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!

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TEFL for the Non-White Non-Straight Non-Thin Non-Blonde OLD People

The great majority of us do not fit into the little box into which some EFL schools abroad would like their teachers to fit.

I am not young, white, thin, blonde, native-speaking, straight or…what now?

In the TEFL world it is common to deal with schools looking for a blond, blue-eyed, young, thin and straight native teacher. Schools have a stereotype in their mind about what their native-speaker teacher should look like. Languages schools often try to impress their customers (students or parents of the students) by advertising their idea of this ‘ideal’ Aussie, American, Brit or someone else.

One should be aware of this problem and find a strategy to deal with it.

Luckily you will find a wide variety of people in this occupation and the reality is that there are not enough native-speaking EFL teachers to meet the demand. Come hell or high water, racist or ageist, even those language schools looking for their “perfect ideal” native-speaker teacher will find themselves very lucky to hire those of us who don’t fit to their idea of the ‘perfect’ teacher.

What if I am older, 30, 40 or even 60?

At the age of 41 I began teaching English in Korea, it was a month before my 42nd birthday and I had grayish hair and a white beard at the time. That didn’t stand in my way to get a job and even now, at 60 years and thinning white year, I still wouldn’t have much trouble getting a good job!  I’d have to hustle a bit, but I could still find a job.

I have worked with people over 60 years old and even met a teacher older than 70!  You have the advantage of life and work experience.  Use it and never allow your thoughts about age to limit your goals! Age is just a number.  The older you are the more know that success in life is about finding a way around obstacles.    Not just giving in to them.

What if I am not white?

Most countries are beginning to realize that people from the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa are part of the mosaic of the world, nations of immigrants and not necessarily white.

I saw a beautiful ethnic mix while teaching in Korea in 2005 – Chinese-Canadians, Hispanic-Americans, Black-Americans and about every kind and every combination you might think of.

You will find an open-minded employer in the country of your choice if you persist in your job search.  It may take a bit longer to find the right employer but it will surely be more enjoyable to work for someone less short-sighted.

What about gay, lesbian or other non-straight people?

When it comes to sexuality, Western countries are usually more open to it than the rest of the world. These alternative lifestyles and preferences surely exist in other countries, but it is often hidden, secretive and not talked about openly. Your sexual preferences should not be a problem when trying to find, or keep a good English teaching job overseas.   The topic simply won’t come up, unless you bring it up!

It is not always necessary to be totally discreet about your life while working overseas. You will find helpful information on discussion boards  and blogs that will help you deal with such situations.  Many countries abroad don’t share the same values about opening up your personal life to other people.  Check that out too.

What if I am fluent in English, but not from a native-speaking country?

Some countries have a list of countries from which you must have a passport if you want to teach English legally. Currently I am aware of two countries with such lists: South Korea and Indonesia. Some countries, without lists, still believe that you can’t be fluent if you are not from a native English speaking country.

If you are fluent but not from an English speaking country, then it’s up to you to prove them wrong. The best strategy is to go to the country and do your interview in person.   On the spot you’ll change their misguided notions with your fluency. Thailand is one of the best countries at hiring non-native speakers as English teachers.  China will often hire non-native speakers from European nations.

This direct interview approach will also be a good choice for the older teachers to prove your point that you don’t fit into the stereotype of a cranky, tired, old person. This same approach may also help other non-standard people land jobs.

A personal meeting/interview is the easiest way to show your possible employer that you are friendly and easy to get along with:  two characteristic that are often the #1 hiring criteria.


If you are worried about anything about yourself, relax! You will sort out the problems and can easily get useful information about the possible difficulties on the discussion boards or blogs! There are people out there who had the same concerns and they would be happy to advise and encourage you.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t let anything stop you from a life overseas

If you want to do it, you can. If you want something bad enough, push through and life will give it to you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: A personal interview often overcomes barriers

In Asia, the #1 thing many employers want to find out is if you are friendly and easy to get along with. You can show employers these characteristics by showing up in person for an interview or application.

A great and fun blog to check out is The Black ESL Teacher.

Please suggest other blogs and I will post them. The blog above makes me think of doing The Old EFL Teacher . . .

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How to Get Hired Teaching English Abroad

A reader recently asked: 

How do I increase the odds of getting hired for a position?

Most of the comments here are going to be related to Asia and Latin America, where the great majority of EFL teaching positions are located.

After the obvious points of meeting the minimum requirements for a position, there is a big issue hiding in most of these interviews.

Harmony in the workplace is a huge value in Asian culture and also in much of the non-Western world.  This is partly due to the lack of job mobility.  Many people work at the same job for much of their lives.  So it is important that we get along with each other.

In the Western world, we move around a lot more.  So – if I don’t like working with you, no big deal – either you or I will likely be working somewhere else by next year.

Language schools and universities – to a large extent – want to know first and foremost if you will get along well with them and their current staff/faculty.   That can be pretty subjective.

Probably the best thing you can do is communicate that you are (if you are!) flexible, friendly and willing to work as a team member.

A second issue is that there is always opportunity for cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication when working in a foreign country.

Employers want to get a sense of if you can handle those types of circumstances in a patient and diplomatic way or if you are going to get upset and self-destruct and bail out on short or no notice (some people do).

How do you convey those things?  I don’t think you can artificially communicate them.  Probably the very best way to approach it in an interview or any kind of communication is to be sincere and to answer questions truthfully.  Ask questions about anything that concerns you.

Be open, frank and honest about what you like, don’t like or even those things about which you will reserve opinion.

If you fit, you will likely know it and they will too.  There is no good reason that I can think of why  you would/should force your round-peg personality into their square-slot organization.  Better to let an interview or communication go where it goes.

Now . . . none of that means don’t give it a good go and present yourself favorably.  Merely asking thoughtful questions helps say you are probably a good candidate.  That kind of attitude is in your favor.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Be careful about Western over-assertiveness.  We’ve addressed the issue many times on this blog.  Learn to express your opinion or any disagreement in gentle terms.

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