The job interview in TEFL/ESL/TESOL is vitally important for so many reasons. You have to prove yourself capable and competent in an increasingly competitive market, you have to find out what kind of establishment your potential employer is, whether or not you can negotiate pay and other conditions, and for many more reasons. As we learn in this article, careful planning and an astute and charismatic approach on the day works wonders. Think now you have applied for a job in a private language institute and have been invited to attend an interview like any other job. So begins the preparation stage to the TEFL/ESL/TSEOL job interview. Getting your appearance, interview answers and interview questions right, through careful preparation, will put you way ahead of the competition. This is when you must invest your time doing your homework. But what do you need to know?
English teaching jobs abroad by their nature represent challenges for companies when trying to recruit teachers. The challenges of long distances are reflected in a variety of job interview formats, which you should make yourself aware of before attendance. Let us identify the three main types of interview and their unique quirks. Firstly, there is the standard face-to-face interview, which is most similar to any other employment type. Such interviews can be done in your home country and are very common if you are looking for teaching jobs in the country where you want to teach. The majority of advice in this article is primarily concerned with passing this format.
Second, is the group interview. In this format, a group of usually five to twenty people are invited to attend, usually for several hours,an interview and seminar. This format can be challenging as it will be more obvious that you are in competition with other candidates. Also, you will most likely be asked to engage in some teaching or teamwork-related tasks. The main thing to bare in mind in such tasks is how you conduct yourself with your fellow interviewees, rather than how well or quickly you can complete the tasks. Show yourself to be cooperative, a good communicator and conscientious – all necessary characteristics in the classroom.
Thirdly, if you are applying for a teaching job abroad from your home country, be prepared to do a telephone interview. Telephone interviews are rarely popular with candidates, or interviewers surprisingly. The lack of face to face reassurance brings out people’s insecurities and this can result in a generally poorer performance. Other annoyances like time zone differences and potential time lags over the phone also make this format more unpleasant. In response to these difficulties, respond to the interviewer’s ice-breakers, make your own to create an atmosphere of ease, and remain calm throughout.
Let’s assume now you are attending interview format one; a basic face to face meeting with the OS/ADOS of the school you want to work for. Do not overlook cultural differences when considering what to wear when you attend the interview. If you are already in the country where you intend to teach, you can find out the social norms easily enough. However, if you are attending an interview for a job abroad in your home country, do your research. One of the most curious interviews I have ever attended involved a large Japanese company recruiting in the United Kingdom. Upon arriving at the group interview in London, all male candidates not dressed in a suit and tie were politely asked to leave. Female candidates not dressed in a similar level of formality were also cut. On this occasion, like any other when I am not sure about appropriacy, always be too formal rather than too casual.
It is not an inevitability that you will be asked questions related to English grammar, but if it is your first job or you have less than the golden two years experience, spend time before the interview brushing up on your grammar. As the TEFL/ESL/TESOL market place becomes saturated with more candidates and qualifications like the CELTA/Trinity TESOL become the norm, not the exception, it is vital you do not embarrass yourself in the interview by stumbling over elementary language issues. In no way do you need to know all the intricacies of English, but basic language awareness is essential; after all how can you teach something which you don’t know yourself? As a guide, look at a Pre-Intermediate level course book; the interviewer will not ask advanced language questions, so do not worry. From my experience, prepare yourself to explain the difference between the past simple (I went) and the present perfect (I have gone), the rules of comparative or superlative adjectives (taller, the tallest), what modal verbs are (must, can) and what gerunds are (swimming, being late) and more.
The job interview is now in a few days time and it is essential that you prepare your ideas to a range of open questions the interviewer will ask you. TEFL/ESL/TESOL job interviews, I believe, are easier than other interviews to pass in this respect, as there really are only a limited range of questions you should expect to be asked. It is advisable to prepare ideas, not wholly scripted answers to the following (question advice in brackets):
- Why do you want to work for us? (Impress them with your knowledge of the company).
- Why have you become an English teacher? (Mention your love of teaching and learning; not travelling – your employer doesn’t want to think you will get up and leave through your contract!)
- What work experience (in TEFL/ESL/TESOL) do you have? (If this is your first job, explain how your previous work experience relates to teaching and learning).
- What were the challenges/difficulties you faced on CELTA/Trinity TESOL/ your last teaching job? (Make sure you spin this so it appears you reflected on your teaching practice and grew as a teacher).
- What English course books have you taught from/ What did you think of them? (Identify a book you liked and say how it helped your students learn)
- How long do you want to work for us/in TEFL/ESL/TESOL? (It is advisable not to mention English teaching as a stop gap or just an excuse to get out of your home country. Give the impression you’re in it for the medium to long haul).
Naturally, there are quite a few other questions that could be asked – the above is supposed to serve only as a guide. Remember to always try and put a positive presentation on any teaching practice or experience you have had. Never appear disgruntled with a previous employer or ex-colleague and do not bad mouth a society you have lived in.
Interviewers such as DOSs and ADOSs do not expect the interview process to be a one-way street so neither should you. In actual fact, I think TEFL/ESL/TESOL job interviews involve as much assessment of the school as the school does of you. Unfortunately, experience teaching and working within TEFL/ESL/TESOL best draws out the questions and issues you want answered. If you have never worked in teaching English, just try and think what will most impinge on/benefit your daily working life. Here are some essential things to find out about:
- Do I have to work split shifts? (never popular with teachers)
- Do I have to travel from class to class? (seldom paid)
- How will the school support me If I am teaching children? (the best schools work very closely with parents and teachers – the worst, not at all)
- How are student levels determined? (hopefully, through a comprehensive test administered by a native speaker)
- What are the procedures for cover and overtime? (how easily can you get cover if you are ill and can you get extra hours if you want to?)
- What materials (books, stationery etc)/resources (photocopier, printer etc) have you got?
- What are the opportunities for promotion/pay rises? (it is reasonable to ask)
- What are the opportunities for professional development? (can the company help make you a better teacher?)
Obviously, there are a lot of issues which you may want to raise in the interview, but try not turn the meeting into you interviewing the school! Hopefully, the interviewer should assuage your fears and provide answers that demonstrate the school is committed to academic quality, job satisfaction amongst teachers, and administrative competency. Alarm bells should ring if the interviewer dodges the issues above or provides unsatisfactory answers.
If you have impressed the interviewer, and have conversely been impressed by the interviewer’s responses to your questions, it is time to think about acceptance. You may have been to several interviews at the same time and are wondering which one to accept. I would recommend weighing up the pros and cons of each job very carefully and remember that it is not always salary that affects job satisfaction. Is $50 a month more really worth it for a poorly administered school that prioritises money over student/teacher welfare. The interviewer may ask for your acceptance on the day. If that is the case, it is not unreasonable to ask for thinking time of a day or two – you are committing yourself to a year or more abroad and the interviewer should understand that.
In conclusion, with thorough preparation, being formally dressed, and having a charismatic performance on the day, you should land that dream TEFL/ESL/TESOL job easily. Schools are always looking for teachers and it’s often the case that there are too many jobs to choose from. Use the interview as an opportunity to suss out the employer. Speak to other teachers and go round the premises. On a final note, learn from every TEFL/ESL.TESOL job interview – write down what went well and what you could improve upon so you can raise your game up a level next time. Good luck!