How I got into the Jet Program on my second try

Ever since I was a chile, I always dreamed of living abroad and I must say Japan always seemed like a worthy place to spend some time in. I credit my father with instilling in me a fascination with it's beautiful art, writing system, tv shows and exquisite cuisine (the only books within my three-year-old's hands were my dad's Japanese culture collection...). Of course watching sushi-boat loads of Dragon Ball, Ranma 1/2, Dr. Slump, Slam Dunk, Captain Tsutabasa, and the Knights of the Zodiac en espanol down in Mexico were what really set me off in a cultural love-affair that would lead me to study Japanese, throughout college as my main major. At some point I stumbled on the literary works of Gaijin Smash and knew from the first post I found what job I had to do after graduation. Teach English in Japan. Unfortunately, at the time, I had very little work experience and it seems, in retrospect, that Japan really wants their incoming Assistant English Language Teachers, ALTs, to have a couple of years of experience in the real world. So in other words, I got rejected after my first attempt to get accepted into the Jet Program - not even an invitation to an interview - despite what I would judge as a worthy attempt. 

Let's look at my resume at the time and try to do a post-mortem as to why I might have failed to get in. 

Things going for me: 
1. Intermediate level Japanese skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, probably somewhere around JLPT N3 level. 
2. Homestay experience living with family in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan my sophomore year of college.
3. Experience giving guitar lessons as a summer job to middle schoolers. 
4. Studied Mandarin Chinese for one year.

My short-comings
1. No job experience (what can I say, I was just trying to keep my head above water at a really competitive liberal arts college in Massachusetts. No time for a job...)
2. Little involvement in extracurriculars at my university.
3. No longer-term study abroad experience in Japan.
4. Basically zero-experience interacting with children pedagogically.
5. No teaching experience.
6. I was only 21 at the time.
7. I've never lived on my own without a support system nearby.
8. No driver's license.

You do the math. 
I wouldn't have hired myself either, looking back now. 

So, what did I do differently to improve my resume and interview skills? 

1. Get another job teaching English. 
The JET Program is a notoriously difficult organization to get accepted into, somewhere around a 25% acceptance rate, according to some research. So, why not get experience teaching with another program that is easier  to get into. China's English teaching sector  was booming at the time (still now even) and I got into a program after college, which I would later turn down after my good college friend offered me a spot as a teacher at his parent's school in Beijing.

2. Develop soft skills working a job in sales. 
I'll be honest I was pretty socially awkward from all the studying I had done up until I graduated in college. I really needed to work on my people skills before even trying to go find work in another country. While the pay isn't great my time working as a mattress salesman was one of the most rewarding experiences because of the growth I was forced to make on the personality front. My social awkwardness immediately became apparent to my boss and I knew I had to do something or get fired. I remembered a book my friend and uncle had both recommended to me on a whim, called "How to Win Friends and Influence People". 

3. Read books on Personal Development to work on your communication and self-reflection skills.
I'll list some books that helped me improve my sales and ability to talk to both men and women.
The classic "How to Win Friends and Influence People", "The Art of Roughhousing", "Models - A Comprehensive Guide to Attracting Women", "Influence", "Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness ", """The Dichotomy of Leadership", "The 48 laws of power", "The Happiness Trap".
    Reading these sorts of books really helped me develop my social skills to the point where people really started to like me at work, and really didn't want to see me leave when I left for my next job serving sushi at a Japanese restaurant. I even had my Japanese boss so on my side she fired me once at work, for a missed order that was all my fault, but she took her words back when I kept me cool analyzed the situation and kept working for her despite her actions. This earned me her respect and she would later go on to give me a stellar letter of recommendation for my application to teach with the JET Program.

4. Get involved in your area's Japanese community.
Any decently large city probably has an active Japanese community. Thanks to my former high school Japanese teacher's invitation I started to visit the San Antonio Japanese Study group that was organized online at a café. We did things like exchange study materials, help each other with difficult grammar, and participate with extracurriculars with our local community college. I actually befriended the Japanese Professor at the college. She would invite me to events with her students and reached out to me to help escort a group of high schooler's from a neighborhood that was devastated during the Fukushima tsunami disaster. She would later have her work with me on some language learning software that I was developing for creating a persistent foreign language immersion environment.
    And if you don't have anything going on in your area, start your own group! To get teaching practice in, I started up a meetup group where I would invite non-native and native English speakers to come for a langauge exchange. I organized a reading list online and helped people with any questions they had during the meeting, if at least to say I did so actively seek to lead in my Statement of Purpose.

5. Find a way to tie together your passion for Japan with your productive hobbies (no anime!). 
In my case, I am absolutely crazy about learning foreign langauges, in case you already didn't know that. So, crazy in fact, I decided to make a suite of language learning programs that I worked on with a college professor together.  While the software wasn't a hit it did what it said it would and, we could call it a successful proof of concept. 

6. Make some Japanese friends, or better yet, work somewhere you can interact with Japanese people.
I can confidently say after working 5 and a half years with JET and having seen a high turn over of ALTs, that the JETs that flourish in a Japanese environment have one of these things. A) at least intermediate levels of Japanese,  B) Experience teaching, or C) Lots of experience working with internationals. Working under a Japanese boss with Japanese waitresses and sushi chefs was a real culture shock, even here in the US. The level of perfection and dedication to one's work was on another level. I must say, this may have been the most important factor in me getting hired to work with JET. The glowing letter Keiko wrote for me really sealed the deal. 

7. I guess this was made pretty explicit in the above item, but learn Japanese. I had self-assess JLPT2 levels before my interview, and my interviewers assessed me as so when they asked me to read some Japanese text to them.

Thanks to these seven things I did, I was able to get into to the JET and Interac. However, I should note, even with all these improvements to my resume. I never got the chance to learn how to drive. Our car was always breaking down and I could only ever get a Class C driver's license with an AB restriction, so I was technically not allowed to drive around by myself. This might have been the reason why I got put on the waitlist with JET, put on the flip side, this might also be the reason I wound up at Sapporo as they are a city with an excellent train system. 

I'll go ahead and post the Statement of purpose I wrote on another post when I get the chance.