Answers To Common ESL Interview Questions That Get You Hired16 min read

ESL interview questions are as wide-ranging and as diverse as the interviewers who are likely to be asking them. This is one of the challenges when applying for ESL jobs, you never really know what you will be asked or how to answer the questions. With the right preparation though, you can be fully ready for any interview and any question that may come your way.

What are ESL job interviews like?

Due to the nature of the industry, there is no set standard for how candidates are interviewed. This is largely because there are so many cultural factors at play. The ESL industry is spread across hundreds of different countries and the schools in each of those countries will have their own standards for conducting job interviews and what they are looking for in a candidate. Some countries, for example, will place a greater amount of emphasis on a candidates education and background whereas others may be more interested in where that candidate is from and how they look during the first interview. Some schools may be more interested in hiring candidates they know they will have no problems securing work permits for and others may be only looking for native English speakers from America or Britain. It largely just depends on what qualifications are deemed important for teachers to have in that country and what standards are set up by regulating bodies for hiring teachers and securing the proper permissions and documentation for employment.

“There is no set standard for how candidates are interviewed.”

With this in mind, it can be difficult to give a definitive answer on what each job interview will be like. There are a few things, however, that will be similar for each school in each country. As with any other job interview, first impressions are extremely important and looking the part goes a long way. Some cultures especially, place a very large emphasis on looking the part and candidates who look more appropriate but have less experience will be given higher priority over candidates who don’t look the part but have more experience. It is important to consider in which country you are applying for a job as cultures in some places can be more conservative than in others. This means that the expectation for dress and presentation will be more stringent for both men and women, especially since you will be working with children or young adults. First appearances are often the first hurdle in any job interview and especially for ESL jobs where it is the only thing that the interviewer really has to judge you by. Also important will be your ability to think on your feet as the questions you may be asked might not make sense or will often seem random. As mentioned, different countries and different cultures have different ways of handling interviews and this includes the questions they feel are important to ask.

What kinds of questions will I be asked and how should I answer?

Because of the cultural differences in the countries each school is located in it’s hard to come up with an exact list of questions you will be asked during an interview. However, there are some go-to favorites that interviewers and recruiters for ESL schools tend to ask including:

Why did you decide to come to (country school is located in)?

This is your chance to show that you’ve done a little homework in your ESL job interview. Everyone is proud of their country and wants to know that the people visiting their country are doing so out of a genuine interest and for the right reasons. So, while you may have chosen a particular country to work in because it allows for easy access to surrounding countries you want to visit. Or, the particular city you chose is a party hotspot you can’t wait to jump into. It’s best to avoid mentioning these things to the person interviewing you. Instead, try to focus on specific cultural interests that attract you to the place. Showing a genuine interest in the country and learning more about the place will show your interviewer that you will be able to learn at the same time you are teaching and are more likely to be respectful in the process. Bonus points if you plan to take language classes and are serious about it.

What past teaching experience do you have?

This is a broad question even though it seems relatively straightforward. Teaching experience, in this case, can mean anything that you have done in the past where you have had to work with children or adults in an educational capacity. This can be wide-ranging from babysitting to working as a trainer for a company. When I conducted my first interview for an ESL company I had very little teaching experience outside of conducting a few English camps in Thailand. But, I was able to talk about these experiences and what I had learned from them and how what I had learned would help me to teach students for the company I was interviewing for. The interviewers are trying to ascertain whether you have the skills to manage the classroom and whether or not you are going to be able to break down a concept for students to more easily digest. So don’t be afraid to talk about experiences that are not directly related to ESL teaching so long as you can convey how that experience will help you in the classroom.

What is your teaching style?

This one is a bit of a trick question as interviewers are going to have their own idea of what makes a good teacher. The key here is to do a little research on the school before you go into your interview and especially pay attention to the qualifications listed for what they are looking for in a teacher. For example, if the job listing you responded to says they are looking for fun teachers who can engage the students in conversation and create excitement in the classroom then you won’t do well answering that you are very strict and like to run a well-structured classroom with lots of rules. By looking at what the school says they are looking for and structuring your answer to questions like this in accordance to this information, you will have a better shot of presenting yourself in a way that is favorable to the specific school or company you are interviewing. This will also be a major plus for you if the other candidates interviewing for that position didn’t conduct this sort of research.

How do you like to spend your free time?

As mentioned above it is important to interviewers and schools to make sure that they are hiring people who aren’t going to bring a bad name to the schools. Because of this, it will be important for them to get an idea of what kind of person you are and how you are going to be acting while in their country. So, even if you intend to drink every night and party hardy on the weekends, don’t mention that. Instead, talk about the places that you want to see in their country and the things you hope to learn while there. Do you have any hobbies such as going to the gym or training martial arts or cooking? Make sure and mention these things. Whatever you can talk about that will paint you in a good light and let the interviewer know that you aren’t someone who is going to get arrested and cause the school to lose the money on visas and work permits will help. At the end of the day you are there to teach and they want to make sure that you fit their idea of what a teacher should be.

How do you plan on dealing with discipline issues in the classroom?

Just like the question about teaching experience, this is a great question to give specific examples from your past. Even if you have never taught before you can mention times that you used your problem solving and leadership skills to resolve a conflict and create a favorable solution for everyone. Interviewers are looking to make sure that you have the patience and ability to deal with whatever problems may arise in a way that isn’t going to bring parents into the administrator’s office with complaints. Make sure to mention that if hired you will thoroughly review the school’s policy on handling disciplinary issues among students and that you will work to find the best solution possible in any situation that may occur.

What can I do to prepare for my upcoming interview?

Many aspects of an interview will be outside of your control such as what kinds of questions the interviewer asks or what mood that person will be in when they interview you. Also important to note is that many interviews will be conducted online if you are not in the country of the school you are applying for. This means that you are at the mercy of the school’s internet connection. I had an interview for a company that ended up taking twenty minutes longer than it was supposed to because the school’s internet dropped out twice. I ended up not going with that company but was offered a job because of my ability to roll with the punches and think on my feet. Making sure that you are maximizing the aspects you do have control over such as your appearance and your knowledge of the school you are applying at will go a long way in helping to overcome any issues that may pop up during the interview. With this in mind, there are a number of helpful resources you can utilize to better prepare you for your next ESL teacher interview (or any interview for that matter) which we will look into further.

Web Resources

Big Interview – Big interview is full of helpful resources covering everything from interview skills to brushing up your résumé. Though many of the resources on this site are geared towards job seekers who are applying for jobs in the United States, many of the articles can be helpful to those looking for jobs in other countries as well. Some of my personal favorite articles that I feel are helpful for ESL job seekers are 11 Classic Interview Mistakes – and How to Recover, The Ultimate Guide to Acing Video Interviews, and How to Sell Yourself in a Job Interview. I feel that the article on conducting a video interview is especially important as many ESL teacher interviews are conducted online if you are not currently in the country the school you are applying for is located.

The Balance – though The Balance is a website dedicated to personal finance, they also have articles covering a wide range of other topics. For potential ESL teachers looking to prepare for a job interview, the site contains a detailed section dedicated to job interviewing. This series of articles goes extensively into conducting research on the company you are interviewing for, how to dress properly without over or under dressing, tips for more confidence during the interview, and other aspects of a job interview. My personal favorite section is the Interview Attire section which breaks down extensively through numerous articles how to properly dress as well as other factors such as what kind of jewelry to wear and how to style your hair for the most professional appearance. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have much prior experience interviewing for jobs as many cultures that are popular with ESL teachers place great emphasis on appearance.

Books

How to Stand Out by Dr. Rob Yeung – Dr. Yeung is a psychologist and business speaker who has worked with business leaders and organizations across the globe. In How to Stand Out, Dr. Yeung goes into what it takes to be noticed in business and life and examines real-life examples backed by academic studies and hard data. This book can help you to better understand the nonverbal cues that you are sending and can also help you to improve your body language and speech patterns so that you can more effectively convey what you want during your ESL job interview. However, the information you glean from this book won’t stop being useful after the interview is over. You may be able to use many of the principles discussed in this book to more effectively communicate with your students and have a better presence when teaching classes.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – this book has been at the top of almost every must-read books list for business people. But the information contained within its pages is applicable to potential ESL teachers as well. This is because an interview is simply the art of selling yourself to another person. How to Win Friends takes a look at the best ways to sell yourself to other people when it counts the most and how to maximize your interactions with other people.

Courses

Introduction to Public Speaking: Coursera – how confident you are in your speaking and presentation abilities will dictate how much preparation you will need for your interview. Especially if you are applying for a highly competitive job such as at a university or for a major program like the JET program in Japan. Your ability to communicate effectively is going to be one of the biggest factors aside from your appearance that is going to help you stand out from your competitors (other candidates) and help you to secure the job you want. If you have not experienced a major interview before or if you are a shy or introverted person then it may be beneficial for you to invest some extra time in honing in your presentation and speaking abilities. Going through a public speaking course such as this one will help you to sharpen your speaking skills so that you are able to provide answers that are polished and more importantly memorable.

Pros:

  • Coursera utilizes an easy to operate user interface and allows you to complete courses on your own time. This is great if you are busy and may not be able to work on the course consistently every day.
  • The courses are all designed by university professors so that you can be confident you are learning from experts with up to date and accurate information.
  • You can participate in the course for free if you do not want a certificate and just want to audit the class. This allows you to get all of the information and still get the full benefits of the class without having to pay for it.

Cons:

  • The course is five weeks so if you are super busy or if you already have an interview set up sooner than that then you may not get the full benefits of the course.
  • Like many other online learning courses, the completion rate can be low because many people end up dropping off in the middle of the class or never start at all. It is up to you to complete the course and this can be a challenge for many people compared to a traditional classroom that is on a set schedule.

Job Interview Tools Mastery Program – this course was designed by Don Georgevich, a business consultant, and presentation expert. The course is designed around helping you to understand different interview strategies and what kinds of answers recruiters are looking for. The class itself is geared towards an audience in the United States, however, the tactics and strategies presented in the book and course can be effectively used to answer many of the ESL teacher interview questions that you may be asked. This is a paid course so you may shy away from spending money but, think of this as an investment. If the skills you learn from a course like this help you to secure an ESL teaching job that pays more than other jobs you were looking at then it would more than pay for itself in the first month.

Pros:

  • Multiple different media types including book format, video instruction, MP3 audio. This can help engage you in different learning methods so that you get the maximum benefit from each lesson.
  • Easy to follow information covering different aspects of the interview process including how to correctly read what a question means and how to give the answer the interviewer is looking for.

Cons:

  • Though the price is low compared to the information that you can get from it, the fact that it does cost may put some people off.
  • The information is created largely for a U.S. audience so some of the information may not be applicable to international interviews.

Which resource is best for me?

Each of the resources listed above has different benefits for different people. The important thing is that you examine your strengths and weaknesses honestly and look at what you will need to do to improve your soft skills that oftentimes make or break the interview. For example, if you are a very introverted person or if you lack any experience in interviews then you may need something like the Jobs Interview Tools book course. This will allow you to brush up on your soft skills and round out the edges so that you can present in a polished and confident manner. However, if you are already a very confident person and you are comfortable in interviews and public speaking then reading a few articles on one of the websites like Big Interview may be all you need to brush up on a few skills and ace the interview. Just remember that it is up to you, to be honest with yourself about what you need. Developing your presentation and speaking skills can mean the difference between landing a job at a top school with great pay and benefits or having to settle for your second choice which might not pay as well. Also, remember that what schools are really looking for is a candidate who can speak clearly and who is easy to understand. So, always keep your answers simple and speak as clearly as possible to increase your odds of being selected. Especially at the higher level, you are competing with candidates from English-speaking countries around the world so any advantage you can get during the interview process is a solid investment in securing the job you desire.

I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.