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Writing Your Resume (C.V.) for Teaching in Japan

By Bill Pellowe

When you're applying for a teaching job in Japan, the job classified you answer will usually be very specific about what to include. Some requirements may seem like an invasion of privacy (for example, a recent medical checkup report). Others may seem arcane -- one I applied to required a handwritten cover letter (took me hours!) If you want the job, though, there's not much choice. Some schools will accept applications and resumes by email, while others - even in this day and age - will expect to receive a "hard copy."

Often, though, the classified will not spell out what's expected. What you'll see below are a few pointers about your resume structure:

Photo:
A photo is nearly always required. The ad may specify it should be passport size, but some people say an upper-body shot is a better idea. If you're sending your application by post, write your name on the back of the photo and glue it to the upper-right corner of your resume. Though you've read that Japanese don't smile in such photos, most recruiters expect non-Japanese to smile, or at least look friendly. Just before the photo is taken, think of a funny joke. (And yes, we know, writing your name on the back of a photo that will be glued to a piece of paper seems odd, but it's in case the photo comes off.) If you're applying digitally, you should make sure your file formats are standard (Microsoft Word and JPEG files are usually a safe bet but it might be a good idea to ask first).

General categories of information:
A brief outline of what's expected, and note that this might run counter to what you'd expect:

  • Personal:
    • Full Name
    • Nationality
    • Place of Birth
    • Date of Birth
    • Age
    • Visa status (e.g., tourist, spouse, etc.)
  • Contact
    • Phone (h)
    • e-mail
    • mobile phone
    • address (where you live)
  • Professional Affiliations (eg, JALT, JACET, TESOL. University recruiters will want to know the year you became a member.)
  • Experience.
    In addition to the full name of the school and its address, include:
    • Date started - date finished.
      Many schools will eventually need to know the actual month you started. If it was one academic year part time at a Japanese school on a Japanese academic year, write March as the month you finished, even if you're thinking that classes finished in January or February -- the point is, you were not fired and you completed your academic year, so in fact you were employed until March.
    • Status (full time / part time)
    • Duties, courses taught, student levels:
      A resume in Japan isn't expected to be only 1 page long, so you can give details here. There's no reliable rule of thumb on this -- some recruiters want full details, while others prefer a brief overview. Don't feel compelled to think of many different ways to say, "I taught English." Just be descriptive: "Taught English conversation to children aged 3 to 5 years old in classes of 30 students each. Classes met twice a week."
    • Gaps in experience?
      If you have a gap in your employment history, you may want to explain that here. For example, "Apr 2000 - Mar 2002 Raised child." (Or was that "Researched child first language acquisition, longitudinal case history study"?)
    • Review your full experience.
      Did you give demonstration lessons to incoming teachers? Were you ever asked to help hire a new teacher? Did you lead a group of students on a trip? Not everyone is given this level of responsibility. Include it.
  • Presentations / Publications
    • This one doesn't usually apply to people applying the first time to an eikaiwa school, but rather to those hoping to work at the university level. If you've published or given presentations, include them here. If you've done a fair number of both, separate this into two sections (publications first). Most schools will classify blind-peer-review publications from non-vetted ones, but you never know -- I know one that classifies them according to "In Japan" and "International", which meant a 2 page writeup for your grad school newsletter would count more than a full-length article in a peer-review publication here in Japan. An uncommon situation, but the point is, anything you publish may be the key point in getting the job offer.
    • No publications? For many jobs, that is not a problem, yet for some and as I said especially university jobs, one requirement is 3 publications.
    • Publication copies. Submit 3 of your most recent articles. If the journal/magazine is not well known in Japan, include a copy of the cover, the table of contents and the list of editors.
  • Hobbies. Do you have a hobby? Everyone in Japan has a hobby. You need one. Do you iceskate once or twice every few years? OK, that is your hobby. "Anime" is not a good hobby to put here, the connotations are not what you're looking for.
  • Skills. Since you're reading this on-line, you'd put, "Computer literate." Expand with details, for example, here's me: "Macintosh 7.1 - OS X, Windows 98 - Vista. Regular user of Microsoft Word, Excel, graphics programs. HTML, PHP and MySQL database. Intermediate JavaScript." While these aren't related to teaching, they're probably related to the office and paperwork and materials you'll be creating. Sure makes you look useful to have around.
  • Japanese ability:
    • If you've taken a proficiency test, write the level of the one you passed.
    • But... What looks suspicious? If you passed level 3 and also write that you're a translator. (Level 3 is the second from the lowest.) Someone did this, and as it turned out, he'd taken level 3 many years ago. The point is, if your proficiency test does not match your current ability, write that you're studying for the test just above your current ability. (Should be true, right? If you're that good, why saddle yourself with out-of-date quaifications?)
    • If you've never taken a proficiency test, describe your ability positively: "Intermediate. Can function in a Japanese office."
    • Don't describe it negatively: "Cannot read most Kanji".
    • Note that many interviewers will eventually get around to asking you, in Japanese, if you speak Japanese. Be forewarned: Lie about your ability, and you'll be discovered.

    One more thing: If you've learned how to write resumes in the USA, you've got to tone down -- most resumes coming in from the USA strike people in Japan (and not only Japanese, but non-Americans in general) as false bragging.