In one respect, TEFL job interviews are no different to any other interview: Preparation is the key to success. It’s the one thing you can control. You can’t change the amount of experience you have or which TEFL course you took (although you can make them stand out with a first-class CV), but you can control the light in which this experience is seen by an interviewer. One year teaching can sound more than enough or inadequate, depending on how you present it.
Since the start of my TEFL career I’ve probably had a dozen or so interviews myself, and in recruitment roles have interviewed hundreds of applicants. One thing is for sure: It’s impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked, and so preparing exact scripted answers is not realistic. What you can do though is think about and prepare for the kinds of questions you might be asked.
With this in mind, what follows is a list of some common TEFL interview questions. Prepare for these and you’ll give yourself the best chance of success in your interview.
Here are the three main areas recruiters want to know about:
- Your language awareness
- Your teaching and classroom management knowledge, skills and experience
- Your interests, expectations and aspirations
These are quite broad areas, so let’s look at some example questions and how to go about answering them.
TEFL interview questions about language awareness
- How would you introduce past simple to a group of 10 adult students?
- How would you explain the word “proud” to a student?
The range of possible questions of this type is of course huge. Interviewers are looking for a relatively brief and succinct answer which shows both your awareness of the language and a competent way to teach it. Although you can’t prepare for the specific language point, you can prepare with examples which you can then adapt.
If it’s a grammar question, prepare a “First, then, next” series of stages of how you would present it. Practise with several of these and you’ll feel confident about adapting them to any grammar point. If it’s a vocabulary question, think of an example for each of several different ways of presenting vocabulary, and you’ll be able to adapt these to any word.
You might even get some direct grammar questions: “What’s the difference between past simple and present perfect?” / “When do we use first conditional and when do we use second conditional?” You can prepare for these by brushing up on your grammar knowledge.
TEFL interview questions about your teaching and classroom management
- How would you go about establishing the needs and objectives of a student?
- What would you want to know about a group if I told you I needed you to teach it in 30 minutes?
- How would your approach with a one-to-one student differ to that with a group?
- How would you deal with a class of students of mixed abilities?
- How would you deal with a very dominant student in a class?
- Tell me about a time when you felt rewarded or satisfied by something you did in a classroom.
- Can you think of a time when you’ve successfully dealt with a difficult student or class?
- Imagine you have a group of 8 year olds who you’re seeing for the first time. It’s a 45 minute lesson and they know just a few basics in English. Describe what you would do in the lesson, step by step.
With this type of question the interviewer wants to know how you would approach and deal with different teaching and classroom management situations. The best way to answer these is with concrete examples of how you’ve dealt with such situations from your teaching experience. “Can you control disruptive students?” is best taken as “Tell me about a time where you had a disruptive student or class and how you successfully dealt with the situation”.
If you don’t yet have any experience, you might be able to use an example from your TEFL training. If not, just describe what you would do hypothetically. Once again, you can’t prepare for every question of this type, but the more examples of different situations and contexts you can think of, the more prepared and confident you’ll feel for any question of this type. In each case, think of the situation, what action you took or would take, and what happened as a result. Maybe your solution didn’t work – the important thing is that you tried to do something about it and learnt from the experience.
For the last question, and questions similar to this which ask you to describe a typical lesson, think about the different activities that you have used, how you use them and why they work. Think also about the progression of activities and how they make the lesson flow logically.
Some other questions about your teaching skills and experience might be more general, like these:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher?
Don’t be afraid to sell yourself with your strengths: “I had a good reputation in my previous job for having very inventive ideas for themes for lessons” / “Other teachers would often ask me for help when they were stuck for an idea, and my own students gave the school a lot of good feedback about how fun my lessons were.” At the same time, show that you are human and have weaknesses, but that you are able to use these weaknesses to your advantage, or that you are striving to improve in that area: “I’m still learning when it comes to grammar, so I make sure that I fully research a grammar point when it comes to teaching it.”
- Tell me about your experience teaching children / business English / TOEFL.
- What aspects of your teaching have changed with experience?
Maybe you personalise your lessons a lot more now. Perhaps you’re more flexible and prepared to adapt as the lesson goes on (while always ensuring that you achieve your lesson plan objective of course!)
- What course books do you have experience using? What do you think of them?
Don’t be afraid to give your honest opinion of a book: “I’ve used Business Result a lot, and I really like how each unit is structured. But in the context where I used it in [country] I don’t think it gives enough focus on the individual grammar points that it introduces, so I had to adapt each unit quite a lot for that particular teaching context.”
- What ages and levels of students have you taught in the past?
- What was the most important thing you learned in your TEFL training?
Maybe focus on one thing that you hadn’t been expecting, or show how the course changed your perceptions of teaching.
TEFL job interview questions about your interests, expectations and aspirations
- What kinds of classes / levels / ages are you interested in teaching?
Be honest! If you really don’t like teaching kids, then don’t say that you’d like to have a lot of kids classes. (If that’s the case though, then perhaps you shouldn’t be applying for a job involving a lot of teaching young learners…) But recruiters need to know that you’re flexible too. So do tell the interviewer which type of class you prefer, but make it clear that you’re prepared to try different things: “I’d really like the challenge to learn something new and see how it compares to the type of teaching I’ve done a lot of.”Before the interview, give some thought to what are you hoping to get from the job. What can you offer? If it’s for freelance or part time work, what is your availability? Having all this in mind will save you offering something that you can’t (or don’t want to) deliver.
- What have you done / are you doing to develop your teaching?
If you can show that you’ve attended some development workshops in your current job, or even attended a conference or subscribe to an ELT magazine, so much the better. Show your eagerness to develop: “One thing that attracted me to your school is that you say you offer monthly training workshops to teachers. There are some areas where I’m really interested in developing my skills further, so I’m keen to learn from more experienced teachers at [company name].”
Some other questions in this area:
- Have you lived or travelled abroad before? What cultural differences did you find difficult to get used to?
- How much support do you expect from a school?
You want to show that you are independent enough to get on with things, but at the same time appreciate some guidance and support to help you be more effective as a teacher and a colleague.
- Do you think it’s important for the whole school to be an English speaking environment (not just the classrooms)?
Opinion differs on this one so there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. Perhaps give the pros and cons of each or talk about your experience of both scenarios if you have it.
- How do you see your future in teaching?
- What interests you about this school? What do you know about this school?
Here is where, hopefully, you will have done your research about the school, the type of training they offer, their clients, and the culture of the school where possible. What interests you could be any one of these things: “I like the fact that the majority of the teaching is with Young Learners. This is something I really enjoyed in my last job and I’m looking to develop it further.”
Other TEFL job interview questions
- Why are you leaving your current job?
Be honest. If leaving has negative connotations, sell it in a positive way: “I realised very quickly that [country] wasn’t for me so had an open discussion with my employer, and they understood that I wouldn’t be happy if I stayed. They were very supportive in helping me move on. I’ve learnt a lot since then about what I’m looking for and where I’m suited to, which is why I’m applying for this job. I’m ready for a new challenge.”
Face to face and Skype TEFL interviews
If you have a Skype or in-person interview, you may be asked to give a teaching demonstration. This may involve coming up with a lesson beforehand, ready to deliver at the interview. If the interview is by Skype, then the interviewer may act as the student. If it’s in person this may also be the case, or you may teach one of the school admin staff, for example.
TEFL interview lesson plans
If you are asked to give a teaching demonstration, then my advice is to use a lesson plan that you’ve successfully used in the past and are therefore confident with (adapted of course to whatever context you’re asked to teach). There might be a temptation to show off every skill and activity in your repertoire. If you can wow the interviewer, then so much the better of course, but what the interviewer is really looking to see is simply that you know how to plan and stage a lesson, deliver it and achieve the lesson objective, and manage the classroom effectively.
Even if you’re not asked to prepare and deliver a lesson to someone acting as a student, you may still be asked to describe a recent lesson that you’ve prepared and successfully taught.
What questions should I ask in a TEFL interview?
There will come a point in most interviews when the interviewer asks you what you want to know. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is simply an opportunity for you to clarify anything you need clarifying. It is, of course, but it’s also a way for the interviewer to gauge how much serious thought you’ve given the job.
So, here are some questions you might want to ask:
- What are the working days and working hours? (do you mind working Saturdays?)
- How many contact teaching hours will I be expected to do? (20 to 25 a week is common – 40 contact hours a week is not healthy!)
- Will I be paid overtime if I teach more than this number of hours? (when is it paid and is it compulsory?)
- How many days of paid holiday are there? (and does this include public holidays?)
- What are the expectations for non-teaching tasks, such as meetings, attending training, placement testing of students when outside normal working hours?
- Is there a probationary period where either party can terminate the contract? (a period of up to 3 months is common where either you or the school can end things)
- What is my salary? When and how is it paid?
- Do you provide opportunities for teacher development (if not covered earlier in the interview)
- What kind of teaching resources do you have available for teachers?
If the job is not in your home country:
- Is medical insurance provided? (particularly important in countries which do not have reciprocal agreements with your own)
- Will the school pay my flight ticket (and when?)
- Is accommodation provided? (is it shared, how much does it cost, how far is it from the school, does it have a TV/fridge/bed?)
- Does the school provide local language lessons for teachers?
After the interview
At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for his/her time and take note of what he/she says will happen next. Don’t hound the interviewer every day, but do follow up after a reasonable time period. If you were told that you’d hear within a week and ten days have passed, you would be well within your rights to send a polite follow-up email to enquire about the status of your application.
Questions for other teachers
At some stage after the interview it can be a good idea to talk to / email / chat online with one or more teachers currently working at the school. If the school is reputable they shouldn’t have any problem with you talking to one of their teachers. It is from them that you will get to know what the school is really like and if there are any problems there. Here are some questions you could ask other teachers:
- What’s the atmosphere in the school like?
- What teaching resources are provided?
- How do you get on with the Director of Studies and/or School Director?
- Do you get paid on time?
- Has the school fulfilled their side of the contract?
- Why are you leaving? (if he/she is leaving)
- What’s the city nightlife like?
- What’s the accommodation like?
- Is there internet access at the school?
- Does the photocopier work?
TEFL interview tips
Here are a few other tips to help you succeed in your TEFL job interview:
Research the school
Before the interview, find out everything you can about the school, the types of class offered, the staff, the students. This will help prepare you for any questions you might get asked about this, and might also give you some ideas for questions of your own. Being familiar with the school in this way can also really help you feel more comfortable and therefore confident in the interview.
If you’re having a face to face or Skype interview, Interviewers don’t want to see you in a t-shirt and shorts. But they probably don’t want to see a suit and tie either – this can be much too formal for most teaching contexts.
Act like a teacher
Remember that you’re applying for a teaching job, and three important qualities in a teacher are friendliness, confidence and being relaxed. So, put the serious face away, smile, don’t meekly wait to be asked a question before you speak, and try and show confidence. Easier said than done in an interview I know, but interviewers understand this. They’re neither expecting nor wanting a loud, overconfident salesperson, but they do want to see that you can show some level of confidence alongside the inevitable nerves.
Treat each interview as if it is for your dream job
Show the interviewer that you are enthusiastic and excited about the possibility of working for their company, even if it’s only fifth on your shortlist of possible jobs. Treat each interview as if you are applying for your dream job, showing both the interviewer and the interview process the respect that they deserve.
If you’ve had a TEFL interview, what questions were you asked? Share them in the comments below.