Tuesday, March 2, 2021

My Experience Interviewing with AEON Corporation

Note: This was written in March of 2017, four months before I went to Japan. I wound up working at AEON for three and a half years, and I decided to hold off on posting this until after I left so that I would feel free to express an entirely honest opinion. (That being said, working for AEON was a positive experience and something I would recommend.) So, this post comes from the prospective of not having started the job yet.

Recently, I announced that I'm moving to Japan. After that, I posted about interviewing for HESS, a chain of English schools in Taiwan. Clearly, I did not take the job with HESS. So who I am I working for in Japan? The answer is the AEON Corporation. Much like I did with HESS, here is what the interview process was like with AEON.

Initial Application

Unlike many other companies that hire foreign English teachers, AEON requires a face-to-face interview before they hire a teacher. They have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, and anyone living near those cities is able to come in for interviews (to the best of my understanding) year round. For the rest of us, AEON has interviews at various cities throughout the year. (Note in March 2021: In-person interviews are currently suspended because of the pandemic, and interviews are instead being held entirely online. I can't speak to what that experience is like.)

The list of the upcoming cities where interviews will be held is on AEON's website. You apply by choosing the city whose interview you will be attending (if you get through the first two stages of the process). This part involves providing all of the typical information you'd provide when applying for a job and uploading your resume and an essay about why you want to work in Japan.

If you pass this stage, you will receive an email from the recruiters at the office that is in charge of the interview that you selected. (I interviewed in Nashville, which meant that the New York office was in charge of my interview.) They will set up a Skype interview with you. The stated purpose of this Skype interview is to make sure you realize what the job requires. They ask you to study the AEON website and tell you which parts to pay particularly close attention to.

Skype Interview

It is crucial that you do study the website. The recruiter will ask you questions about the information stated there. That truly is, as far as I can tell, one of the biggest parts of this stage of the interview. They want to know that you understand AEON, but they also want to see that you'll follow directions (and continue to do so throughout the entire interview process). The other thing I think they're looking for is your personality. The right personality for an AEON teacher is discussed during the in-person interview, and it basically narrows down to "someone who is bright and enthusiastic." Do your best to be that person during the Skype interview.

Make sure that you're following the AEON dress code during the Skype interview. Although this likely won't be mentioned to you at this stage, the dress code specifications are on their website where you will find them if you do your research. You will be asked to stand at the beginning of the Skype interview. This is supposedly to introduce yourself, but obviously, they're going to check what you're wearing when you stand as well. Definitely don't have pajama pants or anything like that on.

The Skype interview is conducted by only one recruiter and shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes. I was informed at the end of my interview that I had gotten a spot at the in-person interview. From what I can tell from reading other stories online, they seem to always tell you at the end of the interview if you are moving on in the process. Everyone who was told they would find out later seems to have been rejected, but this is largely conjecture based on secondhand information. (Note in March 2021: This is still just a guess. I cannot confirm if it's true or not.)

Preparing for the In-Person Interview

If you get through to the in-person interview, you will receive an email from AEON that you must reply to in order to confirm your spot at the interview. After this, you will receive information about the interview location and be given a set of tasks to complete before the interview. There will be documents you should bring to the interview as well as more information about AEON that they ask you to study, which you should definitely do.

I've seen older stories from people who applied to AEON saying that they were asked to plan a lesson ahead of time and bring it to the interview. We were not. (Note in March 2021: AEON's lesson steps are set in stone, so you can't plan an AEON lesson before you've learned the steps you'll need to follow. Having taught there, I can see that this step is pretty useless for determining if someone can do the job, so I can see why it was changed. You need to have the ability to follow the steps you're given, not plan your own lesson from scratch.)

When they tell you to take notes on certain information before the in-person interview, do it. They will not flip through your notebook, but they will do a more casual check to see if you have brought the notes with you. Plus, they do ask you about the information, and your far less likely to flounder with notes in front of you. This should go without saying that it pays to be prepared, but some people in my group weren't, so put yourself at an advantage.

While I got a head start on everything I was asked to do, I also made sure to go through the information much sooner to the date of the interview. I wanted it fresh in my mind.

In-Person Group Interview

The day of the interview, arrive fifteen minutes early. Fifteen minutes early in Japan is arriving on time, and that's what AEON expects. (Note in March 2021: Funnily enough, we were told to arrive fifteen minutes early to work too during my interview, but not long after I started, they changed the way they talked about this and started encouraging us to arrive later. Still, arriving early for the interview probably still helps give a good impression.)

You will also be held to Japanese business standards while working at AEON. While there's some leeway with this in the interview as they don't expect you to know all of the rules, I would recommend doing some research and being aware of at least the basics. (Note in March 2021: It's probably worth noting that there will be leeway with this throughout your time at AEON, not just during the interview. Yes, following Japanese business standards as much as possible is a good thing. You should show that you're trying, but people will understand that you're a foreigner and not expect you to get everything right all the time.)

Make sure you're following AEON's dress code at this interview as well. The information is on their website.

When we arrived, we had to sign in on a sheet of paper. The recruiter will greet you. (I've read other accounts of interviews where people mention there being more than one recruiter. We only had one, and it was the same recruiter who had interviewed me over Skype.) As they greet you, they will tell you where you can put your stuff down and then encourage you to introduce yourself to everyone and/or look over the AEON class materials that are set out.

While doing either of these is no doubt helpful, I recommend immediately introducing yourself to everyone. One of the responsibilities at AEON is what's called "lobby talk" where you're required to talk to your students in the lobby between classes. They want to see that you're capable of conversing with other people. (Note in March 2021: I support 2017 me wholeheartedly here: talk to the other applicants! Going over the materials is fine, but you'll have time to later. It's not actually that helpful to do it here. Showing that you're friendly and personable is more important. If anything, go over the materials with other applicants and discuss them with each other. But make sure to make conversation.)

If you're more introverted, this is likely one of the more nerve-wracking parts of the day. I was worried about it since I am extremely introverted and find conversation with people I know difficult, let alone strangers. The thing is, everyone else is also there because they want to teach in Japan. Your interest in Japan is already one thing you have in common, and that provides you with a conversation starter. Use it. Our group certainly did. I talked about why I wanted to teach in Japan to just about everyone. What saved me here, I think, was that everyone else knew they needed to socialize too, so we were equally eager to converse and be friendly. That made me less anxious about approaching strangers than I would usually be.

Also, don't worry about a competitive atmosphere. This may or may not be a problem in your group; it wasn't in ours. As your recruiter will remind you, they can hire everyone or no one in a group. You're not competing with each other for only one position. Helping each other look good helps you all in the end because it shows that you work well with others.

Everyone else in my group was incredibly friendly and happy to talk. I got the sense that I wasn't the only introvert in the group or the only one who was nervous and, therefore, especially struggling with trying to be talkative, but realizing we were in the same boat really helped. I found I had no problem maintaining conversations until the interview started.

The first part of the interview is the recruiter sharing information about the company with you. This will include information about the contract, expectations of you, the housing in Japan, and more. This is absolutely crucial: Take notes during this part. Not only does this make you look good, you'll need to know the information if you get the job, and you don't want to have to ask for it all again and show that you didn't pay attention.

This also leads into the section of the interview about what you took notes on before. Make sure you have those notes handy and that you answer the interviewer's questions. I made sure to volunteer each time the recruiter asked for answers even though it made me nervous, and the recruiter seemed to be trying to get everyone to answer equally. If people didn't volunteer, he would eventually call on them anyway. Try not to stay quiet until you're called on.

After the information session, you will have a break of about ten or fifteen minutes. Treat this break exactly like you treated the time before your interview. I did look over the AEON materials at this point as we were getting closer to having to actually teach an AEON lesson. (We had discussed the materials a bit during the information session.) However, I made sure that I still conversed with the others as well. Balance is key here I think. I wouldn't recommend spending the entire break with the AEON materials. Even while I was looking at them, I was talking to someone, and that conversation eventually prompted me to put it down entirely. (Note in March 2021: Looking over the materials is probably fine, but seriously prioritize being friendly and conversing. Looking over the materials briefly might help because it shows you're interested, but it's really not that important.)

Then the truly fun part of the interview begins. Your recruiter will demonstrate a kids' lesson for you, with you and your fellow interviewees as the kids. Make sure you participate even if you feel silly. Everyone's doing it, and you don't have to see these people again.

After running through a lesson as the students, you'll be divided into groups. (I was in a group of three.) You'll be given some time to prepare a kids' lesson with your group. Each person in the group is required to teach part of the lesson. (The lesson is already divided into four separate parts.) Be enthusiastic, even if it feels overly slow. Remember that this lesson is meant for kids, and don't worry about talking to the other interviewees as if they're small children. I'll admit this does feel weird at first though. (Note in March 2021: If you get hired, you'll do this in training and regular teachers' meetings too. It gets much less weird.)

We were all laughing by the end of this, so don't get too uptight or think that getting into this part is beneath you. I think it would show.

Then comes the adult lessons. Again, you will watch a demo lesson by the recruiter, with you acting as the students. Once again, participate.

After this, you will have to teach an adult lesson, and this time you'll be on your own. You're separated into groups. (Different groups this time.) You're given time to prepare by yourself and are encouraged to speak to yourself and act it out to be prepared. I didn't speak so much as whisper to myself, but I highly recommend acting it out to a certain extent. (Note in March 2021: If you get hired, you'll be expected to do this while preparing during training, and that carries over once you're working too.) My previous experience with lesson planning and teaching definitely helped here, but this isn't anything where that experience is crucial as long as you fully play it out in your head.

The lesson is already pretty much planned out. It's just how you present the material. You have to think ahead of time about how you're going to present each example, how you'll explain it, etc. It's also important to remember here that AEON wants a very high percentage of student speaking time during lessons, so it's crucial that you focus on that. A lot of what you're doing is encouraging the students to talk and providing them with opportunities to have conversations with both other students and yourself, the teacher. (Note in March 2021: This really is the most important part of AEON lessons. Prioritize interaction, not lecture.)

You will then take turns in your group teaching your lesson. Each lesson will be timed, and you absolutely cannot stop until your time is up. (Note in March 2021:This is actually great practice for after you're hired when you inevitably finish a lesson too quickly and have time to kill. Not that that ever happened to me...) This was definitely a struggle for some. I knew from my student teaching that the timing was guaranteed to not work out how I thought it would. Because of that, I had planned out how to extend the lesson to at least twice it's length if it would be necessary. As it turned out, my timing was good, and I finished the page I was given right on time without needing to go into any of the extensions I'd planned. (Not in March 2021: This wound up being something I was praised for during my training and once I was at my school because apparently I had better time management than most trainees. I attribute this entirely to my prior student teaching experience.)

Others there went far under the time limit though and seemed to fumble with how to expand on it. Definitely try to help in any way you can if this happens in your group. As a student, you can ask questions or carry on conversations that will help lengthen their time.

After teaching, we were given time to fill out a sheet of paper. This included information such as when we'd be able to move to Japan as well as a short grammar quiz. If you're confident with grammar, then this isn't difficult. If you're not, you might want to brush up both on commonly misspelled words and the differences between similar words.

We were given our envelopes right when we finished, but the envelopes were somewhat of a formality as our recruiter told us that our entire group would move on to one-on-one interviews. Mine was for two and a half hours or so later, so I went to eat a late lunch before it.

One-On-One In-Person Interview

The one-on-one interview was the most nerve-wracking part of the process for me. The group's presence had eased a lot of tension earlier in the day, but the tension returned full force once it was just me and the recruiter.

This interview took about forty minutes I believe and was a lot like your typical job interview. We talked about my skills and other such stereotypical things.

After teaching earlier, we had been told to write down what we thought we did well and what we could have done better. I discussed what I'd written with the recruiter before he asked me to teach again while keeping what I could do better in mind. He shared what he thought of my lesson and then demonstrated an AEON lesson one-on-one with me. He asked me to teach again, following what he'd done as close as possible.

In the moment, I thought I'd really messed up that lesson due to my nerves. (I even admitted as much after teaching because things like that tend to slip out of my mouth when I'm very nervous.) He did, however, tell me what he thought he'd seen me do well. (Note in March 2021: Showing that you can take feedback and use it to improve really is the most important thing here instead of teaching a perfect lesson right away.)

He checked to make sure I had a Bachelor's degree (a requirement for a Japanese work visa, not just AEON's requirement) and also that all of my information was correct.

At the end of the interview I was told that I'd be hearing from them within ten days but that it would probably be sooner. It was. My interview was on a Saturday, and I was called on Monday and told that they'd like to hire me.

My 2021 Perspective

I never worked as a recruiter, so part of this post are still just speculation about what they're looking for. However, having taught at AEON for three and a half years, most of my guesses about what they're looking for are probably right.

Considering that, these are the things I would consider most important:
  • Be excited about interacting with "students." A couple guys at the group interview openly admitted to me that they just wanted a "free" ticket to Japan. (AEON reimburses you for your plane ticket, and of course, you'll be paid.) He said this when the recruiter left the room, but I think the attitude came across through the whole interview. He was particularly unenthusiastic about the kids' lessons. You may or may not enjoy teaching, but even in the demo lessons, you should show an enthusiasm for interacting and making connections with people. This is also why making small talk with the other applicants is crucial.
  • Do your research. A guy in my group interview actually mispronounced 'AEON', which made me cringe considering the recruiter had already pronounced the name too. Show that you've put in effort in learning about the company and its expectations.
  • Show that you can take feedback. You don't need to be perfect, but you should be able to adapt and improve. Focus on what the recruiter tells you and do your best to show that you're using the feedback during the next demo.
Honestly, those are probably the three most crucial things aside from the absolute basics like 'dress appropriately.'

Working at AEON was a truly great experience. It's a job, and you should be prepared to work hard. (I also know that some schools have managers or other staff that can be hard to work with, so that part can be a bit of a gamble. I believe working in a big city, especially Tokyo, will be more stressful than a school in a more rural area.) But as long as you understand that you're being hired for a job and not just an extended vacation (which they will likely say to you straight up in the interview) then I very much recommend working with AEON.

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