The ultimate guide to finding your first TEFL job

You’ve passed your CELTA or CertTESOL, you’ve recovered from sleep loss. You’re pencils are all sharpened, and mum has starched all your shirts…. you’re ready to start looking for your first teaching job? What next?

Since I started teaching I estimate that I have applied for nearly 30 teaching jobs and I can honestly say there is no one-size-fits-all key to success here.  However, there are some really important things that will enhance the possibility of success.  Some of these come down to preparation (and yes, without lots of experience, just as with teaching, good preparation is very important….it gets easier with practice!) and some of these come down to performance in the interview.
your first TEFL job interview pdf

Job Interview preparation: before you get there

Before your interview there are some really useful things to get done.

First, find out about the school: the management team, the types of classes, the types of students and the website.  Some of this information may seed a couple of questions to ask later on.  It also means you’re more likely recognize the people you meet on interview day (and maybe on your first day of work!).

Secondly, get your CV in shape.  Use simple templates with bold or colour to improve layout.  As a general rule, aim to get everything on one page: work history (remember, nobody really wants to know you pushed trolleys for 7 months in high school), education/volunteer experience and qualifications/grades.  It may also be worth including a short statement about your objectives or areas/classes you’re interested in taking. If you’re the extreme origami champion for the 25-30 division, that’s really great….but I’m not sure it’s going to help you get a job.

A key to remember is that English language teaching is an extraordinarily diverse profession, with most teachers coming to it from a wide variety of backgrounds.  So on that note, it is worth highlighting some of your relevant experience and skills, but be selective and concise.

Third, give some real, honest thought to what you want to achieve.  Are you looking for experience in a very specific area? Are you willing to take any classes that are available? Will you accept casual work if no full-time positions are available? Are you interested in on-going professional development opportunities if they come up?

Finally, dress for the occasion.  I’ve seen teachers turn up to work in hammer pants and a singlet, dressed like they are ready for a full moon party.  I’ve seen others teach classes, dressed like they are on their way to Coachella.  It might look great and feel comfortable, but it’s not going to impress anyone who is worth working for.  Dress like you want the job.  Dress like the job is yours for the taking, not like you’ve had the job for 10 years and are considering where to go for your next holiday.

That said, you don’t need a suit and tie.  Many schools actively discourage teachers from overdressing as this can intimidate students (and to be honest, formal wear isn’t all that comfortable).  But use your common sense. In fact you’ll likely find pictures of teachers and teaching staff on the school’s website which might give you a good idea of the right tone to take.

On the day of the interview: things to remember

There are three main things to keep in mind when getting ready for your interview.

Number one: smile

You might feel like you’re rather fold your skin in on itself, pack it into an envelope and post it back home, but nothing says “I’m a teacher” like a well-worn smile.  One of the key pieces of advice I give to trainees is we’re not saving lives, and I think that also applies to job interviews. Most interviewers will have the experience to know if you’re a good fit for the classes they have, and there will always be another English teaching job around the corner.  If this one doesn’t work out, there’s always next time.

Sometimes it helps to think of the interview as more of a conversation than an interrogation (easier said than done, I know), but if you come to the party as a participant rather than a victim, you’ll be giving your cause a huge boost.

Number two: typical questions

From the outset, let’s be clear: there is very little purpose in preparing scripted responses, or trying to predict what you’re going to be asked.  However, there is something to be said for giving some thought to important information you could give when asked about certain things.

If you are a new teacher, most employers will want to know, or ask you about some of these things:

  • Language awareness

  • Classroom management skills

  • Your beliefs about teaching and “best practice”

  • Your perceived strengths/weakenesses as a teacher

  • Your interest in ongoing training and teacher development

  • Your interest in different levels, ages and class types

  • Your availability to start work

So some things to consider when getting ready for your interview are:

  • Be honest.  Don’t sign up for classes and age groups you don’t want to teach.  That said, and especially if you are a new teacher, the experience you get from your CELTA or CertTESOL course is very limited, and it’s hard to really know what types of classes you’re most interested unless you try them for yourself. 
  • Be flexible.  Most employers will truly give preference to prospective teachers who are happy to try anything (no surprises there!).    I always remind trainees that they ought to try something for 6 months, and if they don’t like it, then request a change. 
  • Be proactive. Good schools tend to favour teachers who show an active interest, or better yet, evidence of ongoing development as teachers in the form of attending training sessions, contributing to ELT magazines or joining conferences and events.

Get your beliefs straight.  You’ll be much more convincing if you convey a clear sense of what you think best practice means.  A nice way to prepare in this way is to ask yourself what advice you’d give a colleague in your staff room who had problems with:

  • A dominant student in class

  • A class with very mixed abilities

  • A group of students who are very quiet and don’t say much in class

  • Ways of teaching pronunciation

  • Ways of improving your teaching

A Super effective way to answer common interview questions is to give clear, concrete examples of things you have done.  These examples don´t always have to be examples from your teaching if you´ve only just graduated from your CertTESOL, but if you can think of examples from your own classrooms, that is ideal. The British Council Teaching Skills document might give you some ideas of common questions to expect.

An easy format to follow is the STAR format for all your answers:

  • - Describe the SITUATION;

  • - Outline the TASK you identified that needed to be addressed;

  • - Explain the ACTION that you took to address this;

  • - What was the RESPONSE to this?

Be Prepared for the interview: take in some of your own questions

Something that is often overlooked be interviewees is that more often than not, at some point during the conversation, you´ll be asked if you have any questions.  This not only give you a chance to have some details clarified, but it can make a big difference to the effect you have on the interviewers in terms of how switched on and focused you appear to be.

Here are a few things you might like to ask about:

  • The number of students and levels in the school
  • Options for ongoing teacher development
  • Resources for using technology in the classroom
  • Levels most teachers are expected to teach
  • Number of teaching hours, and how many of these are scheduled and how many are reserved for cover, per week
  • The sick/holiday/leave/cover policy
  • Policy and support given to teachers for behavior management
  • Policy for teachers who wish to contact parents
  • Text books and resources provided for each course
  • Maximum and minimum class sizes
  • Weekend days (are teachers guaranteed 2 consecutive weekend days?)
  • Average experience of other teachers at the school
  • General staff room attitudes to collaborative planning/teaching and resource sharing
  • Expectations for staff to attend training/staff meetings/parent evenings outside regular work hours
  • Pay rates, overtime pay rates and time-in-lieu arrangements

A note for Non-native teachers

A common question some new teachers ask relates to how easy it is to find a job (especially if you don’t have much experience) if your first language isn’t English.  Some teachers are concerned that the fact they don’t have a passport from a “native speaking country” (whatever that means….) will be a disadvantage for them.

From the outset, let’s be totally clear: discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, country of origin or skin colour is illegal. Whether you are a native speaker of English or not, if you are in possession of a CELTA, CertTESOL or equivalent certificate then you are qualified to teach English, and any attempts alluding to you ethnicity, country of origin or skin colour that suggest you are not qualified for the position should be reported.

In honesty, this is a very sad reality within the TEFL industry, and it does occur to some people. So what can you do, going in to an interview?

First, I suggest you get acquainted with the TEFL Equity Advocates.  They are playing a very important role in awareness raising that relates to the specialised skills that non-native speaking teachers of English bring to the profession.

Secondly, get references to bring to the interview with you.  If you have references that relate to your teaching skills, this would be ideal.  If you’re new to teaching, try talking to your tutors on your initial training course and see if they are able to help.

Finally, apply all the previous tips, kick some arse and get that job: there is a line of thought that says if they can't see a good teacher standing in front of them, then they're not worth working for. Good luck.

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About the Author

James Pengelley

James worked at EfA as a CertTESOL and DipTESOL trainer and digital content manager. He holds a Cambridge DELTA, Trinity TYLEC and a postgraduate diploma in teaching (secondary). He has made multiple contributions to English language teaching publications, including the English Australia Journal, The British Council and the International House Journal of Education and Development, which you can read here.

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