How to Wow on the TEFL Telephone Interview

The Internet has truly made the world much smaller.  No matter how far away from home you’re applying for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) jobs, there’s an increasing chance you will have a telephone or Skype interview before you snag your first teaching position.

If the thought of doing an interview for your new field terrifies the (insert noun here) out of you, you can relax a little – it would be rare indeed for your prospective boss to try and trip you up by asking about an obscure grammar rule.

Why do they want to talk to you?

There are three common reasons a school would arrange an interview with you, either via telephone or video call with a program such as Skype.

1. Can they understand you?

If the school doesn’t believe that your English is clear and proper, then they will probably won’t be offering you a job. So, to make sure you sound your best, before the interview is scheduled to begin, search out a quiet place and banish all distractions. Adjust the volume on your phone or computer so that you can also hear them—remember it’s important for you to understand them clearly as well. During the call, slow down your speech and remember to enunciate.

2. Are you a polite and friendly person?

It’s not much of a stretch for a school to assume that a teacher who is not friendly and communicative during the interview will have the same demeanor in the classroom. They want to know that you’ll be interested in and engaging with your students—so answer your phone call with a smile on your face (yes, even if it’s not a video call!). If you don’t like people and enjoy talking to others, then it’s a sign teaching may not be the right job for you.

3. Do you ‘play well with others?’

The school wants to know if you will be an easy employee for them to work with. This is Asia’s Number One hiring criterion. Interviewers would like to see that you’re a flexible, patient person who can go with the flow. Not only is this an indicator of a good employee and teacher, but patience and flexibility are required if you want to live abroad happily. While there will always be cultural differences in the TEFL workplace, a savvy boss will want to see how well you might be able to deal with those when they crop up.

While in a Western job interview there might be some expectation for the prospective employee to be assertive and “stick up for herself or himself,” this is best avoided in a telephone EFL job interview. Instead of showing that you’re possibly an inappropriately assertive individual, it may just show them that you’re going to be a pain in the (insert noun here).

And, on that topic, TEFL newbies will find that they have more success when they approach a new job—and even the whole new country—with sensitivity and finesse. Try to problem-solve by working out difficulties and communicating with people rather than by trying to impose your opinions and viewpoint.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Speak slowly and clearly in your interview. Slang and idioms may make you seem unprofessional, or difficult to understand if the connection is bad. However, don’t swing too far in the other direction—you’ll look silly if you’re speaking baby talk to the interviewer.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Even though you won’t be in the same room as your interviewer, take some time to consider where YOU will be. Find a quiet place and adjust your headphones or speakers to the optimal sound quality before the call begins.

TED’s Tips™ #3: When the call comes through, answer the call in a friendly but professional way. Make like a telemarketer and smile while you greet your caller—even though they can’t see you. Phone solicitors know that smiling while you talk makes your voice sound friendly.

If you take these simple steps to heart, you’ve got a good chance of impressing your future boss and securing that dream job. Good luck!

Teaching Internships in China


Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.