JQ Magazine: Stuck in the Mud – A JET Alum’s Job Search

Happy time in a happi coat. (Rashaad Jorden)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 2008-2010) for JQ magazine. Rashaad worked at four elementary schools and three junior high schools on JET, and taught a weekly conversion class in Haguro (his village) to adults. He completed the Tokyo Marathon in 2010, and was also a member of a taiko group in Haguro.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Those two sentences are a lot more than the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. The former could best describe my time in the JET Program (with a couple of exceptions), while the latter is an accurate description of my post-JET time.

I was disappointed and sad to leave Yamagata Prefecture last year, but the old saying “when one door closes, another one opens” came to my mind. As much as I enjoyed Japan, I was eager to launch my new life in the U.S.

Since I had talked myself out of grad school for the time being, I figured I ought to put something worthwhile on my resume before commencing the serious job hunt. As my resume included mostly teaching English abroad (France and Japan), I figured I might as well do something related to what I eventually want to do: something editorial related.

Currently, I am seeking an editorial assistant/copy editor/proofreading position. But I would also open to working for cultural exchange programs and in positions that utilize French ability (I am fluent in the language due to having and worked in France).

So I quickly obtained an internship at Friends Journal, a magazine devoted to the Quaker community. Best case scenario: the internship launches me towards a dream editorial/copy editing/proofreader position. Or if nothing else, employers will like the fact I’ve been keeping active.

Thus, in January this year, I figured I’d start banging out job applications. Seemingly, there is no shortage of jobs I’m qualified for. All I have to do is go to the right websites, find the appropriate positions, send out resumes/cover letters, receive e-mails and phone calls asking if I can come in for an interview, wow the interviewer(s) and…voila! I have a job.

Except that the phone calls and interviews haven’t really been coming in. I didn’t land my first interview until late April at an employment agency in New York. I thought the interview went as well as it could have, but I didn’t get the job I interviewed for (a legal assistant position).

Although that job interview was unsuccessful, it may have marked a turning point in my job hunt. Up until that point, I had no luck even landing job interviews. Being called in for a job interview gives me confidence that it’ll finally be the day. I believe that good things often happen in bunches, and on one of those days all the starts might align.

The good news I’m hoping for obviously hasn’t happened yet. It’s frustrating that my time in JET hasn’t helped land more interviews because the skills I learned in Japan would serve me well in numerous capacities. As a teacher, I definitely learned how to handle people on my own (which would be useful in any position that requires supervising) and communicate with them effectively in spite of language barriers. I also would be able to instruct employees (and others) on how to accomplish numerous tasks. And I have obviously have experience in working with diverse groups of people.

I am definitely tempted to work for Japanese companies/non-profits/schools, etc. I have great memories of the country, so it would be amazing to work for a Japanese company. Unfortunately, I can’t say my Japanese ability is the greatest—which hurts me in trying to get a job with a Japanese company. (When I decide to take the JLPT, I’ll be shooting for Level 4.)

The longer-than-expected job hunt has been an educational process. I have always been the type that if I can do something myself, I’ll do it myself. While that may be a positive trait to have, it might not be conducive to changing unsuccessful paths. I thought landing the right job would be one of those things I could easily do by myself. Perhaps forgetting that to even participate in the JET Program in the first place, I needed letters of recommendation from two different people.

It’s taken me a lot longer to realize this than I should haven, but people who succeed don’t do it all by themselves. There are always people helping others who are willing to help themselves (and others). It’s just up to us to find those willing to help us. With that in mind, I’m trying to do a much better job of networking. The large number of JET alumni are one big family, and they are always willing to help those in need—especially since all JETs have needed help in order to thrive in Japan.

Even if there isn’t one former JET who can help turn me towards my dream/ideal job, I have realized that the JET Program can help in the littlest ways. I remember picking up a piece of paper with a list of employment agencies in the New York area. So I’m in the process of registering with as many as possible (which I should’ve done earlier).

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my job hunt is that there are limits to what people can do by themselves. Sure there are people who have told me that they have landed their jobs by looking online, filling out some forms, and clicking “Send.” But certainly, that’s not the easy of way of doing it. When facing difficult tasks (such as job hunting), it’s best to utilize friends and family. I didn’t greatly enjoy my JET Program experience by just doing things solo. I should’ve realized that when kicking off job hunting.

The “best of times” feeling about my JET Program time has definitely motivated me to keep searching for something fulfilling because I know it exists, and I know how wonderful it feels to be in a position that seems to fit perfectly. Finding it is a challenge and frustrating because it’s taken that it should have fun. But actually, it took me quite a while to land a position in the JET Program (long story), so it was definitely rewarding when it happened. Likewise, I’m motivated to keep job hunting because I will feel so happy when I get the good news.