Scooter vs Japan

Interac: It’s pretty good | July 14, 2015

Stay in the–wait. Wrong Interac.

So pretty much everyone knows about the JET Programme. It’s the most well known and most reputable of the teacher recruitment options. But it isn’t the only company out there that recruits teachers, nor is it the only option to work in Japan as an instructor of some kind.

One such company is Interac (no, that one about staying in the black). Like JET, Interac recruits teachers and places them in school, rather than applying to a specific company or school board. I’d read about Interac on a few occasions over the many, MANY years I was in school and not applying to JET, but I heard really mixed things about it. It also has a much shorter application window than JET, which led me and others to think of it as being more questionable.

But it turns out that’s not the case. I bumped into another incoming JET, named “I” (confusing, huh?), who had some experience with Interac and their application process. Since I was interested in documenting and sorta mythbusting JET’s application process, I started poking his brain about what it was like to interview with Interac. And we did a little bit of an interview before I went on holidays.

Let’s rap.

Scooter: So I, can you tell me a little about Interac? I’ve heard the name before, but I don’t really know a lot about it.

I: Interac is a company that is sorta like JET in that they provide ALTs to schools. To really get into the specifics, Interac is a private company that gets contracts from schools, recruits ALTs, and hires those ALTs to work the specific contracts at the schools. They’re basically a middle man. They take a cut off the top of what the full contract would pay, hence why they pay less.

S: In researching JET for many years and finally going through the application myself this past fall, I found the JET Programme to have a lot of those complicated levels of communication, bureaucracy, and coordination, typical of both Japan as well as a large scale program like this. I felt that this was a lot of the reason for JET’s lengthy process. What about Interac? I know their application is much shorter. How does that differ from JET?

I: The difference between JET’s application process and Interac’s application process [are] huge. I applied to JET last year in October, interviewed in February, got wait-listed in March, and just recently got upgraded in late June. I applied to Interac in late April, interviewed with them very early June, and was offered a job mid-June.

S: Wow. That’s pretty quick.

I: So, what exactly is the difference? JET’s application process is much bigger and longer, and I would guess that is generally because they get to be picky since they pay the best. The JET application takes at least a couple of weeks to get everything sorted out, and I even know that I spent 3 weeks – 1 month on it and have heard of some people taking even more time than that to do it. After you submit your application, you get to play the dreaded waiting game (it really is as horrible as people say it is, because you know how difficult it can be to get into JET. It’s a constant stress). After waiting for probably 2-3 months, you might get to move on to the next stage, where you’ll go into a board room of 2-3 people and be fielded questions that you likely are not prepared for, on top of the very basic ones. After this, MORE WAITING! Now you get to wait another month or so and maybe even find out that, like me, you got wait-listed instead of short-listed (or worse, rejected). I’m honestly not sure if it’s better to be wait-listed rather than rejected, since if you’re wait-listed you could end up waiting anywhere between 3 weeks to 8 months to hear back and get upgraded.

Now, what about Interac? Interac’s application process is much simpler and quicker. You go on their website, fill in an application which asks basic things such as all your basic information, what your education is, where you got your education, what’s your work history like, and things like that. You’ll be asked to write a few small essays, such as things like “why do you think you’re a good fit as an ALT?” You’re given something like a few thousand characters to respond to this in, and then you provide some documents showing you are who you say you are, and the like, and submit it online. Overall I think this was a two week process for me, but I could have easily gotten it done quicker if I had chosen to do so. Next, you wait a few days to a week or so (mine was just a few days) and are called by an Interac recruiter to verify some of your information and, if everything checks out, set up a time slot for a phone interview. After this, you have your phone interview, which likely only lasts 15-20 minutes. For this you need to come off as excited, energetic, and enthusiastic (probably not too hard for most to do). Once the phone interview is over, you might be told that they’ll contact you in a few days with whether or not you move on, or they might tell you right then and there that you’re moving on to the next step (that’s what happened to me). If you move on, you’re invited to a seminar and interview session. I believe these happen every month and I scheduled mine for about 4 weeks after my phone interview. With the seminar you need to prepare a bunch of documents (things like a copy of your diploma and an official university transcript) and either mail them off ahead of you or bring them with you to the seminar. Next, you travel to the city where the seminar is held, sit in at a small group meeting (mine was 6 or 7 people being interviewed), get to know each other a little bit, get to know your interviewers, and are given a presentation on what Interac is and what you need to know as a potential ALT. After the presentation is over, then the nervewracking part starts. Each person interviewing has to do a demo lesson. Demo lessons are about 5-6 minutes long, go over a few different topics (self-introduction, reading and pronunciation, grade school level demo, and high school level demo). The idea with the demo lesson is to be educational, fun, energetic, and not afraid to make mistakes or to let them stop you. Once everyone has done their demo lessons, times are set for 1 on 1 interviews, you’re given a grammar/English test sheet and a multiple choice personality test. You fill out these tests (that grammar test was hard, and I’m an English teacher), go to your personal interview, where you’ll be asked questions like “do you have any reason why you would need to break this contract if hired?” or “why do you think it’s important that we insist ALTs eat the school lunch with their school?”. Once this is done, you’re personally done for the day and free to go. After this is all said and done, your documents and demo lesson are sent to the Japanese Interac office and then you wait a few days to a few weeks to hear back from them (I waited about 4-5 days).

So, in all, JET takes about 6 – 9 months from start to finish. Interac takes about 2-3 months from start to finish.

I think Interac’s process is so much shorter because they very actively weed out applicants throughout the early process. For example, I remember reading a warning from Interac themselves that applicants should be careful of how they write on the application, as slang, misspelled words, or improper grammar would likely disqualify them. There were a few other things they warned about as well. So, they can eliminate a good portion of candidates based on the application. Next, they have the phone interview, where you can also be eliminated for any number of reasons. Finally, you get to the seminar. As my interviewers there told me and as I’ve almost always heard from others, if you make it to the seminar, there’s a good chance you’ll get hired. It seems at this point, Interac has weeded out what it considers undesirable and has a good view of who you are and what you can do, they just want to see it in person to be sure you’re not lying. If you weren’t, you’re hired.

S: That’s actually pretty cool. See, I was always under the assumption that Interac was a little more… I guess the word is questionable. That actually sounds like an even more involved application process than JET’s.

Now, you got your JET upgrade recently. Congrats again. And you were saying that you had been accepted by Interac. What a tough choice. What were the deciding factors to finally select JET over Interac?

I: For me, when I was applying to Interac, I knew that if I got an upgrade email from JET, I would be switching to them immediately. It’s simply not really a hard question. JET pays significantly better (Interac pays 230,000-250,000 JPY per month, with some months getting reduced pay due to school breaks. JET pays 300,000 JPY every month). JET is generally the better renowned program. JET will sometimes subsidize your apartment or things like that. JET goes out of its way to make sure you have someone to help you out when you first arrive to figure things out (not 100% sure that Interac doesn’t do something like this too). JET has better support groups and community infrastructure.

The only things Interac had going for it that JET does not, is that Interac offers significantly more vacation time (due to being off work due to school breaks) and, while I cannot confirm it for sure, Interac apparently does not mind if you pick up side work (such as private lessons), so long as it does not interfere with your contracted work. However, the significant pay cut makes these two things null in comparison to JET.

S: It’s funny that you mention the pay difference. JET’s obviously an elephant in the room here, and pay is one of the first things I always heard mentioned. Between that and the supports, it’s obvious that JET is the most popular ALT recruitment program. Did Interac ever do anything to acknowledge or try and combat this?

I: Actually, yes. One of my interviewers [was] very high up in Interac’s corporate ladder. However, he was a very honest and open man. He said his reason for this was that he did not want us to get to Japan and think to ourselves “that bastard so-and-so didn’t tell me about this!” He actually flat out told us that JET offers better benefits and that if we could get into the JET Programme, we should. Personally, I respected this a lot.

S: That’s so humbling and admirable. That shines really well on Interac.

I: I actually have nothing negative to say about Interac. Granted, I did not actually work for them, but the entire application process was pleasant, I was made to feel as comfortable as possible during the seminar, the seminar was held in a professional but friendly manner, and the interviewers were completely honest with us.

S: So aside from pay and the application itself, do you know of any other significant differences between the two programs? Did anything come out in the interview that separates the two?

I: The only thing that I didn’t really mention…is that JET only allows their ALTs to renew their contract for a maximum of 5 years. Interac does not have a limit on how many times you can renew your contract and it was even mentioned during the seminar that the longest contracted ALT started in 1988 and was still with Interac (26 years).

S: 26 years?! *spits coffee all over his keyboard* You know, I’ve been hearing all these negative comments on YouTube about how ESL teaching in Japan is kind of a dumpster fire. Not only has this person stick with it for so long, but that again really reflects well on Interac.

Lastly, for those looking at different options to teach, I did note in my uncountable ages of research that JET likes to put its ALTs in more rural placements, while eikaiwas (private conversation schools) tend to be more urban centres. Do you know where Interac tends to fall?

I: Interac is basically the same as JET in this regard. If you’re applying from overseas, you will very likely get a rural placement. If you’re applying from Japan and you have a decent grasp of the language or some other qualifications, you might get placed somewhere that is more urban or even in a bigger city. Like JET, most Interac ALTs can expect to get a rural or suburban placement.

S: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it.

As it turns out, I was fairly wrong about Interac. While the program does pay less than JET and is less well known, I was surprised to learn about the application and screening process. If what “I” had told me was true and the more flexible and broken up application helps immediately separate the more serious applicants from the less desirable ones, that really goes a long way to show how serious Interac is about their job.

Plus having to teach an actual lesson… That’s such a good experience. We had nothing like that with JET (at least in Canada), but I did have to do a lesson when I was getting my TESOL certificate. It’s a really great experience and shows you a lot about how to teach in another language. That Interac applicants get to go through that… I’m a little jealous. Well, maybe not jealous; I think my brain would have melted if I had to do a mock lesson during my JET interview. But yeah. That’s pretty cool that they do that.

Come out of this interview, I really have a lot more respect for Interac. Although every job is different, I’s experience really paints Interac well, a reputation I don’t feel like it has online. I really think now that there is a lot of misconception about the company, some of which really isn’t fair.

So for those trying to get into the Mystic East to be a dirty foreigner, I’d be happy to recommend Interac alongside JET and more direct options. This really comes off as a professional company that cares just as much about the quality of teachers as JET, yet doesn’t have to be as (understandably) anal about it.


Posted in JET, Teaching

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.







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