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.
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
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.
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!