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Job Interviews‏‎ for TEFL Teachers

Job Interview Redux

“So how would you deal with discipline problems in the classroom?”

TEFL Job Interviews are part and parcel of getting a job as a teacher. This article looks at ways in which you can prepare yourself for them.

Although there are no hard and fast rules on how the interview will happen and the structure, there are some good general principles which will cover you for 90% of the questions you’ll be asked.

Preparation is the key, however. The more you prepare, the better your interview will be.

Types of Interviews

There are several types of interviews you might experience when looking for work.

  • an interview at the school itself when you’ll talk about what you have done and what you can do; this is usually face-to-face but it can also be held over the telephone or online through Skype, etc
  • a face-to-face interview with an agents‏‎ who will help you find work (this includes interviews with government officials for placement in programs like EPIK for South Korea)
  • an interview for a place on a training course such as CELTA

Note that most of the information in this article refers to job interviews although much of what we say will also apply to interviews for training courses; there’s a section below which deals specifically with training.

Whichever type of interview you’ll be having, the golden rule is, however, preparation.

Practicalities

First we’ll deal with the practicalities of the interview. Not all of these will apply your interview situation (face-to-face, online, by telephone, etc) so just think about those that do.

  1. Make sure you are in plenty of time – a good 10 minutes before you need to be there! Check the route to the office/school beforehand and know which bus/train you need in order to get there on time.
  2. Dress appropriately and make sure you know what to wear‏‎. This will depend on the country, but smart casual is perhaps the minimum.
  3. Have copies of your CV/Resume with you and also copies of any certificates, visas or other paperwork so that you can leave them with the interviewer if required.
  4. Get a business card from the person (or people) who interview you; if they don’t have a business card make sure you get their name and email address (yes, write it down on the notebook you took with you).
  5. Give them your teacher business card as well – it looks professional

The night before run through the interview in your head. Positive visualization helps!

Note that if you are doing a telephone interview then firstly you should have all the information in front of you and secondly, you should stand up while doing the interview. This helps relax your voice.

TEFL Interview Preparation

Well beforehand, research as much as you can about the new school. Make sure you’ve read their website and any brochures they might produce. Certainly go online and check out forums and other sites which might mention them.

And if you come across someone else who has worked for that school, you can also contact them DISCREETLY to ask about the place.

In this way you’ll have a good idea of the kind of students you’ll be teaching, their age and level. And in your reading of the literature you might find questions you’d like to ask. For example, you might read that the school has two buildings in different locations so you’ll want to ask which one you’d be working in and whether you’d have to commute between them during the day.

On a sheet of paper write down all the requirements for the job and how you match them:

School Duties and Requirements Your Qualifications and Experience Accomplishments etc
Degree BA English Lit.
TEFL Certificate ICAL TEFL Certificate Course
Teaching Beginners‏‎ 2 years with complete beginners class
Exam Preparation Class 2 years worked with First Certificate in English‏‎ and Michigan Proficiency classes 95% pass rate; 72% A grades

Go through the job posting and make sure you list all the requirements and how you can match them. Be as concrete as possible so that if the interview asks for experience with adults, don’t just write down YES but note dates and classes and specific experience. Also bear in mind that outside the academic requirements schools are often a little flexible so where they might ask in the advert for 3 years experience teaching Business English‏‎, you might well be able to get the job even if you’ve just got 2 years.

Talking About your TEFL CV/Resume

The next thing to do is check your CV/Resume‏‎ and make sure you can talk about every single point on it. This means if the interviewer asks you what kind of work you did at such-and-such a school, you’ll be able to tell them straight away without having to rack your brains. Again, be specific.

Look also for “holes” in your CV/Resume and make sure you can explain them. If the interviewer asks you what you did during the 8 empty months between college and your first job, you need to have some good excuses there. You can say you went on a walking tour of Chile and then spent time in hospital with a broken leg (as long as you can back this up convincingly) but you must have something concrete here; don’t just say you sat at home watching daytime soaps, put a positive spin on it.

If you’re new to teaching, try and put an educational slant on your non-teaching experience. Working in McDonalds becomes, “I was a kitchen supervisor in McDonalds where part of my duty was to instruct new staff members in how to deal with customers and how to work efficiently in the environment.”

If you talk about your hobbies and interests, keep it brief and don’t ramble about your stamp collection for twenty minutes. Also, be careful about talking about interests that might conflict with your teaching or working in the school. If your interest is nudism, probably best to leave that off the CV/Resume!

Talking About Past TEFL Employment

Always be positive. Nothing is worse than bad-mouthing a previous employer as the interviewer will always wonder what went wrong and whether you might be a problem employee.

For each job you’ve done, make a list of your achievements in that job. This doesn’t have to be exhaustive:

  • spent 8 months teaching in XYZ school
  • took the exam preparation class which resulted in a 95% pass rate with 60% A grades
  • taught 8 different classes through the academic year: mostly conversation English but took grammar with the Advanced Class and Business English with an adult class, specializing in the Automotive industry
  • went on 3 school tours to places of interest in the region, supervising 18 teenage students on each

If possible, talk about how you love teaching and that how you view it as a vocation rather than just a way to pay for a year in the sun.

Typical TEFL Interview Questions

Below are some typical questions you might be asked. You won’t be asked all of them and the chances are you’ll only be asked one or two but make sure you know how to answer each of them succinctly (don’t ramble!) and you will stand a good chance at the interview.

  • Why do you like teaching so much?
  • What do you most like about teaching?
  • Do you have preferences about which class you teach?
  • How would you deal with a disruptive student‏‎?
  • What materials did you use in the past?
  • What’s the best way to motivate a class?
  • What are your interests outside of work?
  • What were your responsibilities in your last job?
  • What did you learn from your last job?
  • Why did you leave your last school?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?

There might be questions about the school itself to see if you’ve done your research so be prepared:

  • Why would you like to work for our school (as oppose to another school)?
  • What interests you about this job?
  • What do you know about this school?
  • Why do you want to live in this country/city?

If you are being interviewed for a program like EPIK or JET they may include additional questions on what you know about the program and the country you’re hoping to stay in.

Also don’t forget you might also be asked some questions you don’t really want to answer. Make sure you have something good to say here:

  • What is your greatest weakness as a teacher?
  • I see you have no experience teaching; why should we hire you?
  • You’ve only really stayed in each school for just one academic year; we’re looking for someone long term.
  • You’ve not taught [this specialist type] of class before.
  • Have you attended any additional training or seminars recently?
  • What was your worst lesson?

You may also be asked to conduct a sample lesson. Make sure you know whether you’ll have to do this beforehand so you can prepare and if this is the case then always think of needs analysis‏‎ first and ask what level of class, duration, class make-up, subject, lesson objective, etc, you’ll be expected to teach.

In this vein, it’s very unlikely, but you may be asked a question like How would you teach the present perfect simple‏‎ to an intermediate class of adults? It’s always worth brushing up on your grammar before going into an interview!

Also, be prepared to back up your statements. If you say that you can handle badly behaved students, be prepared to give practical examples of how you did this. And if you say you prefer teaching beginners, then why is that? And when you taught a mixed ability class: how did you get over the problems with this?

Basically you need to put yourself in the place of the interviewer and make a list of all the possible questions you can think of including the ones you wouldn’t like to answer. Then you have to come up with the answers! As we’ve said above, the chances are that the interview itself will be easy, but it’s always best to be prepared.

Asking Questions

It’s perfectly fine for you to ask questions about the school and the job. Some interviewees feel it’s out of place, but good interviewers will appreciate the interest you show in the school and the job and like the fact that you’ve obviously researched the situation.

First impressions are important, however, and if you start by asking how much money you’ll earn and what the benefits are, the interviewer will think that is all you care about.

So instead talk about

  • the student make-up: ages, students, class size, level, etc
  • the staffroom make-up: who are the other teachers; are they foreign too?; do you share classes, etc
  • location: is there more than one campus? where would you work?
  • material: which books do you use? prepare own material? How rigid is the curriculum and can you stray?
  • school makeup: what resources are available? computers, OHPs, etc.
  • duties: what you’ll do outside of teaching, how many hours marking, excursions, etc? Is this paid?
  • working hours: are there split shifts? working at weekends? what are the usual working hours?

If, by the end of the interview, salary has not been discussed, you should bring it up.

  • How much is the pay? Is it a standard salary or based on experience?
  • Are there bonuses? How often is payment made?
  • Social security and/or health cover?
  • Will the school help with your visas?
  • Can you see the contract?
  • What about accommodation? Can the school help with this?

And finally, if you’re there in person, why not ask for a tour of the school?

TEFL Training Course Interviews

Most of the information on this page is also applicable to interviews for training courses. However, there are likely to be a few extra considerations if you are hoping to get onto a training course.

Brush up on grammar! You may be given a quick test. Go over

  • verb tenses‏‎
  • parts of speech‏‎
  • sentence structure
  • etc!

Reading through the ICAL Grammar Guide will give you more than enough to answer the kinds of questions they might ask.

If you have been assigned (as sometimes happens) a pre-interview task, make sure you prepare it thoroughly! If there’s a problem with it, check back with them before the interview and if you have (or had) a problem it’s perfectly legitimate to bring this up at the interview.

Courses like CELTA are extremely intensive and you’ll be under pressure from day 1; the interviewers will want to see if you can handle this. Just stay calm and do what you can and above all, don’t panic. Remember, they don’t expect you to know all about teaching technique here (after all, that’s what they’re going to teach you) but they do want to see commitment and enthusiasm on your part.

Finally, bear in mind that training courses are business concerns and the schools want to fill all the places on the course to make money. Thus they don’t want to make it too hard for applicants but just weed out the poor ones before the course starts.

TEFL Interview Follow-up

The day following the interview send an email to the person who interviewed you. Thank them for the interview, reiterate your interest in the job but don’t be pushy.

Important Final Words

It is very important to remember this: if a school calls you for an interview this means that they are already seriously considering hiring you. They want to find the ideal employee for their school and they hope it’s going to be you so you start at an advantage before the interview even begins.

They have read your CV/Resume and so you tick all the right boxes in that area. They are interviewing you now to see if you are the right kind of person and whether you will fit in with their school and the school environment.

Keep things positive and show them that you are a good, conscientious teacher and nice person who will be an enjoyable colleague; don’t give them a reason NOT to hire you – it’s as simple as that!

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