A good way to view the ESL job interview is to compare them with clothes. They come in all shapes, sizes, lengths, fittings, colours…
I could go on forever really. But fact of the matter is that you never really know how it’s going to be until you go. Sometimes ESL interviews can really surprise you. That fancy language centre with the fancy Ikea-like furniture and billboards plastered throughout the city do the two-question, 40-second job interview.
- ‘Can you teach kids?’ and - ‘So, when can you start?’
Whereas, the run down, grubby little language school, situated next to a cheap massage parlour may ask you for the whole shebang - lesson plan, a demo lesson, to see originals of your TESOL certs, degrees, passport, to give several in-depth explanations as to the difference between Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous, see your grade 8 report card and a letter from your mother saying that you are a very good boy. Ok, well maybe not the last few.
While you can never 100% prepare for the ESL job interview, this guide will give you some of the usual suspects as well as some of the curly questions that seem to rear their ugly head at an ESL job interview.
The easy ones:
- So, tell me about your teaching career?
Ahhh yes, this is the most common question of the lot. This is the time to pull out the big guns, name the big companies you’re taught at, use all the abbreviations and acronyms that you can. IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, IB, TESOL, TEFL, ESL, etc. All jokes aside, at an ESL job interview, it’s your job to sell yourself, just as if you are selling a used car.
- Why do you enjoy teaching?
A) I don’t. B) Because I love communicating, I love speaking with new people and have always enjoyed speaking with new people. Hmmm, can you pick the right answer? If you use your common sense and give a vaguely positive answer, you will answer this question correctly.
- Why did you leave your last job/Why are you planning to leave your current job?
This is a tricky one that is always good to prepare for. A common, non-offensive answer that won’t see your job prospects flying out the window is to answer along the lines of new experience. A good example answer is: ‘I left my last job as my contract with the school ended and it is time for me to experience a new teaching environment.’ It’s also a good idea to pump up the ego of the interviewer by commenting on the fine reputation his school has. You should never, ever, ever slag off your previous workplace.
- How do you deal with naughty children?
A typical question that is frequently asked by the academic managers in language centres. A not-so-good answer would be to give them a whopping back hander. This question is an attempt to delve into your teaching methodology, specifically with classroom management. What the interviewer is looking for is a) you’re not a psychopath, and b) you have some knowledge on classroom management. An ideal answer would most likely make reference to positive reinforcement and various approaches to discipline such as removing privileges from the misbehaving students.
- What would you say you do best as a teacher?
‘Well duh! Everything!’ As true as that may be, you can’t exactly say that. More diplomatic language is needed to gain the trust of the interviewer. While this question isn’t a toughie, it still has a tendency to cause headaches. One of the rules with the interview questions, is that you should provide as much information as possible, even if it is not directly asked for in the question. This allows you to put forward as many of your positive points as possible, and proves to the interviewer that you are an effective communicator.
- What did you learn from your TESOL/CELTA?
Arghhhhh! This question often leaves many teachers clinging on to whatever they can get the hands on. In many cases, teachers have completely forgotten about everything in their TESOL course and replaced it with some of the things that they have learnt on when thrown in the deep end. It’s good to have a technical answer about lesson plans or an answer about grammatical awareness on hand.
- What would you describe as your weaknesses?
- Erm... None? Of course not! = Bad answer (although very true!)
- It’s difficult to say, as I am the sort of person who is always endeavouring to improve all aspects of life, whether it be personal or work related. = Good answer.
- A large number of students are using their mobile phones in class, what would you do?
Wow, this one is a tricky one as you want to answer in a way that would be appropriate for the new job. While your old methods may have been perfectly acceptable, e.g., letting the students be, and not disrupting the flow of the class, your new school may actually involve a little more disciplinary action to be taken in such an event. It’s a bit of a gamble as to whether to be honest or not, I would generally tend to go with the honest answer in this situation, but back it up with reasons.
- So why did you come to work in ___?
Mmmmm, personal questions are always the toughest to answer. And no, cheap booze is never a good answer. Try to show a strong interest in the country where you intend to work. One good way of doing this is to say that you have loved the country for a long time and decided one day that you would like to experience the culture on a long-term basis.
- Tell me, why did you become a teacher?
In other words, why the hell would you give up a six-figure salary to come and do this lowly paid job? A few good ways to handle this sometimes-curly question is to deal with it by saying that a time in your life was reached where you simply woke up and felt that it was time to make the change. I always make sure to mention that my father gave me the idea that ESL teaching is a valid career that allows me to reside in a foreign country (true story!).
So, the best way to handle an ESL interview is always give answers that are positive, be strong and believable with your responses, and if you ever come across a difficult question that you need to think about, simply acknowledge that it is a difficult question and take your time in answering.
Also, remember you are selling yourself, so give as much detail as possible and don’t be afraid to use the hard sell!
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Just a thought, because I'm not sure how common it is, but I would also be prepared to give a demo lesson. I was recently hired to teach ESL in the States and I was handed the book and given 15 minutes to plan a lesson. Try to be as thorough as possible, but don't stress too much because that they know it's a lot of pressure to plan a lesson in such a short amount of time and they often sit right in front of you and do their work while you plan the lesson.
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