“Is this (your name)? This is Maria from Sacramento City College. We have some openings for ESL instructors and wonder if you’d like to come in for an interview…”
How exciting are those words? Very exciting for any job seeker, but especially so, I believe, for a first-time teacher. You hang up the phone feeling elated. Then the panic sets in. The interview is Monday, and it’s already Thursday. How do you prepare between now and then?
Remember that you may be an excellent teacher, but that does not guarantee you will interview well or get the job. Interviewing is a separate skill in itself, but it can be learned.
How To Ace Your ESL Job Interview
Go Back to the Job Announcements
Identify key skills listed in the job announcement: “Able to teach a variety of courses, lead committees, and identify and propose new courses.” These are three separate skills and suggest a need for an instructor with some experience and leadership skills. Make sure in your interview that you are able to speak to each of these skills, even if you only have one small example—the course you designed as part of your master’s degree program, for example.
Go Back to Your Course Material
Just as you identified key skills in the job announcement, in your course material or any professional journals you subscribe to, identify key terms. What are the “buzz words” scholars are using now in the field? As a first-time ESL job applicant in 1989, with a teaching credential in English and little knowledge of ESL instruction, I prepared for my first interview by reading an anthology of articles on ESL and learning that scholars in the field were interested in “communicative language learning” and “the Natural Approach,” terms I was able to mention in my interview. I got the job.
Write Interview Questions
With your identified key terms and skills, formulate a list of 5 to 10 questions the interviewer is likely to ask you: for example, “What is your approach to language teaching?”
In your response to the questions, include at least one specific example or story—the interviewer, as with almost anyone, is only able to relate to specifics. For example, I might say in response to the question about my approach, “I support mostly the communicative language approach.” Here I’ve given a topic sentence or main point. I will follow with some specifics, “For example, my first lessons are not devoted to conjugating the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ but rather on a series of small activities during which students learn greetings, farewells, and classroom language—language they can use immediately in real-life situations.” One of my colleagues got her first full-time job largely because the committee was impressed by her organized, “essay-type” responses to the interview questions.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you have your questions and responses, give the questions to your spouse, partner, roommate, or other trusted person to help you practice. Ask for feedback. Making eye contact tends to be an important feature of a good interviewee in U.S. culture as is smiling occasionally: people tend to interpret these as signs of honesty and friendliness. Appearing relaxed and confident is also important as the interviewer is looking for signs you can handle the job without too much stress.
Prepare a Teaching Demonstration
Sometimes there will be a second interview—usually only a short list of candidates is invited back for a second interview, so this is a good sign. Often at such an interview, you will be asked to prepare a short lesson plan and present it so that a panel of administrators and instructors will be able to judge your teaching skills. It’s usually best to keep it short, fifteen minutes or so, as it’s not a real lesson but a brief “sample” of your teaching skills—the panel will be looking at your knowledge of the subject matter and ability to convey it to students. The “lesson” should be something relatively simple that you’ve successfully taught before, if possible. I once tried to demonstrate something I had never taught before, different ways of making requests depending on the level of familiarity between the parties involved and the size of the request. However, the set of instructions and materials that had seemed so great on paper was, before an actual audience, so complicated that it left the interviewers confused and with obvious concerns about how clear it would be to ESL students. I didn’t get the job. For my next interview, I stuck with introducing how to write a persuasive essay, a mini-lecture I’ve successfully given dozens of times—and got the job!
After the Interview
After the interview congratulate yourself on a job well done—and relax. Take yourself out to lunch or other small celebration you prefer. If you get the call that you got the job, great! And if not, you’re still a winner because you gave a great interview that will pave the way eventually to a job. Review the questions you remember the panel asking, especially the ones that “threw” you—there usually are one or two in every interview. Note them down in your interview materials and think of strong responses that you can use if asked again in future interviews. Each interview is a step closer to getting a job.
Interviewing is an art of its own, and knowing how to interview well is necessary in a competitive, capitalistic society—few people, even professionals, get a job and then stick with it the length of their careers, and they will find themselves interviewing again and again.
However, interviewing is also a skill that with practice can be mastered.