As a long time teacher and employer, I’ve sat on both sides of the interview table. I know how nerve-wracking it is to have one or more people asking you questions in a friendly way while trying discern whether you are the right person for the job. In your quest for your first TEFL job, or perhaps a new one, you may be wondering what exactly the interviewers are looking for.
Over the past seven years, I’ve done about five hundred interviews for TEFL teachers. To be honest, it’s fairly simple to come up with what employers think a good teacher might be. However, unless you’ve been in the industry for a long time and/or worked as a TEFL manager, you might not think about these characteristics, or how to prove that you have them. This post is going to flip the tables and show you what an employer is thinking about when they interview new teachers.
Or, if you’re more interested in getting a list of sample interview questions so that you can practice for an upcoming interview, you can access the free resource by clicking on the button below. You don’t need to do this now though; I’ll remind you later.
This may seem obvious, but what are you supposed to do if you’ve never had a teaching job before? What a potential employer is really looking for here is some proof that you’ll be able to do the job. If you’ve done a TEFL course, then you probably had to do some practical teaching either with your peers or in a real classroom under the supervision of a trainer. Talk about this! Say what you did and what you learned. Talk about early on mistakes and how you were able to get over them.
Also, experience doesn’t have to be directly related to TEFL, but if you bring it up in an interview, it should be relevant. If you are trying to get a job where you’ll be teaching children, talk about any experience you have working with children. If you are trying to get a corporate gig, any business that you have is very relevant. The same is true with academia and test prep. Basically, if an experience gave you skills that will help you in your prospective job, it’s worth bringing up.
Oh, but if you do have any previous TEFL teaching experience, definitely highlight it. Even if your previous job was a bad experience, try to keep things positive while in the interview and show enthusiasm towards the past classes that you’ve taught.
Reliable, Punctual and Organized
This is naturally important to an employer, but how can you prove this to them before you even get the job? While the best thing to do is to offer a good reference letter from a previous workplace in a related field that proves this, there are a few other things you can do.
If you want to prove that you are reliable, punctual and well organized, the very least that you can do is make it to the interview on time. In fact, I’d recommend coming in about fifteen minutes early (any earlier than that might prove annoying, or you may be waiting nervously in a lobby for quite some time). Likewise, being prompt in your email replies at this phase is a good sign that a teacher will be contactable during their employment with you. Another nice touch is to send an email after the interview thanking the interviewer for their time, and asking follow up questions or further answers to questions they’d asked during the interview. Only a handful of teachers ever did this with me, but they all received jobs and all turned out to be excellent teachers/employees.
You are likely about to work in a new country. If you’re going to be signing a year contract, the employer wants to know that you’re going to be able to deal with living there for a year. I’ve personally turned down teachers who were qualified, but couldn’t seem to get their heads around the idea of living in Vietnam. I’ve hired enough people who broke their contracts for this reason to see the warning signs.
Also, your working hours might change, the types of classes that you’ll be asked to teach might vary and you may even be asked to make changes to your teaching methodology to fit in with the school. The TEFL industry changes from year to year, it’s important to an employer that you are willing, and able, to change with it.
Well Spoken and Reasonably Intelligent
Honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to do a halfway decent job teaching TEFL. That said, it does take someone who can grasp a number of cornerstone concepts of the industry. Also, it takes someone who is able to evaluate themselves and engage in basic problem solving. Learning how to teach, like learning itself, is a lifelong pursuit. Employers want someone who is teachable, as well as able to teach.
Being well spoken is also important. It doesn’t matter whether English is your first language or not, if you make a lot of grammatical or pronunciation errors in your interview, you probably won’t get the job. If you can’t clearly and coherently express to another English speaker why you want to teach, how are you going to clearly convey complex instructions or concepts to an English learner? Also, teachers who make mistakes on their CVs, and in the interview, raise red flags with interviewers as they imagine the inevitable complaints that they will get from students or parents about this issue.
Somebody Who Looks the Part
I hate even bringing this up, and it is a controversial issue within the industry, but what many employers are also looking for is simply somebody who looks the part. The biggest culprits of this are companies run by people with little to no knowledge of the industry, but most companies still have stereotypes about what a TEFL teacher is.
Ok, here we go. The stereotypical TEFL teacher is between 22 and 35 years old, they are attractive, they are from a country where English is the first language. I’ve even taught in countries where there is a negative stereotype towards fluent speakers of English who are nationals of that country. The sentiment is that parents can’t trust that they are getting value for their money: “How do I know his English is any good?” as one parent put it to me.
Thankfully, this sentiment is gradually changing as the bar for what a GOOD TEFL teacher is, seems to be rising. I bring this up not to deter anyone who doesn’t fit the above TEFL stereotype from becoming a TEFL teacher, but to inform you so that you are ready to counter it in the interview. If you are considerably older than thirty five, and want to be working with kids, the concern is that you might not have the energy required to teach a full day of young learner classes. To address this, come to the interview with lots of energy, give examples of energetic activities that you either do or would do in the classroom, and don’t let them think this will get in the way.
If you are not a native speaker, or are not from a country where English is the first language, be prepared to prove that you are a fluent speaker of English. Give them some tangible proof as well as something that they can tell parents who ask about you (e.g. studied abroad for five years, have a parent who is a native speaker, studied English at University and scored a 9 on the IELTS, etc.).
With all of the above points, remember, the main goal of the employer is to hire the best person for the job. It’s not personal, and they are likely interviewing many other candidates. To get the job, it’s important to show them that you are, indeed, that person.
Again, if you’d like some interview questions to practice with, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the link below.