Expert Tips for Acing an ESL Job Interview

Liz Smith
Liz Smith

Liz Smith left the daily grind in the States to travel the world with her husband. Eventually teaching English in China & loving it, she began sharing her experience with others who are interested in embarking on this new adventure!

 / Apr 22, 2017

If your dream is to work and live overseas, securing an ESL job interview with any learning institution abroad is a big step to realizing your dream. But unlike other job interviews you may have had before, the situation is quite a bit different when it comes to interviewing for ESL teaching overseas. Therefore, you need to prepare in advance and be aware of things that you could encounter to ensure the interview goes smoothly. Here are some ESL job interview tips to help you ace that interview so you can fulfill your quest of living and working overseas.


1. Do your research ahead of the interview


Teaching English overseas entails moving to another country that has different norms and customs than the ones you are used to in your home country. It is therefore imperative to do some research on the country in advance so that you are aware of expectations, or differences. Nothing could be worse than attending a foreign interview without knowing and understanding the basics of that country’s norms.


Most importantly, find out how their norms and customs can potentially influence the outcome of your interview. In other words, you risk setting yourself up for failure during your interview if you fail to do proper cultural research on the country you are interviewing for an ESL job.  For more details, check out our post about Chinese business culture and differences between the East and West.


In addition, you should also research the ESL learning center or institution where you intend to work. This goes beyond just reading the job description.  Really understand what it is they are looking for in an ESL teacher, including their own company philosophy and style.  Think of ways you can articulate to them how you are going to be a great match for the requirements of the job.


2. Familiarize yourself with common questions asked at an ESL job interview


You can’t be 100% certain about the kind of questions you will be asked during your ESL job interview, but there are some questions that are frequently asked in a typical ESL job interview. Knowing these questions and how best to answer them can dramatically boost your chances of passing your interview, thus getting considered for the ESL job offer.


Here are some of the commonly asked questions at ESL job interviews that you need to acquaint yourself with. 


Tell us about yourself?

  • Here, the interviewer isn’t interested in knowing you as an individual, but rather as a prospective employee. Therefore, give a brief summary of yourself, starting with your name, educational background, experience and all the places you have previously worked in. Everything you say should be relevant to the job you are interviewing for. 


Why did you quit your previous job? 

  • If you have already quit your job, tell them you did that because you wanted to have a new teaching experience abroad. But never talk ill of your previous workplace.  Instead, spin it into a positive and talk about your dreams for the future. 


Why should we consider hiring you? 

  • Here, you need to understand that the interviewer wants to find out what sets you apart from other candidates. As such, highlight your unique strengths, skills, training and experience.  This is where doing your research about the job and the company you are applying for will really come in handy, because you can tailor your answers and be more confident in selling yourself.


What do you see as your greatest weakness?

  • Don’t say you don’t have one because obviously that would be the wrong answer. Instead, find something about you that on the surface may seem like a weakness, but articulate it in a way that is actually positive.  For example, you can say you are the kind of a person who really likes to see things done to their level best. As a result, you end up being viewed as a perfectionist, though you are working on that. 


3. Display the qualities the interviewer is seeking


Before showing up for the interview, you should first and foremost understand the ideal qualities the interviewer is looking for in a suitable candidate for the ESL job you are applying for. Always keep in mind that there are other candidates who will also be interviewed for the same ESL job you are pursuing abroad. As such, you need to show the interviewer that indeed you are the best candidate with the qualities they are seeking.


If the interviewer is looking for someone with experience, passion and enthusiasm for teaching young ESL learners for instance, make sure you elaborate how best suited you are to teach young learners. Also, be clear on why you want to work with the hiring company and what you will be bringing to the table once given the ESL job offer. 


The whole essence of the interview is for the interviewer to get a chance to know you, and figure out whether you can be a good fit for them.  Show your personality in the best way possible, and always answer questions in a way that demonstrates you have exactly what they are looking for in that particular job. 


4. Focus on making a great first impression


First impressions matter a great deal, with ESL job interviews not being an exception. In fact, the kind of first impression you make the first moment they see you can make or break your chances of working abroad as an ESL teacher.


To make a great first impression, show up for the interview on time – whether it is an in-person interview or online (which is typically the case if you are interviewing in your home country for a job abroad). This helps the interviewer see you as someone reliable right away. If you are interviewing on Skype or phone, be sure to check all the details in advance, including confirming the time difference, as well as checking your computer and internet connection so that you can be able to show up on time for the interview.


Above all, don’t forget to dress for the interview! While this is not necessary for a phone interview, it is still important for an online Skype interview. Dressing is crucial for making a great first impression thus increasing your chances of landing the ESL job at offer.


Dress in professional attire, and be sure that you are well groomed.  If the ESL interview is online, test the camera and be sure that you are in a well-lit room where they can see you well.  You may want to research more to find out the kind of professional wear that is recommended in the overseas country, or the company that you want to work for.


5. Discuss your ESL teaching career in depth 


While there is lots of opportunity in the ESL industry abroad, overseas ESL teaching is competitive. Suitable candidates are picked on basis of credentials, expertise, experience, and how they fit with the culture of the country and school where they will be working.


As such, talk about your teaching career in depth without omitting any important piece of information that can cost you the job offer. Also, don’t forget to discuss your expectations with the ESL institution or center you are interviewing with. Highlight various teaching strategies and how they can be adapted to the institution’s learning program.


Most importantly, listen to the interviewer attentively so that you can understand the exact skills to highlight. Ask relevant questions when given the opportunity to ask any questions you might have. Let them see clearly that you are indeed excited about overseas teaching and that you have what they are looking for in a suitable candidate. 


6. Negotiate effectively 


Negotiation is a vital skill in any job interview, especially when it comes to matters of compensation and remuneration. If you are asked what you salary expectations are, avoid giving an exact figure. By giving an exact figure, you risk giving a figure that is too high or too low thus amounting to selling yourself short. Instead, give your answer in a way that is likely to trigger negotiations.


For instance, you can mention that you would like to be paid according to their pay scale. This means that you should research the school to see what they are offering for a salary, as well as the benefits.  Some institutions treat teachers to paid vacations and other perks such as house allowances among others. In some cases, you may be in a position to negotiate a better package if you are a well-experienced teacher in a niche area.  However, the high competition for general lower level ESL jobs make it less possible to have much room for negotiation.


7. Do some follow-up after your interview


After the interview, wait for roughly 4 working days to hear from the ESL institution or center you interviewed with. Once that time has passed, you should do some follow-up with the person who interviewed you.


Following-up demonstrates to the interviewer that you are really interested in the ESL job opening, and that you are eager to start working immediately.  It’s also a great time to remind them of how you are a good match for the role and the company.


Now, Ace that ESL Job Interview!


It feels great when you know that you really nailed it during an ESL job interview. But it’s not without advance preparation.  Like any job interview, the key to passing an ESL job interview is to prepare adequately for it by doing your research, and knowing how your skills fit exactly what they are looking for. With these ESL job interview tips covered here, you can be assured of acing your interview and get an opportunity to live and work abroad. 



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Liz Smith

Liz Smith left the daily grind in the States to travel the world with her husband. Eventually teaching English in China & loving it, she began sharing her experience with others who are interested in embarking on this new adventure!