Interview tips for teaching abroad

What To Expect

You’ll need to participate in at least one job interview in order to secure a teaching position in China. Your skype interview will be the most important part of your job application process, and there are a number of things to consider before your interview to improve your chances of success, as you may well be competing against other teachers for the same position. Spending some time preparing will ensure that you come across to the interviewer as keen, knowledgeable and interested in working for their school.

Before The Interview

Obviously it is wise to read up about the company and find out all you can about their schools, teaching methods, course material, requirements and any other details you can. Not only does it show initiative and that you are genuinely interested in the job you are interviewing for but having a good understanding of the company allows you to make a more informed decision on whether that particular school is right for you.

If you are planning on flying halfway across the world to teach somewhere for a year, you want to make sure it’s with a school you will enjoy being at. Write down all the questions you want to ask before the interview and have them ready. The interviewer will be expecting you to have plenty to ask so make it as long as you want!

Pre- Interview Preparation – Do your Research!

We appreciate this is not always possible as not all schools have a comprehensive website or social media presence, however try to find out what you can about the school or company you are looking to join. This could include:

– The age of students

– The type of curriculum the school follows

– Does the school/company have other locations?

– Does the school run extra-curricular events such as Halloween parties, Christmas parties, field trips, etc?

– Places of interest in the city or town (to show that you are not only interested in the job, but also the surrounding area)

If you know the ages of the students in the school you can research good approaches to teaching this age group, for example by

– Reading online articles about English language teaching for this student target group

– Some common problems such groups of students typically experience

– Looking at popular websites for worksheets, games and activities

– Watching YouTube videos

– Reading classroom management articles and videos

Getting ready for a Skype interview

Most interviews are done via Skype and are usually video calls so make sure you have tested your microphone and headphones, have a webcam ready and a fast internet connection. With Skype you can set your profile picture too so ensure you have a professional one for the interview.

Make sure you have added the schools Skype ID well ahead of time. Often there will be a time difference between the interviewer and candidate so double check that you have the right time, is a good site to use.

It’s definitely worth finding a quiet, well lit place for the interview. Not long ago I interviewed someone who was in a noisy, outdoor internet café with his baby son on his lap and a beer in his hand. The baby was climbing all over him and I couldn’t hear half of what he was saying, not the best way to go after a new job. Dress professionally, as you would for a face to face interview, so a shirt and tie for men and smart clothes for women.

The Interview

Most skype interviews for an English teaching position in China are very different to the Western interview style you may be used to; they are usually short (30 minute or less) and don’t tend to include too many probing questions such as ‘where do you envisage your career in 10 years?’.

Interviewers are also generally not looking to test you on grammar skills or trying to trip you up on the theoretical knowledge acquired via your TEFL/ CELTA certification. Schools should be friendly, approachable and will be hoping you’ll tick all the boxes and really want to come to their school. Your interviewer will also be focusing on getting a feel for what you might be like to actually work with for a year and whether you will get on well with the students and other staff members.

You might be asked ‘why are you interested in coming to work in China?’, or ‘what do you enjoy about teaching English?’, or ‘what challenges could be faced when teaching x age group’ – however you should aim to come across as a rounded, friendly and polite person who they can work with. Be prepared to go over what you’ve listed on your application; even though the interviewer will have your resume, they may also want to hear about the details personally.

Sample questions:

  • Why would you like to teach in China?
  • Please outline your teaching relevant experiences
  • What are your biggest strengths as a teacher?
  • What do you feel your weaknesses are as a teacher?
  • What challenges do you feel (young, children, teenage, adult) ESL learners face?
  • What challenges might there be in a TEFL classroom? How will you overcome these challenges?
  • How would you react to feedback from your Supervisor/ Principal?
  • What do you think the main differences are between education in China and in your home country?

Interview questions for experienced teachers

  • Can you tell me more about your experience at (previous schools)?
  • What further training have you received? (workshops, seminars etc)
  • How do you deal with difficult students?
  • Are there any specific areas of your teaching you have been working on?
  • How do you motivate students?
  • What courses books have you used? Any preferences?
  • What is a good activity you have used recently?
  • What kind of feedback have you got from observed lessons?
  • Talk me through a lesson that went well
  • How would you teach the present perfect?
  • What are your goals for the future for your teaching?
  • How do you teach large group sizes?
  • Have you used interactive white boards before?
  • How do you feel about having an “English only” rule in the classrooms?
  • Language schools often use the ‘communicative approach’, what do you understand by that?
  • What are the main differences in the approach needed to teach young learners versus adults?
  • What are the main roles of a teacher?
  • What are the keys to effective learning?
  • What classroom management techniques do you use ensure your classes run smoothly?
  • What makes a good lesson plan?

Your voice and pronunciation are really important. You should speak as clearly as possible so the school has a chance to gauge how your teaching voice will sound; be sure to keep your accent neutral and understandable without using any slang. By speaking too quickly, the interviewer may feel that you can’t reach out students with lower English levels or that you cannot adapt your teaching styles to students with different needs. Also keep in mind that a lot of the time the interviewer may be more nervous speaking English over skype than you are, so make it as easy for them as possible!

Being confident is also vital. If a school feels you have a hard time expressing your confidence through a skype interview, how can they trust that you’ll be able to teach English in front of a group of students!

Finally, show your passion for teaching, and enthusiasm for the actual job!

Teaching Demo

When applying for a teaching job, candidates usually undergo an intensive screening process where less qualified applicants are sifted out of the pool of candidates. Those who are left behind usually proceed with the initial interview and as part of it; some schools require candidates to conduct a demo class to actual students or sometimes to a panel of interviewers. The purpose of this is so the employers can assess the candidates’ teaching potential and how well they can manage a class.

Here are some useful pointers on what to do before and during your demo class:

1. What to Prepare

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” – Bobby Unser
Arriving to an interview prepared not only impresses your interviewer but is also a reflection of your character that your resume and achievements don’t always clearly show.
-Find out about your audience. Will it be just the faculty or will there be students? What are the ages of the students? What is their level? How many students are there? Will there be mixed ages and levels in the class? Prepare age-appropriate and level-appropriate materials. Make sure that it is not too easy or too hard for the students but also that you have activities that are suitable for a range of abilities.

-Ask if you can observe a class before your demo class. It would be best if you can request to arrive the day before your demonstration lesson so you can prepare better. Find out about the style of teaching of the school. Some schools prefer including games and activities in their lesson while others are strict by-the-book.

-Find out whether you are being assigned a particular topic or you can choose freely what you’d like to teach. Some schools assume that as an experienced teacher, it is not necessary to inform you of this and that you can easily come up with a teaching plan even with just a few minutes before your demo class. It won’t hurt to find out and asking this will show the interviewer that you are proactive and responsible.

-Ask what resources are available in the classroom, smart boards are gaining popularity these days. If you can show that you are capable of utilizing the latest technology in education, that would be beneficial. Otherwise, make good use of the available resources. If you are printing handouts, make sure that you prepare extra copies. Consider any possible circumstances that may occur on your demo class.

-Always create a lesson plan to give to your interviewer. This will give your observers a clear idea on the target language to be taught, the activities involved and a general structure of how you will teach.

2. DO NOT arrive on time

Instead, arrive earlier. In the Japanese culture, arriving “on time” is actually considered late. The work culture of the Japanese has always been praised and recognized by many – punctuality is just one of them. You also don’t want to arrive at school stressed out because you spent too much of your energy worrying about being late.

3. It’s OK to be nervous, but still appear confident

Sometimes, even experienced teachers can feel intimidated and nervous when doing a demo class. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone has their eyes on you and you know that you are being evaluated. But according to the famous motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins, being nervous is not really a bad thing. Psychologists too would agree that all emotions are valid and being nervous is simply signaling your brain that you have to stay alert and focused.

However, you may not appear nervous and you can’t show this emotion to your students and observers. The best way to overcome this is to be prepared and practice a couple of times before the big day.

4. Build a quick rapport

You don’t know your audience and you have no idea about their interests and backgrounds. You may not have a lot of time to establish rapport with your students so you have to accomplish this in just around 5 minutes. I have observed excellent speakers and one of the effective methods they use as an icebreaker is humor. You may tell a joke or two and this will help warm up the class.

If you are the serious type or maybe your audience is, you may use the method where you start by getting two “yeses” from them whether mentally or orally. You may ask 2 questions where the audience would normally answer yes to both questions or simply state two facts that everyone would agree with. It is very important to have a strong command of the subject that you are teaching, what matters most however, is your ability to develop a good positive relationship with your students. I understand that building relationships may take time, but there are ways to a bridge that gap quickly and allow your students feel safe around you.

5. Make it student-centered

It is very important that you give the students a lot of opportunity to speak out and participate in the demo class. Make your lesson communicative instead of just you doing all the talking. Plan a lesson that is interactive in nature.

Make sure that you also include everyone and not only focus on the stronger, more active students. For younger learners, it is also important that you allow them to move around once in a while. You cannot expect them to sit still and focused longer than 15 minutes. Plan games and hands-on activities. Take note that there will be kids who are more hyper than others, so be prepared for that as well.

6. To learn and not to use is not to learn

When choosing a topic, choose something that is simple but can create a lasting impression at the same time. Make it a goal that by the end of your demo teaching, your students are also able to demonstrate what they have learned. If you teach them too much, they may forget most of what you have taught. Teach new words and also include old words that they are familiar with. Put emphasis on the sentence structures and make sure to include examples on how they can apply what they have learned in their daily lives and conversations.

If you can demonstrate something out of the ordinary, your demo teaching will definitely stand out. Plan something that would make you unique compared to other candidates.

7. Online Demo Teaching

If you are living overseas, you may be required to do a demo class through Skype or they may ask you to record yourself on video while teaching. Do not think of this to be less than the actual demo teaching, consider everything that has been mentioned above. Prepare yourself however, to teach with no actual students, with just the interviewer listening to you. Do your best to create interactions between you and your observer. You may also create imaginary students where you ask questions and pause to hear “them” respond, acknowledge their answer by giving a positive feedback.

Ask Questions

About the job and school

  • Can you describe for me what a week at work would be like?
  • What are the teaching resources like?
  • How many classes are taught per week?
  • How would you describe the atmosphere in the teacher’s office?
  • Can you tell me a bit about my future students? What do they expect from their new teacher?
  • How long are the classes and how many students in each class?
  • Are teaching assistants available?
  • What’s the technology like? Does your school have interactive white boards?
  • How much flexibility are teachers given on how they teach?
  • Are there any off-site classes or are they all taught in the school?

About the teacher’s accommodation

  • Is accommodation provided?
  • Is it furnished?
  • Am I responsible for paying the bills?
  • Will I be sharing with another teacher?
  • Do I have the option of getting my own housing?
  • How far is it from the school?

You might also want to ask about flight allowances, bonuses, appraisals, training, admin duties, promotion opportunities and the visa application process.

About the city

  • What do the teachers like to do in their free-time?
  • Can you tell me a little bit about the expat community in your location?
  • What is the population?
  • Are there sports facilities / gym / supermarket near the school?
  • What kind of entertainment is there?
  • What are my options for learning Chinese?
  • What is the cost of living like?
  • Are there any products not available that I should bring with me?

Apply online and begin your Opportunity China adventure today!