get discounted rates!
3. Join Meetups
Meetup is a great online and app portal that allows people to organize regular meetups. For example, there are English-Japanese conversation meetups every week where I live, but there are also things like Toastmasters that helps with public speaking and speech-making. Again, you will not only be able to meet other people in a space that you are passionate about, but you will also be able to network that can eventually lead to a job that you love.
4. Don’t order too much at restaurants
Restaurant serving portions in your home country are probably twice as big as they are in Japan!
The list goes on, but the concepts are recurring. As long as you make the decision to take this next step in your life, go all in. Make the choice to go to classes to improve yourself and your skill sets and really think about where you want to go from JET. Put yourself in the position to meet people with the same passions who work in the industries you’re interested in and you’ll make yourself an expert in the things you love. Know that it is totally okay to change jobs and career throughout the course of your life – we have decades more to go!