Saturday, June 7, 2008

First Clipping!

I have a clipping! I'm trying to get into the freelance game but still have little idea about how to get started. I figured a good first step is to get my work in print "close to home," which in my situation means the Saitama JET Quarterly Newsletter. This newsletter is distributed by the Saitama Prefectural International Division and is sent to every board of education employing JET participants in Saitama (state). It's a good start!

I'm told the key to getting published is to show editors your "clippings," or previously published work. Herein lies the difficulty for me as a brand new writer. It's a classic catch-22, no clips no pubs; no pubs no clips. Yikes! But now I've got a clipping to show them.

The article I wrote is about the valuable points I took away from the 2008 Conference for Returning JETs. The conference served as a great "professionalism 101" seminar. I'm very glad I attended the event and was happy to write the article for the newsletter. I hope all can benefit from reading it. Here it is in its entirety. Please enjoy.
Future Skills JETs Already Have
Insights from the Yokohama Conference for Returning JETs
Justin Burrus, Washimiya BOE

‘Future’ was the buzzword at the 2008 Conference for Returning JETs. The conference, held March 3rd-5th at Minato Mirai, Yokohama, brought the future into clear view, reminding everyone that in four months we’ll be job hunting from the comfort of our parents’ homes. The future is a terrifying subject for JETs because many of us feel we lack the skills and experience it takes to get a real job. Fortunately, after three days of lectures, workshops, and panels, the future looks promising. The good news is that professional skills come in different flavors and experience is loosely defined.

Every job demands two types of skills: hard and soft. Hard skills are the technical skills needed to do a specific job. They take time, money, and effort to get, but reward certificates, diplomas, and licenses—things employers want to see. In the past hard skills ruled the day, that’s why most of our parents have one skill and one career—it’s all they ever needed. My father is a perfect example, he graduated with a degree in accounting thirty years ago and has been counting other people’s money ever since. Though hard skills are important they’re not the only game in town. Now more than ever the job market requires more than qualifications, it demands personality.

“Soft skills” is business lingo for personality, and though these skills don’t come with a certificate they are hard to get. Anyone can learn how to drive a truck or do taxes, but where do you learn “thinking outside the box,” or “team playing?” No matter what job you’re applying for these are the skills bosses want to see; that’s the best thing about soft skills, they’re valued everywhere.

In his keynote address “Future Mind,” Ian De Stains talked about the new skills needed to succeed in the rapidly changing job market. Creativity topped the list, followed closely by global vision and communication skills. It sounds odd calling creativity a skill but it’s the hottest soft skill of all. Stains mentioned a job at Disney where people sit in a room and think up the weirdest ideas they can. Though that job is goofy, all employers want people who think creatively, solve problems, and innovate.

Since employers are looking for soft skills show them on your resume. In his excellent workshop, resume coach Vince Ricci told everyone to start listing interests. Your interests show off your soft skills making you unique. Especially good interests include: travel, sports, and artistic things like photography and writing--these tell the boss you are open minded, a team player, and creative. Listing “Microsoft Office” wastes resume real estate because everyone can use it. Instead of listing a boring old hard skill include a fresh exciting interest, because the question facing today’s job-seeker is not “can you use Word,” it’s “what can you create?”

Companies want people with soft skills. Prior experience and training always helps, but no one wants to hire a highly-trained moron. If you have the soft skills the company will train you in the hard skills. This is great news for us JETs who have minimal hard skills but have loads of soft skills and experiences to weave into our resumes:

JETs can:
§ Adapt to new environments
§ Appreciate different worldviews
§ Create interesting lesson plans
§ Act as cultural liaisons
§ Relocate without fear
JETs have:
§ International work experience
§ Cross-cultural communication skills
§ Team-teaching expertise
§ Global interests
§ Experience living in a foreign culture

Put all these skills in your resume and be ready to talk about them in the interview. These are not superfluous tidbits; they are skills and experiences that set you apart. Who would you rather hire as an employer: a qualified candidate, or a qualified candidate with international work experience? The latter wins hands down!

Over the three day conference we heard a lot of inspirational success stories that opened new possibilities. Oddly enough, most of the stories started like this, “I have no formal training in my field…” or “I kind of slid into this job,” so that by the third workshop I started wondering if anyone was actually qualified to give me advice. Of course they were--most of them at least--because they all had good jobs that I would love doing. Of course their biggest piece of advice was “sell the skills JET gives you.” And that’s exactly how they “slid” into cool jobs.

By far the most important thing learned at the conference was to try for some jobs you’re not necessarily qualified for. Focusing too much on past experience and training drastically limits career possibilities. JETs aren’t typecast as teachers. Of the 24 career workshops offered only 3 dealt with teaching. That’s because in the end, JET isn’t about English, or even teaching for that matter, it’s about innovative people impacting the world. We are destined for greatness!

Handouts and presentations of last year’s conference are available at:

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