There are things you can do to help yourself find better English teaching work in Japan.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and we stayed away from the more mainstream paths to get to Japan, i.e. the JET Program and the big ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) dispatch companies.
While the information contained herein is accurate to the best of our knowledge, it is solely for your entertainment purposes. (Enjoy!)
7 Secrets To Getting Better English Teaching Work In Japan
by Craig Hoffman
Full Disclaimer: In the end, your employment decisions are 100% yours to make. We assume no responsibility for your individual employment outcome.
#1 Get To Japan
Of course, we know that's what you are trying to do.
But, it is worth repeating that people who are in Japan do have a significant advantage in finding better English teaching work. In fact, these days many English teaching job listings require applicants to already be in Japan.
It saves the English teaching companies from paying for airfare.
And, generally, foreigners who are already living here require less help from the companies. Nobody wants to be a new foreigner's babysitter. (Trust me. They don't.) Does that mean you should fly to Japan tomorrow? No. But, perhaps, it is worth your time to investigate different ways to get here.
PRO TIP: “Your presence (in Japan) means more than your presents.”
#2 Get A Visa
Again, this, too, seems like a no brainer.
Many English teaching companies would much prefer to not deal with the visa preparation of a new foreigner. I have met people who took any English teaching job that offered visa sponsorships. They came over, and they bolted the second a better situation came their way. You aren't going to win any 'Employee of the Year' prizes doing that.
And, too, one does run the risk of running into a company willing to go to the mat to make you honor your teaching contract. But, the reality is that almost never, ever, EVER happens.
A valid visa in hand opens up a whole new world of employment possibilities for you here. The smaller privately owned companies will choose an below average foreigner with a visa over someone wonderful without one nine out of ten times.
Let's be honest, nobody is looking for the next Shakespeare to teach English in Japan. A warm-blooded foreigner with a valid visa will work just fine for most English teaching companies. In fact, it's often preferred over those very qualified Grey, Grizzled, And Gaijin types. (They tend to complain too much.)
PRO TIP: Get a visa stamp in your passport ASAP. (BTW, it's not a stamp in your passport now.)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan - Visa Information
#3 Get Experience
I get tons of resumes from people desperate for me to help them get a job in Japan.
You would be surprised how many of those folks list ZERO teaching experience on their resumes. (It's amazing.) Unfortunately, there is just something employers here love about the fact that you taught someone (and they did not die on your watch).
Too, the variety of teaching/tutoring experiences that you can list on your resume also improves your chances of landing better English classes on the side. These days most expats need more money beyond their main gigs to live well here.
Foreign English teachers with prior experience are going to get that sort of extra work.
PRO TIP: Get a goat if you have to do so, but get some experience with “kids” on your resume.
#4 Get Certificates
Japanese people love little, fancy pieces of paper.
I know foreigners who got better English teaching work in Japan based solely on the fact that their resumes “…looked like they were well-qualified English teachers…” to the English teaching companies that they applied to. Nobody ever bothered to check or ask any questions about the certificates.
Now, we are not telling you to LIE on your resume. (That's a bad idea.) Still, there are a number of ESL certificates that require little (to no) time or effort to complete. Certainly, you aren't likely to land a university job with such resume fluff.
But… it is entirely possible to get more money based on your “extra” credentials at an eikaiwa (English conversation school) or private ALT company.
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Certificates are an easy way to add something more to your resume.
This becomes necessary since every foreigner who teaches English here has a four-year college degree (with few exceptions). Translation: Dude, you aren't that special. (Sorry.) You have to do something to stand out from the pile of resumes (especially for the better English teaching jobs).
The competition here is too stiff to count on your sheepskin and/or your pretty face alone to land you an interview for a super teaching job. You will likely need more especially if you do not have a great deal of teaching experience in Japan.
PRO TIP: Get more letters behind your name.
#5 Get Your Family Involved
Small private English teaching companies here LOVE stable foreigners.
If you have a wife (or kids), you should absolutely put that information on your resume. I know a foreigner who applied for a great teaching job. He didn't get it. In fact, he did not even get an interview.
The following year the same position came up again.
And, this time the man thinking he had 'nothing to lose' put his personal family information on his resume. He sent an email to the company. Literally, five minutes later, the owner wrote him back. This time the foreigner got the job. Why? The company told him directly, “We saw you are married and a father, so you must be great with kids.” (Oddly, he wasn't.)
Now, I am not telling you to run out and get married (and have kids). That path is fraught with peril even in the best of situations. But, if you already have family in your life, use them to your employment search advantage.
PRO TIP: Get your family on your resume.
#6 Get Driving
You should get a driver's licence here if you can.
The Japanese government has seen fit to expand English teaching all across Japan. This change offers new (and exciting) employment opportunities for foreigners. But, some of the rural schools require travel by car. This eliminates many foreigners who live here by default.
If you can drive in Japan, you will have a better chance of landing work in remote areas.
I know a foreigner in a very rural part of Japan who held out for more money. And, he got it, too. Why? Nobody else applying for the position had a valid driver's license. It was this guy or bust.
The dispatch company risked losing multiple school contracts if they could not find a foreign English teacher who could drive a car. A little bird told the guy this fact, and he played hardball until he got a super first contract.
Again, we are not telling you to run out and buy a new car. But, if you can drive in Japan, it would be something to highlight on your resume.
PRO TIP: Get a driver's license quick, fast, and in a hurry - even if you never plan on driving in Japan. It's another way to keep your resume out of the trash can.
#7 Get Networking
Finally, I urge you to seek out English teaching companies (schools) and other foreigners who are already teaching English here.
There are jobs you find on any number of the employer websites. And, THEN, there are the jobs that never quite make it that far. They get filled by word of mouth. And, yes, these jobs are often much better than the run of the mill ESL jobs.
If you can, you should ingratiate yourself to expats who have the connections to help you land an interview (and the job). I know English teaching companies who hire new staff based solely off the recommendation(s) of their current expat English teachers.
In fact, the English teaching companies love it when their foreign staff offers up “…fresh meat for the (ESL) grinder…” ;-) (Starship Troopers) Why? It saves time and money. The English teaching companies do not have to pay to place advertisements on those ESL employee-cattle call websites. Generally, those websites aren't free for employers.
Too, the English teaching companies love avoiding the awkwardness that is 'getting to know' the new foreigner. Third party introductions go a long way in creating business and personal success in Japan. It is just how it is done here. It behooves you to connect with people (and companies) in Japan.
PRO TIP: Get your social media open often for more than playing Pokemon Go.
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As I said at the start, there are things you can do to help yourself find better English teaching work in Japan.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I stayed away from the more mainstream paths to get to teaching in Japan. But I hope you found this useful and informative.
Gambatte ne! (Do your best!)
About the Author
Craig Hoffman is a novelist, writer, blogger and social media guru living in Japan.He runs Grey, Grizzled and Gaijin - a blog where he muses on expat life, travel and Japanese food.
Do you have any questions or experience of teaching English in Japan? If so, please leave a comment below!
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ESL Expat does a lot for job searching expats as well as providing a lot of useful information on ESL teaching:
David Hayter's Yokkaichi Connections site includes ALT training, teaching English, living in Japan, professional development:
The ALT Insider has an archive of blog posts and podcast shows that are likely to be of value to aspiring ESL teachers. The site also offers paid services for things like resume editing and lessons plans: