Published 5th June 2017

Job interviews are not many people’s idea of fun and a TEFL interview can be even more daunting if you have never taught before. We’ve all been in a job interview situation before but usually we are quite clued up on the field and have experience on which to base our answers, but what do you do if you don’t have any experience and you don’t really know what you’re talking about?

Well, the only thing you can really do is make sure you are as prepared as possible.

How can you do that?

Spend some time thinking about possible questions you may be asked and then consider different ways of answering them. Here, for example, are a few of the most common EFL/ESL interview questions and how we would answer them, just to give you some ideas:

Why do you want to teach English as a Foreign Language?

We all have our reasons for wanting to leave our 9-to-5 lives and embark on a crazy TEFL adventure, but those are probably not the reasons you should be giving a future employer! Rather think about what aspects of teaching appeal to you that are not related to running away, travelling or re-inventing yourself. They don’t have to be specific reasons – I love the idea of teaching Spanish kindergarten students – but can be more general – I’m looking for a job that will challenge me and allow me to grow and develop new skills.

How has your experience prepared you for teaching English as a Foreign Language?

Obviously if you have no experience teaching, you cannot reference your experience in the classroom. However, whatever career you are currently in or whatever you do have experience in should have transferrable skills which you can highlight. For example, if you work in customer service, this will have taught you how to deal with different kinds of people and probably how to have oodles of patience too, which are very good skills and traits you can use when dealing with students.

How would you motivate your students?

If you’re not sure about how you would handle any classroom situation they put you in, think back to when you were a student and answer the question from that perspective. Your students may not be very different to you so whatever worked for you could be just as applicable to them. Maybe you remember having a sticker chart when you were very young, trying to win competitions when you were a teenager or being motivated by your own progress as an adult – all of those are credible ideas for the EFL classroom.

Take me through an activity that you have done with a class that has worked well.

Obviously if you haven’t taught a class, this can be difficult. But you may have had some classroom training on your TEFL course with classmates or students and this is just as valid. Think of an activity or game which is relatively easy to explain and go through the procedure step by step. What the employer is looking for here is evidence that you understand the purpose of an activity – to present/practice/revise adjectives of personality/the present perfect/compound nouns – and know how to execute it.

Take me though an activity that you have done with a class that hasn’t worked well. How would you do it differently?

Again, if you haven’t had any classroom experience you may need to be a bit creative. Consider an activity that you came across during your TEFL course and think about how it might not work with a particular class. For example, a very interactive game may not work with a class that is very shy or low-energy, or a certain activity may not work because the abilities and knowledge of the class were over/underestimated. Be honest about the fact that this is a hypothetical situation and your employer will appreciate the fact that you can predict tricky situations and come up with solutions to anticipated problems.

How would you teach the present perfect/personality adjectives/the /Ɵ/ sound?

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut for this and you’ll need to rely on your TEFL training for a good answer. Whichever language point or structure they ask you about you will need to have a few ideas up your sleeve as to how you could teach it. A good way to prepare for this is to come up a few activities for grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Then, to answer the question all you have to do is choose which activities would suit the language point.

If, however, you find you are not familiar with the language point and have no ideas, simply say that you would need to do your homework before the lesson to make sure you knew what you were teaching and to have some ideas about how to teach it. We’re not expected to know everything all the time but we are expected to be proactive and take steps to deal with any shortcomings in our knowledge.

How do you deal with discipline in the classroom?

Discipline is a controversial issue and how you deal with it will depend on the students you are teaching and the situation you are teaching in. For this question, it is better to be open-minded than to be set in your ways as to what works and what doesn’t. Instead, consider how different approaches may benefit different learners and also ways in which you might approach the classroom in order to try to prevent discipline issues from developing in the first place.

What’s your favourite age to teach?

While it is ok to prefer to teach a certain age group, you should not be adamant about which students you would or wouldn’t want to teach. Employers like to know that you are flexible and open to teaching all ages, if necessary. Of course everyone has a preference but make it known that you would welcome the challenge of teaching other ages too.

Why do you want to teach in Bangkok/Madrid/Cape Town?

This is your chance to show that you have done your research. Just as it would for any other job, doing your research into your employer shows that you are serious about the job opportunity and for TEFL this means the location. The location of your teaching position is part and parcel of the job so it is a necessary aspect to consider. Of course, you don’t want to make it seem like you are taking the job for the free flights but understanding the country and the culture you are moving to will help the employers believe that you are ready for the position and will be able to cope with any issues arising from relocation.

What challenges do you think you’ll face as a foreigner here and how would you deal with them?

Be realistic about this one. Not everything is all butterflies and roses, and no job is, either. There will doubtless be hard times and you need to be aware of this in order to be able to cope. Consider the difficult aspects of living abroad in this particular location and explain that you have thought about them and are willing to tackle these challenges – try to be specific. Plus, you can put forward some ways in which you can deal with those issues when they come up. Remember, the last thing an employer wants is a teacher who is going to fly home at the first sign of discomfort.

These are just a few ideas of questions which may come up in a TEFL interview. If you think carefully about these questions beforehand you will feel better prepared on the day and you won’t be faced with any unpleasant surprises.

Whatever happens, bear in mind that interviews are intended to ascertain whether or not you are suitable for a certain position. You may have to go through a few before you are successful but when you do you will know that it is the right job for you.