TEFL Interview Tips

Get ready for your interview!

Interviews come in many different lengths and levels of intensity, but one thing remains the same: they are scary! We’ve broken down the interview nightmare to show you how to make the right impression on an employer. Clearly, if you’ve made it to the interview stage, someone thinks you could be the right person for the job, so now it is time to solidify that first impression and bag the position!

The most obvious difference in job interviews is that some will be done face-to-face and others are carried out over the phone (especially for jobs which require you to relocate). In the following outline, we cover both interview types, though obviously not everything applies to both. For example, it doesn’t really matter what you wear if you’re being interviewed over the phone!

Common Questions:

Interviewers, as well as jobs, are like snowflakes—no two are alike—and therefore there is also an array of possible questions that interviewers can ask a candidate. However, there are some common questions, which seem to come up consistently. Below we have listed 10 possible interview questions that frequently come up. It is suggested that before the interview, you prepare answers for these questions to make sure you give the best impression possible.

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What problems have you encountered in teaching?
  • How do you feel about teaching children?
  • Describe a situation where you had a problem with classroom management. How did you deal with it?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What’s your approach to teaching English?
  • How flexible are you?
  • How do you feel about working in a team?
  • Why should we employ you rather than any of the other candidates?

Also be prepared to describe in your interview a time when you dealt with a ‘change’ in your life and how you adapted to it, especially a change which involved moving to a new location and how you fit in. Schools want their staff to be happy both at work and outside of work (particularly since the two are strongly interlinked) and therefore they seek staff who can adapt to the new lifestyle of living abroad.


It’s pretty obvious that you shouldn’t arrive late for an interview. Some people plan to arrive 30 minutes early to allow themselves time to prepare and to eliminate the chance of arriving late because of a broken-down bus or delayed subway train. Yet, on the other hand, arriving early can lead to the uncomfortable situation of sitting around the receptionist’s desk reading and re-reading the notices on the bulletin board. Therefore, it’s best to arrive just five minutes before the interview. So if you do find that you are far too early, go for a walk and take in some of the school’s surroundings.

If you’re being interviewed by phone, make sure you are clear about the time difference (if there is one). Consider changes due to daylight savings (not all countries have this and not all countries change their clocks on the same weekend, if they do). Also make sure you clarify the arrangements of who is going to phone whom. You don’t want to give the impression that you were ‘late’ for the interview when both parties were sitting next to the phone for half an hour waiting for the other to call!

What to wear

School attire depends on both the culture of the country you wish to work in and the school itself. It is always best to play it safe at interviews and dress in business attire. Jeans and a t-shirt are not really a good idea no matter where you are interviewing. The following should also be avoided for interviews: short skirts, revealing or low-cut tops, unshaven or scruffy facial hair, distracting piercings or overly colorful outfits. Think carefully about what message you want to convey about yourself and dress appropriately. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

What to do

Face-to-face interviews come in many different forms depending on whether you are interviewing in the school itself, whether it is an off-site interview (some interviewers travel long distances to recruit teachers) and where your potential employer chooses to meet. But one thing is certain—whether your interview happens in a private office or in a local bar or restaurant, remember that you are being scrutinized just the same. Whatever you wouldn’t do or say in a formal interview sitting in your potential employer’s office, you shouldn’t do or say sitting across from him/her in a bar or restaurant either!

In a more conventional interview setting, such as an office building or school, it is easy to remember your role, but it is also important to remember that the employer isn’t the only person you want to impress. Being nice to the receptionist or secretary, for example, can carry a lot of weight, as they may be asked to provide their initial impressions of you. Always assume that all eyes are on you from the moment you enter the building until you are well out of sight. If you smoke, wait until you are well away from the school before you light up after the interview. And do not step outside for a cigarette break while you are waiting to be called in for your interview; you never know who it may leave a bad impression on.

On the other hand, your role as interviewee may not be as straightforward if your interviewer chooses to discuss your credentials with you over dinner in a restaurant or a cup of coffee in a local café. Just remember that no matter what the setting and no matter how friendly and open your interviewer is, it is always best to play it safe and assume that your professionalism is being carefully evaluated. Therefore, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, even if the interviewer offers, is not a good idea.

Also, during your interview, wherever it may take place, be sure to sit up straight. Good posture exudes confidence whereas slouching implies laziness and lack of certainty. Another thing you want is to make eye contact with your interviewer in a way that shows you are interested, engaged and paying attention. Interview situations can be remarkably uncomfortable, but make an effort not to look around the room, stare at the walls or gaze around in a way that implies you are avoiding eye contact with your interviewer as it can give the impression that you have something to hide, or that you are not very sure about what you are saying. On the other hand, you don’t want to stare down your interviewer and make them feel nervous or uncomfortable! You also don’t want to make your interviewer painfully aware of your nervousness by fidgeting, twirling your hair or playing with objects, particularly those on the interviewer’s desk!

Finally, always be straightforward and positive, even when asked about negative situations in the past. For example, if you are asked about a former employer or colleague who you have experienced problems with, try to put a positive spin on the situation in some way by describing, perhaps, what you learned from the situation and what you would do differently in the future, rather than risk sounding bitter by blaming someone else for the problem.

What to ask

Near the end of the interview, it is a good idea to ask a few questions of your own. Sometimes the person interviewing you will ask if you have any questions, but don’t be shy to jump in with questions even if you are not prompted. It is also a good idea to prepare some questions beforehand so that, in your nervousness, you don’t forget to ask. Also, keep in mind that the sorts of questions you ask say a lot about you, so make sure your queries are relevant to your teaching. Some examples of questions that apply to teaching are, “How many students are there in a class?,” “What course books does the school use?” or “What kind of support or professional development is offered to the teachers?”  However, be careful to avoid asking questions that you could easily find out the answers to yourself as it will give away that you haven’t done your research!

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