When it comes to dress there is no correct answer as many schools have their own dress policy. In some schools men will be required to wear a suit and tie and women a pantsuit or skirt and dress shirt/jacket. Others will allow casual clothes such as a t-shirt and jeans, although most will fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The best advice is to ask the appropriate questions during the interview process to ensure you know what is expected. Otherwise you should lean towards the professional side of things for your first day and then you can adjust your dress accordingly.
What should I wear for a TEFL job interview?
As a general rule you should approach a TEFL interview in the same way as any other job interview you might have in your home country, whether it is conducted online or in-person. Don’t forget that you are in effect selling yourself to the school and a first impression can go a long way towards getting the job. Essentially, you want to give the impression that you are a professional educator who takes each job seriously and not just another backpacker looking to make a fast buck before moving on. The bottom line is you are better off being overdressed than underdressed in any interview situation.
Also read: What questions should I ask a TEFL employer?
If you are interviewing online before you leave home you should still follow the same guidelines, as employers generally expect the same level of professionalism no matter what the circumstances. It is also worth remembering that when you send off your application forms and CV/resume for potential teaching jobs many will ask for a photograph attached. When taking the photo remember to dress smartly and look professional. Sending a photo of you on the beach in a swimsuit will probably not get you an interview.
What about tattoos and piercings?
Although tattoos and piercings have become more mainstream in recent years they are still seen as taboo in many countries and by many individuals, especially when working in a business environment or when teaching young children. Many schools expect their foreign teachers to act as role models or as the public face of the establishment and this can have an impact on the local attitude to tattoos and piercings. Piercings and tattoos are even banned in some schools, but in most cases simply covering up and/or removing initially is the best approach until you are sure of the school’s policy.
Of course, some teachers will be unwilling to cover up their tattoos or remove piercings, and some might not be able to due to the sheer number they have. In this case you will just have to take your chances and see what happens, but just be aware that some schools will be unlikely to give you the job.
What about facial hair?
In many cases schools will not care one bit whether you have a beard, whatever shape or size it is. However, if you want the best chance of landing the right job a clean cut look is likely to be the best policy. If you are too attached to your facial hair to remove it, you should seriously consider giving it a good grooming before an interview to give yourself the best chance. The same applies to the hair on your head. If you have long hair just ensure it is clean and tied back to maintain the professional look that most employers are looking for.
Which countries have specific expectations when it comes to appearance?
If you are heading to East Asia to take advantage of the largest TEFL job markets in the world, there are a few things to consider. In Japan there are clear cultural associations between tattoos and the Yakuza (Japanese organized crime gangs), which means that many schools will not take on teachers with visible tattoos. In many other East Asian cultures such as China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan a clean-cut appearance is often expected and certainly preferred.
If the high salaries on offer in the Middle East are turning your head then you need to be aware of the cultural norms you might come across. In conservative Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia for example, it is common for female teachers to have to cover their hair, as well as their arms and legs. These rules may not apply in an international school setting where the pupils are also expats. Other countries in the region may or may not have similar rules and regulations, so it is important to get as much detail as possible during the recruitment process.
Finally, it is not a major problem if you arrive in a country for interviews to find that your bags don’t contain the right clothing for the situation. Wherever you are located you should have little trouble finding the clothes you need to satisfy employers in local shops and markets.
Also read: Is there discrimination in TEFL?