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Mastering the TEFL interview

Overview

Summary: In this guide, you’ll find out what kind of questions you can expect in your TEFL interview and how best to answer them. You’ll find out what you need to prepare in advance and what knowledge you may need to brush up on. This guide is perfect if you’ve already worked through our CV/Resume and cover letter guides and you’re ready for the next step!

Topics you’ll cover:

> Preparing for general TEFL questions

> More about you and your motivations

> How to succeed in face-to-face interviews

In this guide, we’re moving on to the final stage of the application process – attending interviews. We’ll give you our top interview tips, give you some insider advice from TEFL recruiters and go through some of the most commonly asked interview questions to help you get prepared.

How to prepare for interview questions

The following two pages are going to give you lots of example questions that you might be asked by a TEFL recruiter or Director of Studies. These will range from general suitability questions to very specific TEFL questions about lesson planning, classroom management and grammar. Depending on the type of job you apply for, you might be interviewed directly by the school – by the Director of Studies or School Head – or by a recruiter first and then someone within the school at the second stage. If you apply to jobs in Europe, you’re more likely to be communicating directly with the school. For jobs in Asia, you’re more likely to be interviewed by a recruiter first.

We asked TEFL recruiters and employers how you can prepare for interviews, what they hope to see and what makes an amazing impression. It might help you to write notes while you watch, so you don’t miss anything important.

Questions recruiters ask

If you’re applying for a TEFL job through a recruitment agency, you might have an initial interview to check your suitability for the position. Although this interview will be with an experienced recruiter, they might not have a TEFL background, so the questions are likely to be quite general – not TEFL specific. The recruiter will want to know the basics about you to determine if you’re suitable for a job teaching English abroad.

Below are some sample questions that a TEFL recruiter might ask you. We’ve compiled this list using our knowledge of the industry and our experience working with recruiters. However, there are no guarantees these will be the exact questions you’ll be asked! Often, recruiters work on behalf of a company who might have many schools across a country, so you might not know exactly which city you’ll be working in before the interview.

Initial Questions

The first few questions are very general – their purpose is to find out if you’re a good fit for the job:

  • Why do you want to teach English as a Foreign Language?
  • Why do you want to teach in… China?
  • Do you have previous experience teaching/working with young people?
  • Do you have a TEFL-qualification?

With all these questions, we can’t really help you! It’s up to you to think about the answers. To give you some inspiration, we asked experienced teachers why they love TEFL. They said:

‘I love giving people the language and cultural understanding they need to communicate effectively and motivating students to persevere with language learning. Watching students developing and growing more confident with their English speaking is very humbling.’ @ElouiseColbourne

‘The ‘thinking on your feet’ and ‘each day is different’ aspects keep me in TEFL. It’s extremely stimulating!’ @ClareBurkeELT

‘I like their smiles when they understand a new concept and succeed in using it.’ @HeleneCombe

‘I enjoy learning more about my learners’ culture and getting them to share their experiences with me. That’s what I find engaging.’ @ELTExperiences

Suitability

The next few questions might look at your suitability for living and teaching abroad. Recruiters are looking for someone who isn’t going to run home in the first few weeks, who will work the whole of their contract and will embrace the differences between cultures, not reject them. You might need to do some research here to show that you’re genuinely interested in living in that country.

  • Do you have a lot of travel experience?
  • What do you know about living in… China?
  • How will you adjust to life in another country?

Preferences

The recruiter may then move on to your preferences for the job:

  • When are you available to start?
  • What age or level of learners would you prefer?
  • What length of contract are you looking for?
  • Is there a city in particular where you would prefer to work?

When it comes to preferences, it’s best to be honest, but you’ll need to be open – there’s every chance that you’ll be teaching a range of ages. If you’re really against teaching children, be careful with your applications as the majority of jobs are teaching young learners. When thinking about the city, do some research into the best place for you. There are plenty of travel blogs out there, highlighting the best (and worst) parts of cities all around the world.

Practical Questions

The final few questions are likely to tie up any loose ends – and ensure you’re the best fit for the company. These questions are quite often logistical and practical.

  • Do you have a police check / can you get a police check before the contract begins?
  • Can you support yourself financially for the first 4-6 weeks that you’re in the country?
  • Do you have any tattoo/piercings that we need to be aware of?
  • Do you have any medical issues?

Before moving abroad, several countries ask for police and medical checks before you arrive in country – though the employer should give you the information about this when you receive an offer. You’ll also need some start-up funds to get you on your feet when you arrive in country – this will contribute to accommodation and transport costs (if they aren’t included in your employment package) plus money for food, socialising and exploring.

male teacher showing his students the globe

TEFL interview questions

When you get through the first interview stage, the next interview will be a little bit more detailed and focus more closely on teaching. Whether you have a lot of teaching experience or you’re totally new to the industry, you’ll be expected to answer quite specific TEFL questions about grammar, cultural awareness, classroom management and teaching techniques. There will also be a range of ‘what would you do if…’ questions to test your ability to think on your feet. Have a look at the following questions – for each one we’ve included some advice for how to answer them.

Overall teaching competency questions

  • Do you feel comfortable teaching grammar?

If your answer to the first question is a resounding NO! you need to review foundation grammar as well as techniques and tasks you need to present and practice the grammar points. Ensure that you have got to grips with the tenses as well as key grammar points such as gerunds and infinitives and conditionals. You could get hold of coursebooks for each level and ensure you know the grammar you’ll be teaching or use a grammar book such as Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott. Review different teaching techniques and be ready to use buzzwords, such as Guided Discovery and inductive/deductive learning. (Tip: You can also get a copy of our own Ultimate Grammar eBook).

  • How do you ensure you’re sensitive to other cultures when teaching?

It goes without saying that the EFL classroom should be a respectful and culturally sensitive classroom. Cultural awareness is expected from all teachers. Take the time to learn about the culture of the country and be aware of any taboos that don’t exist in your country. Read up on blogs. A copy of Learner English by Swan and Smith is also useful for finding out about the culture and the language of your new destination

  • How do you help students to improve their skills outside the classroom?

Developing students’ study skills is really important for lots of schools. Write a list of things you will recommend your students to do outside the classroom, such as listening to podcasts or how to record and organise their class notes.

  • What would you do if your students kept speaking in their first language (L1) in the classroom?

This can be a big problem across all ages and levels. There are many ways to deal with it, from rewarding the well-behaved to forfeits for those who break the rules. Have a think about the best ways to deal with this problem. Will your suggestions change depending on the learner’s age?

  • What would you do if the same student repeatedly didn’t do their homework?

Your answer to this might depend on the age of the learner and their lifestyle. Again, think about how your answer might change depending on the learner. Similar questions you could be asked are ‘what would you do if the same student was always late?’

  • How would you deal with a mixed-ability class?

Although most language schools will endeavour to keep similar levels together, it might be the case that some students in your class are stronger or weaker than others in different skills. There are lots of strategies for differentiating your lessons to ensure that every person in your class is being pushed.

Questions on your teaching experience (where relevant!)

There might be some questions that ask you to reflect on your own teaching background. If you are new to teaching, answer the questions to the best of your ability using your life experience. We’ve provided some questions and put in brackets the points that are particularly relevant if you have teaching experience.

  • Why is teamwork important in teaching? Are you a team player?

Although on the surface teaching looks like an individual career, supporting your colleagues is an important aspect of work. From making a weary colleague a coffee or bemoaning your group of upper-intermediate teenagers to sharing lesson plans, materials and teaching tips. Building a relationship and working as a team is a fantastic way to develop your own teaching and help make the workplace a friendly environment.

  • What’s your proudest (teaching) moment? Or: talk about a time where you successfully resolved a problem with a difficult student.

These are questions that might only be asked if you have experience. Without teaching experience, it might be better to prepare for a lot of ‘what ifs’. If you have a year or two of TEFL teaching under your belt or you have prior experience in a different area, prepare for a question like this and write some notes about your teaching highlights and your best problem-solving scenarios.

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses (as a teacher)? How are you going to develop your teaching?

A classic interview question for every industry, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance for something that’s bound to come up. If you’re a new teacher, it’s perfectly OK to be honest and say that you’re worried about teaching more complicated grammar or worried about feeling insecure in a class of Business learners. Make sure you’re clear that you will aim to improve on these things with professional development and how you plan to do this. For professional development, consider reading blogs, articles and books or going to conferences and workshops in your area. Join the TEFL Twitter community and keep an eye on hashtags such as #eltchat, #eltwhiteboard and #celtachat.

  • How would your friends/students describe you?

Strict, funny, friendly, a little bit crazy? Avoid negative adjectives and play to your strengths.

Language Awareness Questions

The final type of question to ask in this interview are those directly related to language and your awareness of language. These can be some of the trickiest, especially if you’re not very confident in your knowledge. Not only might you have to answer some questions to see what you know, you might also have to explain how you would teach certain language points or vocabulary.

  1. How would you teach 1) balloon 2) to leap 3) proud 4) subtle to a group of learners?
  2. How would you introduce the 1) present perfect 2) present continuous 3) third conditional?
  3. Can you use a timeline to show the past perfect?
  4. Can you use the phonemic script?

If you struggle with any of the above, you might want to do some work on your weak areas. You can use a grammar guide to improve your knowledge or grab a decent TEFL handbook to fill in any gaps in methodology (like our i-to-i Ultimate Grammar eBook). If you don’t know an answer in an interview, at least tell the interviewer how you would find out the answer.

close up of mans formal wear

Top tips for in-person interviews

If you are meeting in person for an interview, there are some further points to consider. As the interview is likely to take place in the school, you can make use of the equipment. For example, if you’re asked to teach the word ‘balloon’, ask for a whiteboard pen and draw one on the board!

In an in-person interview, aside from the practicalities of turning up on time and dressing appropriately for the role, you might have to complete some additional interview tasks. These might include planning a short lesson from some materials the interviewer provides – a couple of pages from a coursebook or from the school’s set syllabus. You might then have to explain your plan to the interviewer or even give a short demonstration lesson to students from the school or to its administrative staff. This demo could be observed by the interviewer or the students may pass their comments on later. Whatever the situation, keep your cool and do your best.

Top tips for Skype or phone interviews

In the majority of cases, you’ll be doing your interview on Skype or a similar software alternative. Making a great first impression is just as important as in real life. Follow our advice to ensure interview success over the internet:

  • Be on time! In real life, you wouldn’t turn up late to an interview – it’s the same on Skype. Double/triple check that you’re logging in to Skype at the right time in the correct time zone.
  • Dress the part. Forget wearing a shirt on top and pyjamas on the bottom – dress smartly and you’ll automatically feel more professional. Smart clothes, neat hair and a big smile is the way to go.
  • Speak clearly – you’ll need to make yourself understood by the recruiter who might not speak English to an expert level. Doing this interview over the phone or Skype makes it even more important to speak slowly and clearly.

woman sitting with her cv in hand waiting to be interviewed

Summary

In this guide, we’ve looked at some commonly asked interview questions both by recruiters and by Directors of Study. The questions range from super generic to very specific and linguistic. We’ve also presented some of our top tips for interviews in person and online. You’ve also had the chance to become the employer, by writing the questions you’d ask a candidate. We hope that this guide has given you plenty to think about when preparing for your interview.

If you’re about to attend your interview, read our pre-interview checklist below to make sure you’ve covered everything before you go!

⤓ Access pre-interview checklist (Google Docs)⤓ Download pre-interview checklist (MS word)

If you’re applying for an online teaching position, there might be a last step you need to do – the employer might ask you to perform a demo lesson. Check out the last chapter of this guide with everything you’ll need to know to feel prepared!

 

Continue reading about: Create great demo lessons »

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