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Career Building & Job Hunting While You are an ALT

First post here! Thanks to David's suggestion, I decided that I should write about job hunting on Yokkaichi Connections so future ALTs can learn what to expect after their contract is up. Hopefully, this article can shed some light on our career path after being an ALT.

Let me introduce myself first. I am a 5th-year JET that works for a local BOE (board of education) that also directly hires ALTs from the States. Due to the terms of my contract, I am leaving the program this summer (2018) and hope to find a job in Japan. I just recently participated in the 2018 After JET Conference and two job fairs promoted by CLAIR in Osaka and Yokohama. Of course, many JET alumni gave me useful advice, yet, I realized that I would have appreciated getting that advice ahead of time to prepare for my future and open up more opportunities for me. I have heard the same advice a million times before I went to the job fair, but I didn't realize that these interactions are closely related to my future career plan and job hunting. That regret urged me to leave something for our future ALTs and give them a glimpse into the future as to what they can expect after being an ALT and how they should envision their future career path.

This post is about:

1) What you can do when you are an ALT.

2) Job hunting tips in Japan.

What can you do while you are an ALT?

You may think this is a question that a new ALT would ask. How can I enjoy my life in Japan? What should I explore? Where should I travel? How do I learn Japanese?

Yes, they are. Yet, as you think about it, those questions are closely related to your future career. The best reason I can give you is this: You don't want your time in Japan to end up as a blank paper. You may then argue, "My ALT career is good enough for my career building. My private life would not help. Who cares what I do after work?" Here I am going to tell you something shocking: Many corporations don't take ALT jobs (including JET experiences) seriously. Some may not even consider it as professional employment. They think this is just a way college graduates extend their parties to Japan. To prove them wrong, you have to sell your ALT experience right.

Below I have some tips for you so you don't leave the program with regret. If you follow these steps, you can build up your career while in the program, not after.

I. Build Up Your Network

As an ALT, don’t be scared to build up your network, especially with Japanese people. Join any group you can! For example, you can join an interest group, a religious group, a volunteer group, or gym, in any part of the country. This will, in turn, help you in the long run. Many JET alumni found their current jobs from those connections, especially through the JET alumni association in Japan or their home countries.

Also, when you need someone to help you with your Japanese resume or letter of recommendation, you'll most likely need your Japanese friends to help you, not other ALTs.

II. Attend JALT National Conference / join a JALT Chapter

This is especially important for those who would like to teach after being an ALT. You should attend a JALT conference at least once. This is not just for professional improvement but also to make connections. If the JALT Conference is too pricey for you, consider attending your local JALT Chapter. The closest one to me is in Nagoya.

If you want to take things up a notch, you can also present at JALT National Conference. Even something like a poster session can help build up your resume. After the presentation, you can write a proceeding, a summary of your presentation, and submit to JALT to be peer-reviewed and published.

Other than JALT, I am sure that there are professional conferences or conventions that you can participate. You can also check with your local international center. I usually check out the NIC in Nagoya and the YIC in Yokkaichi.

III. Take JLPT or BJT.

Except for ALT openings, many corporations in Japan, including English schools, require some level of Japanese proficiency. Make sure you have gotten a JLPT or BJT certification to be more competitive.

JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) is a CRT test, which means their levels are pre-determined according to certain criteria. JLPT consists of five levels, N5 being the lowest and N1 the highest. It is said that N2 is usually required to work or study in Japan. However, many companies at the JET Job Fair require N1.

BJT (Business Japanese Test) is an NRT test, which means there are no pre-determined levels. All test takers are put into a normal distribution that shows how proficient they are in relation to other Japanese learners. (A common NRT test in the States is the SAT. All ETS tests, from what I know, are all NRT tests.) There is no Pass/Fail, just scores.

This is a comparison chart from JBT official website. Most of those who pass N1 fall between the range of 450-530 points in BJT. If you have passed N1 in JLPT, BJT is definitely the next test you would want to take on.

Please remember that this is a very good way to impress your future employer through your willingness to invest time in learning new things. It also shows that you value communication regardless of language barriers. You probably don’t want to show your future employer your reluctance acquiring a new language after a few years living in a foreign country. Even if you do not seek employment in Japan, taking a proficiency test is always a good way to show that you have tried, no matter which level you are. In that case, the JLPT is the better choice.

IV. Find a New Hobby.

Yes, a hobby. It is interesting that in Japan, employers love to see who they are hiring. On a Japanese resume, a section for hobbies is usually included. If you don’t have one, it might be a good idea to find one while in Japan. This new hobby can open up more opportunities for future as well.

Here are some questions to consider about networking:

1. How many hours do you spend with friends? Do you have any Japanese friends?

2. How many hours do you spend speaking, reading, and writing Japanese?

3. How many new friends have you made after you came to Japan?

4. What do you think can help you expand your network?

That's it for this post. Do you actively network? What's your experience been like? Leave a comment below! I'm working on part two. [To be continued]