I have interviewed hundreds of English language teachers in my time, especially whilst working in London. I’ve watched some people perform brilliantly in interview, whilst others have struggled to show their potential.
I understand that looking for a new job can be a challenging and sometimes demoralising experience as you strive to stand out from the crowd, especially if you are newly qualified and don’t have much experience behind you yet, but stand out from the crowd you must. So, at least start out by getting the simple things right.
Here are ten initial interview tips to bear in mind.
It may be your twenty-fifth interview, but act like it’s the most important one you’ve ever had! Your desire to have that job in that organisation or school must be transparent. Your positivity and passion need to shine through. Interviewers are usually proud of the place they work for and they don’t want to see that you are simply trying to get a job, any job. You need to demonstrate enthusiasm and desire to work in their particular school.
Getting dress etiquette right for interviews can be tricky, especially in the ELT field, which is often quite informal. But dress to impress. Find out what clothes are right for that particular school. You can do this be visiting the school in advance and people watching, or if that is impossible, by simply checking photos on the website. Primarily, dressing well means dressing smart. And of course these days smart doesn’t usually mean you need to wear a suit (well at least not in the UK, but it might do in other parts of the world – so check). It does mean being clean, neat and choosing smart clothes for your interview which you feel represent you in the best light. Pay attention to the details - hair, shoes and accessories create a strong impression. And carry your paperwork in an appropriate folder, not crumbled in your pocket!
One of the first question I tend to ask in interviews is ‘So, why do you want to work for this school?’ You may be surprised to know that many people are stumped by this question. It may be that the question is unexpected, but it comes across like the interviewee knows nothing about the school they hope will employ them. So, do your research before the interview. Find out all you can about the school– size & locations / school values / success stories /types of courses / anything that grabs your attention. Be ready to answer that question above. The same goes for questions you might like to ask at the end of the interview: nothing shows a lack of preparedness as much as asking questions that are covered in the information you were sent or can easily be found on the school’s website!
People often think I’m mad when I offer this tip, but you’d be surprised how much more difficult it can be to articulate aloud what is going on in your head, especially in a stressful interview situation with strangers staring at you across a table! Unless you practise it, that is. Ask yourself interview questions and answer them out loud. Watch yourself in a mirror and assess yourself. Are you coming across as the kind of teacher you would recruit? Are you sitting up straight? Are you fidgeting? Do you sound upbeat and motivated, knowledgeable, positive and good-humoured? As you prepare, try to see yourself through the interviewer’s eyes.
You will definitely be asked about teaching so reflect well on what you want to say about yourself as a teacher. Remember to focus your answers around the needs of learners. What do you love about teaching? What are your strengths as a teacher? (Go beyond saying you have good rapport with students! Every teacher says this!) Be able to describe lessons you have taught. You may be asked about a lesson that went well, or to describe one that didn’t go well and what you learned from the experience. Alternatively you might be given a particular lesson topic to focus on and asked how you would teach it. Another popular theme is assessing student progress. Therefore, be ready for different types of questions related to teaching practice.
Demonstrating your keenness to develop your own teaching skills in order to become a better teacher is crucial. Think this through carefully before your interview. What professional development have you undertaken in the past 12 months and what did you learn? What are your development needs now? Which aspects of teaching and learning are you especially interested in? Align your professional development objectives to the job you are applying for. Asking the school about their professional development programme is always a good subject to follow up on when they ask you at the end of the interview if you have any questions for them.
Nowadays you most probably need to integrate technology into classroom teaching, as well as beyond the classroom. Be prepared to explain how you would do this to engage your students in learning - refer to real examples of your own experience where you can. Otherwise research good ideas online or refer back to what you learned during your training. Be prepared to describe the benefits and challenges of using technology for educational purposes.
So, the interviewers have finished with their questions. It’s your turn now. But don’t start by asking about the salary! This is your opportunity to turn the interview situation into a discussion. Ask about the academic programme, or the technology available. Ask about training and development opportunities. Ask the interviewers what they think the good things are about the school. Often interviewees forget that an interview should be a two-way thing. Of course the school wants to find out everything about you, but you also need to find out if the school is right for you too. Will you be happy working there if they offer you the job? What do you want to find out before saying yes? You might be thinking right now ‘Oh I just need the job, it doesn’t matter!’ And then you find yourself being offered two teaching posts at the same time and you don’t know which one to choose! Then you’ll wish you had found out more during the interview!
Interviewees are often asked why they left their last job. If you have had a bad experience of working in a school in the past be careful how you come across when talking about it. Avoid being critical and instead put the emphasis on what you learned from the experience. No one wants a whinger on their team. And these days many companies are sensibly recruiting on the basis of attitude and potential rather than previous experience, so critical complainers do not come across well. Also, managers conducting interviews tend not to appreciate hearing an interviewee bad-mouthing a previous manager or school. If you are prone to complaining about a previous situation, what might you say about the next?
Being on time for an interview is a no-brainer. If you can’t be on time for an interview, what do you think it says about you arriving for work every day? You may see the difference between arriving that first time for an interview and then coming in routinely to work, but that’s not how the interviewer will see it. You only get one chance to demonstrate punctuality and that’s when you arrive for your interview.
Perhaps you can think of other tips for interviews to add to the list above. I’d love to hear your thoughts!