Sep 24

Using your JET Experience to find a Great Job

Emily Frank (Hokkaido, 1993-1996) is a professional career counselor and coach who has worked with and helped JET alumni all over the world. Her website is

JETwit: Hi Emily. So, we know you’re a JET alum and a career counselor. What do other alumni most need to know about finding a job after JET?
Emily Frank: First of all, people have more potential than they probably know. For instance, I started my career when I got fired.

JW: Really? Tell us more! And how does this tie in with your JET experience?
EF: Absolutely! Right after JET, I found a job translating documents on rubber patent infringement, but just I couldn’t have been unhappier. I hated the work and the people, and then, to add insult to injury, the jerks fired me! It took me a while to figure out what I wanted, so now it’s my mission to help people not make those same mistakes. I help creative professionals and international workers returning home figure out how to find careers they love so they can flourish, both personally and financially.

As for how I got connected with JET, I have always loved Japan, so after I finished my East Asian Studies major, JET was the obvious choice. I spent three fabulous years living in a small Hokkaido town and mostly I learned I didn’t want to teach. When I got back to the US, I had no idea what to do or who could help me. I tried translation and working for a travel agency, but I didn’t care for those. So now I help people navigate those decisions.

JW: Who do you help, and what does that look like?
EF: I help people with experience living and working overseas, including lots of JET alumni, and people who are quirky and creative. International and artistic people often get stuck and confused when looking for work after they return to the US, or when they’re trying to change careers. They often don’t know what their options are, let alone how to move forward. This is very frustrating and scary. Who will pay the bills? How do I find something I enjoy? How do I apply if I can even find something? People keep telling me I have transferable skills, but what are they and how do I put them on a resume? How can I find something that fits me?

These are exactly the questions we answer in sessions. I take people through guided conversations about values, needs, skills, and goals. We identify things like work values, and then a few job titles the client would like to have. Only after we’ve done that do we work through the nitty-gritty stuff like resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

JW: Explain more about transferable skills. What does that mean and how can people emphasize them?
EF: Sure. Transferrable skills are abilities that you gain in one place that you can easily use in multiple places. They may not even be things you see as skills because they’re so much a part of what you do. For example, by learning to adapt to daily life in another country, JET alums have demonstrated skills in things like cross-cultural communications and creative problem-solving. But since these were things we just did routinely, they don’t really come up as unique talents when we’re writing our resumes. I help people quantify these skills

JW: How have you helped JET alumni?
EF: I am uniquely suited to work with this particular population because I am also part of this population! I get it. I know all about reverse culture shock and having to move back in with the parents and having friends get tired of your stories about Japan. I’ve been where you are, and I can help you make decisions that will make you happy. In fact, some alumni I’ve worked with have even gotten jobs in Japan!

JW: What’s your background, and how are you qualified to do this work?
EF: After I got fired from that translation job, I eventually found my way to grad school, where I got my M.A. in counseling. After that, I worked in higher ed as a career counselor and coach for over 10 years. In January, I moved into private practice so that I can devote more of my time to my ideal clients. In the past year, I’ve been working a lot with JET alumni, helping them define

JW: How do you locate JET alumni to work with?
EF: I have fabulous JETAA allies! With the help of people like JETAA Rocky Mountain president Adam Lisbon and JETAA USA’s Bahia Simons-Lane, I’ve gotten grants through CLAIR and Sasakawa USA, so a lot of the work I’ve done has been free to participants. I’ve also worked with other chapters to provide services to their alumni. I did a webinar for the Northern California chapter. I also went to Florida (through another Sasakawa USA grant) for their first ever career development workshop, where I presented on a number of career topics. And I gave another webinar for JETAA USA on life after JET, and am slated to be on a panel for another in October.

JW: What are the common mistakes people make when they’re looking for work?
EF: There are a few that I’ve noticed over the years. The biggest one is that people don’t spend time really getting to understand what they want. They focus too much on skills and previous experience, which locks them into jobs that are probably not fulfilling. And when a job starts off not being fulfilling, things only get worse! I don’t want people to get stuck doing things they hate doing. The other mistakes I see are people not using their existing contacts or making new ones, not tailoring the documents for the positions, and feeling like insta-applying to 50 jobs a day is the way to get things done.

JW: What should people do instead?
EF: I’m so glad you asked! I advise people to spend time figuring out what they like to do, even if this means taking a “gap job” in something like retail or food service. There are values quizzes available online, and most career counselors have their own versions, as well. (I do!) Once your values are clear, think about what you’ve enjoyed doing before, including hobbies. From there, the next step is to figure out who pays people to do those things. After that, tailor your resume and cover letter so they reflect the skills of the jobs you want, and then submit!

JW: You make it sound simple but that’s actually pretty hard to do.
EF: It is. I try to simplify it so that people understand what the steps are, but the reality is that this is a lot of work. I encourage people who are really struggling with this to reach out and get help. It’s a source of unending frustration to me that this stuff isn’t something we learn in high school, but since it isn’t, most of us have to spend some time and money figuring it out as adults.

JW: Well since you mention it, how do you recommend JET alumni go about this process?
EF: I’m glad you asked that, too! First of all, get involved with your region’s JETAA. As I mentioned, a couple of chapters have already found ways to fund some career development work, and yours may have something planned. Second, follow those chapters on social media, or subscribe to their newsletters. We’re hoping to get another round of grants (mostly these grants follow Japan’s fiscal year, so pay attention in April!), too, and that info will get posted by the various chapters. Finally, if you want to work with me privately and right dang now, reach out to me at Tell me you’re a JET alum or that you read about me on JETwit and I’ll give you a special discount!

If you’ve benefited from Emily’s career counseling service, we’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to share your experiences to

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