The nagging question to most folks concluding their JET experience is: how the hell do I utilize JET on my resume?
The short answer is that JET can be sold as a positive experience, but compared to the opportunity costs of other things you could have been doing instead of JET, JET won’t necessarily be a golden ticket into law school or a legal career. Perhaps the first threshold question is: Should I even put JET on my resume? What may seem like a no-brainer (yes! of course! JET’s great!) may actually not be so — there are certainly no dearth of web forum arguments out there over this very issue.
Technically The JET Program[me] was not your employer, your contracting organization was. JET, then, is more like your placement agency, and your BOE your placement. Additionally, with a name that ends in “Program[me],” JET doesn’t sound really like an employer, but, well, like something that’s simply experiential – like study/work abroad. There’s the rub – if JET is your only post-undergrad experience, you’d prefer to characterize it as close to actual work as possible. It seems odd, then, to try and fit JET at the top line of your resume in your employment slot.
However, JET also has a pretty vast and active alumni community, and as such, you might want to find a way to highlight the fact that you’re a former JET to get the attention of possible JET alums that can help you find employment. It that sense, it would be understandable to put “The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program[me] somewhere visible on your resume. Also worth noting, as of April 10, 2010 – LinkedIn now recognizes “The JET Program[me]” as an employer on its drop down menus when putting your work experience into that site. This should assist former JETs search for other JET alumni with which to network.
The good news on this is, since there’s no significant consensus on this issue, you can likely list it however you like. If you’re going to list JET as your employer, it would make more sense to list the whole name as opposed to the acronym (i.e. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program[me], instead of just “JET” or “The JET Program[me],”) to give non-JET employers some idea of what you were doing.
Alternative approaches would include listing your Board of Education as your employer, and then including “Placement by the JET Program, one of Japan’s largest cultural exchange programs, run by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with local governments.” Or some other such thing. If, for some reason, you don’t want to highlight that your background was on JET, you can always just list your JETAA affiliation near the bottom of your resume, or omit JET altogether.
From personal experience, I can say at interviews I’ve never had my time on JET come up in a negative light. In the interest of full disclosure, my JET resume entry is below:
Naninani City Board of Education Dokoka Pref., Japan
Assistant Language Teacher, August 2005-August 2008
- Instructed English as a Foreign Language and led internationalization activities for a city of 35,000 at 14 different schools
- Instructed English at community college, coached winning speech competition contestants
- Co-developed and presented a curriculum for use in nineteen area elementary schools.
- Advised youth table tennis players for five junior high schools
While I do not mention JET explicitly, I do mention my JETAA affiliation in a separate area. I have friends, however, who have included JET prominently in their resume, and who have found employment. How, where, and whether you choose to make JET a visible part on your resume is up to you. It is something to think about, though.
Now that we have that out of the way, onto something more significant: How should I explain JET on my resume?
The answer to that question depends upon whether: (a) You’re using your JET experience to get into law school, or (b) You’re using your JET experience as part of your search for legal employment. Oddly enough, law schools and legal employers are not looking for the same things on your resume. What you know is that neither really cares about your amazing Fruit Basket ‘skillz’ – but what is it they are looking for?
The Law School Resume
Law schools care about nothing more than your LSAT score having a diverse student body that can bring different perspectives and ideas into the law school classroom. The good news is that a former JET can bring a lot of diversity into the classroom, and having a resume that screams both to your JET-related accomplishments as well as this diversity/uniqueness element will likely help you.
If you take some time to think about it, you do bring a pretty unique background with you. If you were in a small town (like I was) chances are you were the only person – or only one of a very few select people – of your nationality to live there. You’ve lived the life of an outsider – trying to adapt, fit in, and get along in a place very different from your home. You’ve taken on challenges from such mundane things as sorting your garbage to seven different categories to having to plan a lesson on the fly because your JTE decided it would be fun not to tell you forgot to tell you about the class you are going to teach five minutes from now. You’ve been asked to make impromptu speeches and you’ve been made a spectacle of at town events. In other words, you’ve had a unique and rare experience that not many of your fellow law students bring to the table. Capitalize on that.
Of course JET probably won’t offset a poor LSAT or undergrad performance – JET will be a ‘soft factor’ on your law school application, but you can utilize it in a way that makes it a very strong soft factor, if you want to do so.
The Legal Employer Resume
The legal employer doesn’t care so much about your diverse background, your interesting perspective on life, or your opinions on onsen etiquette. A legal employer wants to know two things: (1) Can you produce a good work product for me?, and (2) Are you going to be impossible to work with?
Keep in mind, moreover, that if you were born between 1979-2000 and coming off of JET, going to law school, and looking for legal employment, you may also have to overcome the image employers currently have about the Millennial Generation. While employers recognize our generation as tech-savvy and confident, we’re not so beloved for having an ‘entitled’ attitude, short attention span, an inability to do anything without the approval of a superior, and a dislike for consulting resources that were, at one point, trees. For additional information regarding hiring and millenials, see Jim Kennedy’s 2008 Article on the subject.
Also, JET will not be at the top of your legal resume. Legal resumes naturally bifurcate the ‘Work Experience’ section into two areas, with Legal Experience (at the top) and Other Experience (after Legal Experience).
Your resume to a legal employer needs to (1) convince them of your competence, (2) do something to demonstrate that you’re not like the other Millennials applying for the position (i.e., you can make decisions – Millennials are often lauded for their ability to find information, but severely disliked when it comes to not knowing how to process or act on it), and (3) show them something, some skill or ability you can bring to their work place. All of this needs to be designed to get you to the next step of finding employment: an interview.
But, while JET didn’t provide you the legal training to necessarily help you accomplish (3), it definitely gives you a good angle to attack (1) and (2). For (1), show some quantifiable results– how big a town or city did you work for? At how many schools? What other accomplishments did you have in the workplace? Did you design a curriculum? Coach students for the speech contest? Numbers, data, and achievements are the best way to show you did something with your time on the Program[me]. For (2), show you took some leadership, or were put in a situation where you had to make decisions. If you had to teach at elementary school, chances are quite high you had to do a lot of the grunt work yourself – in terms of class preparation and class leadership. If you were a one-shot with a ton of schools, you probably had to walk into a classroom full of kids you saw, maybe, once a month, read the tone of the room, and with only that limited amount of information figure out how you were going to conduct class.
This doesn’t mean that legal employers don’t want to hear about your adventures, however. Your employers may want to know you are human in some way, and your JET entry may be a good place to add a little of that ‘human’ touch to your resume.
As your law school career progresses, you may want to consider how much space JET takes on your resume, and how you want to adapt JET to polish weaker parts of your resume.
As to what specifically to put on your resume, there is fortunately tons of advice out there on that. I’ve amassed as much of it as I can, and put it below.
Transferable Skills JETs Have.pdf: Contains a listing of various transferable skills JETs tend to gain on the Program[me]
JETAA Portland offers a little bit of resume advice
Careers After JET 2005.pdf: Contains various job hunting tips as well as CV/Resume tips.
2003 JET Alumni Assoc Resume Writing Workshop.doc: Doc file with resume writing tips
Temple University Japan Campus Post-JET: Slides from a What to Do After JET for Job Searching