Job interviews are notorious for causing anxiety, but if you know what to expect and you prepare accordingly you should find they are not as bad as you are expecting. The essential nature of any interview is to show that you are confident in your teaching ability, keen to get started, and able to fit into the existing workforce. By doing some research and planning in advance, you should be able to demonstrate all of this and land the job on the spot.
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The worldwide market for teaching English abroad covers dozens of countries and many types of employer. In some situations it is normal to complete the recruitment process before leaving home, including an interview conducted via Skype or phone. However, in many of the most popular destinations employers prefer to recruit their teachers via face-to-face interviews on the school premises. While each interviewer will have their own criteria for choosing the right candidate, there are a few simple steps you can follow to give yourself the best chance of securing the job.
It is said that it only takes seven seconds to form a first impression, so it is vitally important that you get the basics right to avoid blowing the interview before it has even got going. Rule number one is simple: don't be late. As obvious as it may seem, many potential positions have been lost due to basic timekeeping. On arrival, introduce yourself to the interviewer and don't forget to smile. Politeness can go a long way and a simple smile can demonstrate confidence, positivity, and an outgoing nature. All of these positive traits will be absorbed by the interviewer before you have even sat down. One of the major things the employer wants to know is 'are you serious about teaching and will you see out the length of the contract?' By being enthusiastic about the position, the school, and the country you are in, you will help to allay the employer's fears and hopefully land the job at the end of the interview process.
The word to remember here is professionalism. Regardless of the location, any job teaching English abroad should be taken seriously, particularly when it comes to dress. It might be a sweltering day outside, but turning up for an interview in shorts and t-shirt is almost certain to lose you the job. For men, a suit is ideal but a collared shirt with tie is also fine in most situations. For women, a business suit, smart dress, or knee-length skirt and blouse are recommended. Long hair should be tied back and tattoos and piercings discreetly covered.
As part of the interviewer's job is to gauge how you would perform in the classroom, it is important to consider your language carefully. Always speak slowly and clearly using the same language that you would use in front of your students. Don't forget that the interviewer will most likely be a non-native English speaker, so don't try to be too clever with your vocabulary. Although many teaching jobs will involve using only English in the classroom, learning a few basic words of the local language is another way of making a good impression during an interview. Don't overdo it, just a simple 'hello' and 'goodbye' in the native language of the interviewer is likely to be appreciated.
Brushing up on the local culture and customs before arrival could help to avoid committing a major faux pas during the interview. Many cultures have potential pitfalls surrounding handshakes, how to sit, hand gestures etc. Although minor issues are likely to be overlooked, showing you have made the effort to find out about the local customs will certainly be in your favor.
The employer will certainly want to form an impression of who you are as a person, so expect questions such as: What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five years? If the job is outside of your home country you can also expect some questions regarding how you will adapt to a new environment. Typical questions might include: Have you travelled abroad before? What cultural differences have you encountered on your travels and how did you cope with them? Why do you want to work in this school/country? This last question provides a great opportunity to make a good impression so don't be afraid to flatter the interviewer regarding their home country or place of work.
Your previous work history is certain to come up so you should be prepared to answer questions about your past responsibilities, what you have learned from each position and why you want to leave or have left your last job. If you are an experienced teacher these questions may include: What ages and language levels have you taught? What course books have you used in the past? Have you experience using teaching aids such as interactive whiteboards, video and DVDs etc? Other questions in this area will also be relevant to new teachers who have completed a TEFL certificate course. How would a one-to-one lesson differ from teaching a group? How would you approach a class that had mixed language levels? How would you deal with a disruptive student in the classroom? If you are also able to relate any of your answers to specific occasions in the classroom then your credibility will be greatly enhanced.
Due to the nature of international English teaching, every job interview will be different. They could be face-to-face, on the telephone or via Skype and can last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or more. If it is a face-to-face interview you may also be expected to teach a trial lesson there and then so it is advisable to ask about this in advance and to ensure you are fully prepared. As with any job interview, if you look and act professional and are well prepared with solid answers to a wide range of typical questions, you have a good chance of landing that dream job.
Due to the huge number of English language training providers operating in countries all over the world, it is inevitable that there are some that are badly run. The good news is that by asking a few simple questions you should be able to avoid the jobs you don't want and greatly increase your chances of landing the right position to suit you. Questions you should ask the employer during an interview include:
- What tasks will I be expected to undertake outside of normal teaching hours? (You may be expected to write reports, attend staff meetings, consult with parents, produce lesson plans or undertake lunchtime duties etc. Some schools will pay for these extra responsibilities and some will not).
- What is teacher turnover like at the school? (This can be a good indication of how well teachers are treated. Although teachers do often change jobs, you should be wary if no one stays for more than one contract).
- What kind of classes will I be teaching? (This may require a few questions to get a full picture of what your classes will be like. What is the average class size? What age are the students? Is the curriculum set or will I have to prepare my own?).
- What is the payment schedule? (It is essential to know what the starting salary is and whether there is any set policy for pay increases. You also need to know how and when the salary is paid so you can ensure you have the funds to cover your stay until the first paycheck arrives).
- What teaching resources do you have? (Is there access to internet connected computers, printers and photocopiers? If so, are they free to use? Do the classrooms have interactive whiteboards, overhead projectors or plain whiteboards? Is there a budget to cover any extra materials you want to include in your lessons?).
Throughout the world a significant percentage of ESL teaching positions are filled locally via face-to-face interviews. However, there are many countries where recruitment is typically undertaken in advance from within the teacher's home country. This method of securing a position is particularly convenient for newly qualified teachers and those with little or no experience of international travel. The application process is usually conducted via email, while interviews take place via Skype or phone.
Securing a job in advance usually means you will receive assistance with obtaining the necessary visas and work permits. Employers may also provide financial assistance with airfares, health insurance and accommodation on arrival. One drawback is the time needed to complete the recruitment process, including obtaining visas etc, can sometimes be up to six months or more.
Asia has several popular destinations where schools typically prefer to recruit teachers from within their home countries. China is now the undisputed leader in ESL recruitment, with tens of thousands of jobs available every year. When securing a position in advance you can expect to have your airfare paid for and housing arranged for the length of your contract. You can expect similar benefits when applying for positions in South Korea, another major employer of native English speakers. Two other popular destinations that typically hire in advance are Japan and Taiwan. Both offer good salaries, although other benefits may vary from one employer to the next. A smaller number of teaching positions are also available in Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Although employers in Thailand and Vietnam generally prefer to interview face-to-face, interviews can often be arranged in advance via phone and email.
The oil rich nations of the Middle East are well known for offering some of the best salaries and other benefits to be found anywhere in the world. The majority of these positions can be arranged in advance, however, competition is very high so only those with experience and advanced qualifications are likely to be successful. The largest market is Saudi Arabia where tax-free salaries, paid airfares, health insurance and free housing make for a very attractive package. The United Arab Emirates is another popular option that offers similar pay and benefits. Other destinations worth considering include Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. These countries have less numerous opportunities than the 'big two', but positions can typically be organized in advance and the salaries on offer are still very competitive.
The majority of ESL positions across Europe are filled locally, so being in the country with your TEFL certificate and resume in hand is still the best approach in most cases. The main exceptions are Russia and Turkey where many employers do look to hire in advance from overseas. Also, in France and Spain there are government-run programs that place teachers in state schools. Applications can be made online in March for positions starting the following September. There are other popular destinations in Europe where ESL positions can sometimes be secured from outside the country. The Czech Republic has long been one of the top teaching locations in Europe, while countries such as Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania are all home to fast growing markets. Even if a position cannot be secured in advance, you may be able to organize interviews before leaving home.
ESL positions in Latin America are primarily secured via face-to-face interviews. However, there are a few countries where a significant number of positions are advertised internationally. Chile probably has the largest number of paid jobs in this category, as well as a government-run scheme for volunteering in public schools. With a large population and close ties to the USA, Mexico is another good option to explore. Brazil is also worth checking out due to its rapidly expanding economy and increasing importance on the world stage.
The most common contract in European schools is for an academic year that generally runs from September to June. The great thing here is you will have a couple of months off during the summer break to travel or earn some extra cash working with private students or at a summer camp. Summer language camps are very popular across much of Europe and usually run for 4 to 8 weeks, providing a great opportunity for short term work. Three and six month contracts can also be found in some countries but these are less common than the usual full year contract. If you are keen on a short term deal you will need to do plenty of research to locate them.
Once again the most common contracts are for one year; this could either be a full twelve months or for an academic year. The academic year does vary considerably depending on the country and type of school so this could begin in January, May or September. Short term contracts are also available in smaller numbers across the region but you will probably need to be in the country to have a good chance of securing them.
Similar to Asia, most countries in this region prefer to offer one year contracts that either cover the school year or a full twelve months. Once again, the start of the school year does vary from school to school so you will need to do some research before you make any firm plans. Some less developed countries in the region also offer short term contracts and volunteer based work, which may be a good option for those looking for adventure and to get off the beaten path.
Countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar offer some of the most attractive contracts to be found anywhere in the industry. Paid airfares, free housing, paid holidays and a tax free salary are just some of the benefits available, although you will probably need to sign for 12 months or even two years to land the most lucrative positions. Shorter contracts may also be available in some of the region's smaller countries.
Of the tens of thousands of ESL teachers working in countries all over the world, the vast majority do see out the length of their contract. However, there are always going to be some teachers who decide that the best course of action is to terminate their contract early. Whether it's due to an emergency at home, problems with work colleagues or poor working conditions, if you feel you have to leave you are perfectly at liberty to do so.
For teachers who are employed on an hourly contract there should be few consequences to worry about. This would apply to a large proportion of teachers across Latin America and Europe who are working without a work permit and are subsequently under no real obligation to their employer. However, for those who have signed a salaried contract that specifies pay and other benefits such as housing, airfares, and vacation pay, there are likely to be some consequences to think about before handing in your notice.
For many teachers working in countries across Asia and the Middle East, signing a written contract of one year or more that specifies salary and other benefits is standard practice. If you have to break your contract early you will not be eligible for return airfares or any other travel expenses that were specified, and if you leave within the first six months you might have to pay back the cost of your initial flight. Teachers on salaried contracts are also likely to be on a work visa that will be revoked once you quit your position. In this situation you generally only have a few days to leave the country so it is important to have your affairs in order before terminating your contract. In an ideal world it is best for both the teacher and the employer if work contracts are honored to the end, however, in reality, unforeseen circumstances can arise. If you feel you have no choice, being professional and providing your employer with as much notice as possible will generally lead to a smooth and trouble free exit.