2 Things You Need To Get Hired As An ALT In Japan

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The sheer volume of words written across the Internet to try to answer the question of getting hired as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan is astounding. Enter a Google search, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In reality, most ALT companies look for two main things.

1. Enthusiasm

When you get hired as an ALT, the company is like a family looking to buy a new car. They’d like to get something flashy, but far higher on their list of priorities is reliability. They want to make a hire (or “purchase”) they can depend on to last at least a year. And, like buying a new car, hiring an ALT is an expensive proposition. ALTs that go home, quit their jobs, or vanish into thin air are costly to the bottom line. To make sure this doesn’t happen, the interview process is designed to weed out the lemons.

How does enthusiasm fit in?

Enthusiasm is like ALT fuel, and your interviewers are looking to see how much you have. There’s a giant hill of culture shock waiting for you when you start. Do you have enough gas to handle all the upcoming changes to your life?

After the first few bright-eyed months of Sakura, Japanese hospitality, and karaoke, you’re going to find out that real life is still waiting for you. Is your enthusiasm prepared to help you get through that? Interviewers are checking your fuel gauge.

2. College Degree

Yes, unequivocally.

A college degree is like your car’s registration. You can’t be on the road without it. If you want to get to work in Japan as an ALT you need a degree. Full stop. Instead of scanning websites and searching for those gimmicky “Well I taught in Japan without a degree” threads, just go get your degree.

If you want to go to Japan badly enough, you’ll get it. Low on money? Get a second job and be frugal. Low on time? Honestly, you’re not; you just think you are. Unless you’re in the presidential line of succession, you’re not that busy. An amazing experience in Japan is waiting, and thousands of colleges are eager to take your money. They’ll give you a ticket to Japan in return, metaphorically. You just have to want it.

What about a TEFL/ESL/other acronym certificate?

Remember, ALT companies are first checking to see how much fuel you have. They need you to go for at least a year. Having the newest ESL medal is like having a good set of shocks. The ride may be smoother, but if you don’t have the gas, it doesn’t matter how smooth the ride is.

Quick note:

Those certifications will only make your experience easier if you know how to use them. There are plenty of unhappy ALTs who ooze frustration because the awards and certificates they worked so hard for aren’t being put to use. But you have to know that when you take a job with “assistant” in the title, you’re not usually going to be drawing up curriculums. In the right context, the skills and knowledge you get from a special course can be useful, but you’d better know how to show a little humility and do your job.

So my advice is this: remember why you want to come to Japan. Keep those thoughts in your mind throughout your interview, when your writing your essays, and perhaps even more importantly, after you get hired and are having a tough day living in Japan. An internal reminder of what motivates you can keep your mood light(er) and your enthusiasm fresh(er).

Drawing on your excitement for living in Japan will get you through most anything that can be thrown at you: class observations, overly genki students, even JTEs that don’t want to work with you. None of these villains will be a match for what your enthusiasm brings to the table!

So remember what’s important, and have fun!

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Refusing to be a bitter gaijin since 2007.
  • Jon McCartney says:

    Hey I have a (hopefully) quick question for you, my chosen career is in the emergency services field however, after obtaining my associates degree in paramedicine and securing either a tefl or tesol. I would love to become an alt in Japan for a year or two before going into my career, how possible would you think this is? I know typically a minimum of a bachelors degree is required, but I’m hoping that an associates and a tefl/tesol would help bridge the gap.

  • Pineapple says:

    Hi James. When you say bachelor’s degree is it in education masters in English or any bachelor’s degree? Because I’m a BS comsci and I’m planning to change career, I don’t have certificates but I have 2years experience teaching kids basic computer lessons. What do you think? Am I qualified?

  • primalxconvoy says:

    “What about a TEFL/ESL/other acronym certificate?

    Remember, ALT companies are first checking to see how much fuel you have. They need you to go for at least a year. Having the newest ESL medal is like having a good set of shocks. The ride may be smoother, but if you don’t have the gas, it doesn’t matter how smooth the ride is.”

    Incorrect. Professional certification in ELT is essential for teachers who want to make a profession out of teaching English. It’s THE most important thing to get. However, as ALT companies, and the positions offered, are really “first rung/bottom of the barrel” in teaching positions in the industry, such employers aren’t looking for professionally minded, competent teachers. They are looking for young, easily molded 20 year olds with stars in their eyes.

    That said, when applying for JET, the official ALT position, via the Japanese government, my CTEFLA was a big part of why I was chosen. It also helped me analyse my job, give me some of the tools and skills that I needed to successfully teach at the Junior High school in Japan I worked at. Thanks to that certificate, I was able to easily find work at an Eikaiwa, which paid me more than my colleagues, due to my certificate and experience. The same Eikaiwa ran the Trinity College (London) diploma in ELT, which I and many others have taken. This led to my current position and the respect I have from my colleagues. It’s also led to some of my ex-colleagues going on to do a Masters’ in ELT, and helped me to work with publishers in Japan (as some of those reps for ELT publishers also have such qualifications).

    In short, the writer is absolutely wrong on this. People, get a genuine, “full time” certificate or diploma (or even an MA, if you are really serious about the profession), run by a Cambridge, Trinity, or other leading organisation, as early as possible and you will be much more prepared for working as an ALT. It shoes how “enthusiastic” you really are about working in Japan and as an English teacher. Plus, most courses actually discuss team teaching, team planning, etc and are practical courses with teaching time where you have to plan and teach lessons.

  • Angie says:

    You’re wrong. They do hire without a degree. I had an interview with one of the big ALT companies and they didn’t care about the degree (although the fact that I hadn’t done 10 years of education in England was a dealbreaker).

    • james says:

      I mentioned there are exceptions, but they are very rare. I’d venture that we’d both agree that the goal of getting a degree is probably a better idea than the alternative, which is apparently 10 years of experience, if you want to be an ALT in Japan.

      • primalxconvoy says:

        The degree is merely a legal issue. Employers for most teaching positions in Japan need to ensure that their employees have a degree in order to sponsor a work visa (usually a “specialist in humanities” ). Japanese law requires that a three-four year degree is required to be awarded such a visa.

  • Ronald Ivan says:

    Honestly from the bottom of my heart, thank you for this. I have wondered for too long and have never gotten a straight answer from anyone about this. I have a query because I have a 3 year Diploma in Advertising and Mass Communication. Technically not a degree in name but I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs to get it. Also, I’m getting my CELTA done later this year. Plus I have been and enjoy teaching and training for a few years. So, I believe I’ve got the gas, the engine and the shocks to get there but from your experience, what’s more likely the response for someone like me getting a job there?

    • james says:

      hmm. after some research, it seems a 3 year diploma is a bit of a grey area. Some people have said they have gotten work visas and others have said they got turned down. My advice would be just to ask the company you want to work for. From my looking around though, it seems like Eikaiwa is a better bet than ALT, but you never know until you ask.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Nicholas Engle says:

    I think Convoy brings up good points about actually being a good ALT/having a good partnership once you get there. But the article was basically about how to get hired, which those points don’t really pertain too. Sometimes flash is how get your foot in the door.

  • primalxconvoy says:

    To be honest, what would actually help ALT teaching would be experienced, mild-mannered teachers with TEFL qualifications, as their prior experience in dealing with the red tape and BS that permeates the JET Programme/ALT services would avoid many of the friction and problems that hiring organisations and ALT’s inevitably have with one another.

    Instead, regardless of how beneficial it is for the foreign person (which it is), the JET programme (and some Eikaiwa’s) hire “genki and young”, rather than professionally minded teachers (or “style over content”), which is partly responsible for said hires, and their employers, becoming disenfranchised with each other.

    Then again, if you pick a car by looking at whether it’s fast and sporty, is it any wonder that it’s ill suited for shopping or commuting to work?

    • james says:

      hey primal. thanks for the comment, I definitely do not disagree. The English education system in Japan could use more highly qualified foreign teachers for sure. But unfortunately, with how the system is set up now, don’t you feel those highly qualified teacher’s skills would be wasted on being a tape recorder and being bingo callers in ES and JHS more often than not? And is the current ALT salary, which is going down every year, sufficient enough for those higher educated teachers to feel they valued?

      What I think would help ALT teaching is an expanded role in the classroom, more responsibilities, and ultimately stricter hiring standards, perfect for more experienced and mild-mannered teachers. But, with 20,000 ALTs being needed by the Olympics in 2020, I think the sheer amount of growth will make change in the role of ALTs difficult by then.

      I agree, professionally minded teachers are without a doubt better qualified and better suited for getting English into the minds of the Japanese students in the most efficient way. But, are they more suited than the “genki and young” people to be performing the job currently expected of them by MEXT? Right now, I’m not sure.

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