Applying for a Job in TEFL & Top Tips for Interviews

Searching for the right job

If you are looking for a TEFL job here are a few good starting points:

If you are in training, your CELTA provider is likely to be aware of schools that are looking for teachers. There may also be a notice board where job advertisements are displayed.

If you have friends who are TEFL teachers, it is worth talking to them about whether they know any schools that are looking for teachers. They will also be able to give you the benefit of their own experience about what has worked for them in the past.

It is worth checking out the websites of EFL organisations and companies – they will often have a ‘work for us’ or ‘current vacancies’ link - even if they are also advertising externally.

Big TEFL websites such as tefl.com will also carry job advertisements that will allow you to do an advanced search or filter by criteria such as location, institution type, pay and posting date. This will potentially save you time and ensure end up applying for the kind of job that is right for you.

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Responding to advertisements

The most important piece of advice we have for you is – don’t ever send out generic job applications. It is blindingly obvious when you come across someone who has sent out multiple applications to every advertisement on a recruitment site. Any reputable school will bin such applications immediately or respond with a ‘no thank you’. Schools that do respond positively will either have no quality control or be desperate for teachers. Either way, you are unlikely to have a positive experience working for them.

When you come across a job that looks interesting, read the information carefully. Don’t apply for a role for which you are not qualified or experienced – make sure you meet the ‘essential’ criteria. If you can also tick some of the ‘desirable’ qualifications, skills or experience, so much the better.

Follow the guidelines for applying. Sometimes there will be a standard application form, sometimes you will just need to send a CV and covering letter.

Make sure your CV is up-to-date and that the information is clear and easy to read. There are different ways of organising your CV, but we recommend starting with basic essential information such as your name and contact details. Follow this with a list of your relevant qualifications, including when and where these were taken. Next, relevant work experience, starting with the most recent. If you have space, add in any interests or hobbies and other skills you might want to highlight, such as languages and IT skills. Finally, always give the name of two referees – at least one work-related; the second can be professional, academic or personal.

Usually, your referees will include your most recent employer – if you are unable or unwilling to do this, you will probably be asked to give a reason for this.

Don’t forget to ask your referees before adding them to your CV – it’s a common courtesy and is also likely to result in a more favourable reference.

When preparing your CV, keep it to one side of A4 if it is possible to do this – using columns can sometimes help. However, don’t cram things together or use a tiny font – better to go onto a second sheet if you need to. Unless you are asked to do so, you don’t need to include a photograph.

Try to avoid any gaps in your work history - they can be a red flag for some employers. There are often legitimate reasons, such as travel, childcare or other caring responsibilities, or periods of self-employment. Either include these on your CV or explain (briefly) in your covering letter. If you were unemployed, better to put this down rather than just leave a gap – and you can always highlight any positive things that you achieved during this period – short courses, self-taught skills or volunteer work.

You might want to have more than one CV on file or to adapt your current CV to the role for which you are applying. There is nothing wrong with this – you are just highlighting the most relevant information for that job. It is also worth saving copies of CVs and covering letters as these may be useful to adapt in the future.

Keep your covering email or letter short and to the point, explain why you are interested in the job and, if possible, make explicit reference to key points in the advertisement or on the company website. Remember to cover any information you’ve been specifically asked to include. Always address your letter or email to the person in charge of the recruitment. If you don’t know who this is, you can always contact the company and ask. Keep the tone polite and friendly. Check and double-check for typos, grammar and spelling before sending!

If there is a cut-off date and you haven’t heard anything by that date, leave it at least a week before following up – but do follow up! If you haven’t been successful, most companies will be happy to explain why, and you can apply this learning to your next application.

Preparing for your interview

Always make sure you read the advertisement and any information you have been sent. Setting up interviews is time-consuming and expensive for employers, so they won’t appreciate it if you come to the interview ill-prepared. Apart from anything else, it’s a waste of your own time if you aren’t appropriately qualified or experienced, or if other reasons make it impossible to accept the job if you are offered it.

It’s also good to do some background research. Interviewers don’t expect the applicants to know everything about the role and the company. However, they will expect people to know the basics – it’s so quick and easy these days to visit a Company’s website and find out a little about them. You may also find it raises questions that you want to ask – either before deciding to attend or in the interview itself.

Ensure you take any paperwork or documents with you to interview. Employers might want to see original certificates and take copies of them. In the UK, employers are also required to check your eligibility to work. If you are a UK national, your passport is usually sufficient.

Check the time and location of the interview and how to get there. Plan to arrive early in case there are any hold-ups. If you arrive very early, you can always take a short walk to get your thoughts in order. Ensure you have a contact number in your phone so that if you are unavoidably delayed for any reason, you can phone ahead and let them know.

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Online Interviews

Because of COVID, interviews via Zoom or Teams have become much more common. Make sure in advance you have the right link, know who is interviewing you and have the time right. Once you join the interview, check that your video is on and that you are not on mute.

Face-to-face Interviews – An Interviewer’s Perspective

We asked someone from our sister company, English in Action, to give us her best interview advice for applicants:

“Nine years ago, when I first took my seat on the interviewer side of the table, my hands secretly shaking under the desk, I thought: 

‘How on earth am I going to judge whether this person is a good teacher or not?’ If only I had known that part would come easy. Hundreds of interviews later, I instead spend more time pondering things like ‘how could anyone think turning up to their interview in lycra, helmet and reflectors was a good idea?!’ 

An old colleague of mine often said to me: ‘If I ever get bored of interviewing, I know it’s time to change jobs.’ I now understand what they mean. I have learnt that any interview can take an unexpected turn because there will always be someone who surprises you!

Drawing on some of my interview experiences, here is my list of top do’s and don’ts:

When applicants get to the interview, I expect them to know the basic information about the job – certainly, what was in the advertisement and any information I have sent them in advance. Having said that, I love it when candidates ask questions and I am always happy to answer, even if it disrupts my flow because it means they are genuinely interested and have identified a gap in the information. It often shows they have taken the time to do some research on the Company and what we do. 

I can’t remember the last time I held a group interview session without at least one interviewee being late or getting lost. Do remember to always allow time for traffic, problems parking, public transport delays or road works. I understand this can’t always be helped, but interviewers are more likely to remember that you were late, not the reason why - so, aim to be early! Also, if you happen to misplace the maps and directions we have sent you, do call and ask for directions. We’d far rather this than have you wandering around lost.

Remember, for any teaching job you need to arrive in your classroom before your students and so arriving at the interview in a timely fashion is effectively your first test. Also, if you are interviewing for a job with us that involves travelling abroad, but you can’t find a hotel in central London, it may make us wonder whether you’ll be able to get to the airport in time for your flight!

The number of interviewees who arrive at their session and look confused when asked for the documentation and ID listed in the interview invitation still surprises me. It is a legal requirement to check your identification, right to work and travel, and your qualifications, so please make sure you bring what you were asked to - it saves everyone’s time!

We often hold group interviews, so we can see how teachers interact and work together. Sometimes, I know that applicants can feel shy or overshadowed by more dominant personalities. However, this style of interview is also designed so that we can hear from everyone, so don’t worry that you won’t get the chance to be heard. Use the opportunity to let us find out a bit more about you. We are interested in you personally, as well as your teaching skills, and it will help us judge how you will deal with other aspects of the job, such as travelling and enjoying being in a foreign country, being an ambassador for the company, and spending extended periods of time with others in social as well as in work situations.

During interview days, if there is a break, use this time to look through any teaching materials we have brought with us. Also, feel free to chat to us during any breaks – but don’t be offended if we are tied up with getting set up for the next part of the day. Breaks are also a great opportunity to talk to the other applicants.

Asking questions after the interview can be a good thing, but it can be a bit frustrating having to repeat information we have already given. Try to use questions either to cover new ground or to clarify things that you may not have understood. Remember that you can take notes on the day - and you can also email us later if there is anything you feel we have missed.

‘There is no dress code’ is one of those things employers often say. While technically true, we expect applicants to look presentable. You do not need to be dressed in a smart suit but, equally, please don’t turn up wearing flip-flops and jogging bottoms. Dress how you would for the job itself and if in doubt, err on the safe side – it won’t be held against you if you dress too formally. When our teachers deliver courses in schools, we have found that dress codes vary dramatically, and we advise teachers to adopt a similar principle.

For me, one of the exciting parts of when the interviews are complete is offering jobs. It is, therefore, a disappointment when an applicant comes back and says they would love to accept, but they can’t work those dates. Our adverts are specifically written with the start dates included and there will be limited flexibility.

Something that I think is also worth mentioning is how to talk about previous teaching experiences. We sometimes come across candidates who talk about previous students in a disparaging way. This doesn’t come across well and is something you should avoid at all costs. Similarly, to talk disparagingly about a previous employer is not professional. We understand that you are likely to have good and less good experiences during your professional teaching career, but these are not any of our business, and we are not in a position to make judgements on these things. 

I have held interviews before where someone has brought a parent into the session for moral support. If you are a young teacher and are unable to face an interview without having a parent present, standing in front of a class is probably not for you!

I have also had someone turn up for an interview with another teacher in tow because they thought it would be okay for this person to be interviewed at the same time without having applied for the job. In case you’re wondering – it isn’t!

Remember, if you are applying for an overseas role, always check that your passport is not about to expire!Finally, the interview process starts the moment you submit your CV and ends once you have started the job. Everything you do, say, and write in between is building an overall picture of you to your potential employers. Bear that in mind throughout. 

Download the TEFL Job Interview Checklist

Click the button below to download our TEFL job interview checklist. Keep it with you when you get ready for your next interview and you're sure to make a big impact. Good luck and happy job hunting!

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