Teaching English Abroad: Tips for the Interview

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Lauren Fitzpatrick

Lauren is a writer, expat, and former working holiday addict setting up shop in Australia. She's busy embracing surfing, reversed seasons, and cricket, but not Vegemite.

Image removed.Photo Credit: Greenheart Travel

Getting a job teaching English abroad can happen quickly, or it can be a long, harrowing process. Somewhere in between gathering documents, filling out forms, and repeated trips to the post office, you should have an interview. In some cases, you might have multiple interviews. It’s normal to be nervous, but don’t despair.

Different companies, schools, or agencies will use a variety of tactics to get to know their potential teachers. Some interviews will be short and sweet. Some will take an hour or longer. Some interviewers will speak impeccable English; some won’t. All you can do is prepare, take a deep breath, and do your best. But if you’re totally freaking out, that’s okay too. We’ve put together some tips and tricks for acing that interview and landing that job as an ESL teacher abroad!

1. Be On Time

This tip may seem obvious, but it's the best way to immediately make a great first impression. Depending on where you are when you apply, your interview may happen in on of three methods, each of which requires specific preparations. If you're interviewing over the phone, remember to double-check the time difference when scheduling the interview. Another option is Skype - be sure to clarify if this is a voice or video interview and to find a simple and professional backdrop, if necessary. Finally, if you are in the same country your interview may be in person - read on for more tips on how to rock one of these interviews.

Teacher SmilingPhoto Credit: Greenheart Travel

2. Be Prepared for Multiple Interviews

You may have more than one interview with the same person, or be interviewed by different people. If you apply through a recruiter, you’ll usually interview with them first. This is more of a getting-to-know you chat, to give them an idea of who you are and where your strengths lie. The ‘real’ interview is the one with your employer. This might be with someone from the program - such as EPIK in Korea or JET in Japan – or with somebody from the actual school where you’ll be teaching.

3. Smile

Whether you’re on the phone or face-to-face, smiling will work in your favor. Odd as it sounds, a smile is conveyed in your voice. It’s simple stuff, but your employer wants to know that you’re a positive person. They want to like you. They want the students to like you. If you greet them with a smile, you’ve automatically scored some points.

4. Speak slowly and clearly, using simple language

This always goes, whether or not your interviewer is a native English speaker. Chances are, they won’t be, so this isn’t the time to wow anybody with your vocabulary. Speaking slowly will help you calm down and give the listener a chance to process what you’re saying. Using clear language helps the interviewer envision what you might be like in the classroom, and whether or not the students will understand you.

5. Dress up

For phone interviews, you can skip this step and wear whatever makes you feel most confident. When interviewing in-person and even on Skype, dress professionally. That’s a collar and tie for men, a suit if you’ve got it. For women, a knee-length skirt or dress is appropriate. When in doubt, lean towards too dressy rather than not dressy enough. That doesn’t mean tails and evening gowns, but pull yourself together so your employer knows you made an effort. Appearance can count, especially in many Asian cultures where it’s important to present a tidy ‘face’ to the outside world.

Interview Attire

6. Research the culture

Picture this: you’re interviewing for a job in Korea. You walk into the room and shake your interviewer’s hand with your right hand. You sit down and cross your legs politely, when you realize that your nose is running. You excuse yourself, pull out a tissue, and discreetly blow your nose.

If you haven’t done your cultural research, you’d have no idea that you’ve just committed a major faux pas. Blowing your nose in front of others is considered rude in Korean culture, and some people believe that it’s not ‘proper’ for a woman to cross her legs. When shaking hands, you should typically touch the left hand to the right wrist as a show of respect. Now, there’s no way you can catch all of the cultural nuances when you’re new to a place, but you can take some time before an interview to read up on the basics.

Chances are, you’ll be forgiven for any minor transgressions, but if you can avoid them, even better. If you show signs that you have made an effort to understand and respect the culture, your interviewer will be impressed.

7. Learn a few words in the local language

You’ve already got enough on your mind, so I’m not suggesting you achieve fluency before the interview. However, even learning to say “hello” and “goodbye” in the local language will show that you’re serious about the job. Yes, you are there to teach English, and some employers may not want you to speak anything but English while you’re on the job. But in the interview, extending greetings in the native language of your host country will make a positive impression.

8. Show that you're serious

Your employer wants to know that you’re going to stick around for the duration of your contract. Employers don’t want to hire a teacher who might turn around and leave before the end of the contract. Although it’s not always possible to predict who is going to stick around and who is going to do a runner, your interviewer will be looking for signs that you want to stay. Show enthusiasm about the job and the country. Draw upon any past travel experiences to indicate that you’re serious about the job and can be depended upon.

Your employer wants to know that you’re a positive person. They want to like you. They want the students to like you. If you greet them with a smile, you’ve automatically scored some points.

Remember, an interview is a two way street, so likewise use it as an opportunity to get to know a company you may be committing the next year or so of your life to. Suss out the expectations, ask to speak directly with former or current teachers, and read reviews of the program before committing to anything. Follow these tips, and you'll be well on your way to securing a great job teaching English abroad!

Photo Credits: Greenheart Travel and itupictures.