So, you’ve chosen ELT as a career path and expanded your experience, you’ve put together a strong CV, and you’ve applied for a role that will challenge you professionally. Now, it’s time for the most nerve-racking part of the whole recruitment process – the interview. In the post, I will offer advice based on my own experiences on both sides of the table. As ever, please add your own top tips and suggestions in the comments section below.
Do your research
If you have reached this stage, you will have already researched the role as well as the school or institution you are applying to, and presented your application accordingly. However, it is still worth doing a little bit more research into the job ahead of the interview. Review the original job ad and any communications you have had with the recruitment team in the run up to the interview. This will help ensure that you have a clear picture of the job requirements and the recruiter’s ideal candidate. If anything is unclear, note it down and either ask for clarification ahead of the interview or include it in your list of questions to ask (more on those later).
Find out the names of the interviewer and/or panel along with the key figures in the school’s management structure. This will help create a good impression when you introduce yourself. Also use the days in the run up to the interview to research the institution more closely. A little background knowledge about the school could go a long way towards impressing your potential employers and also enable you to frame your answers to those tough interview questions in the relevant context.
First of all, the obvious one – review your application thoroughly. Assuming you have adapted your application to the role, revisit your form, cover letter, CV and any other documents you submitted. As a recruiter, I have seen and heard several candidates contradict their own applications or go blank when asked for more detail. Make sure that is not you!
Interviews often open with an invitation to introduce yourself and summarise your experience and qualifications. Spend time rehearsing this. Try to be succinct while still including key details to highlight your strengths as relates to the role. Record yourself doing this and listen back. Seek feedback from a colleague. Make sure you start your interview strongly.
While reviewing the job ad and your application, use the opportunity to anticipate questions that you might be asked. If the role involves teaching young learners, for example, be prepared to be asked about classroom and behaviour management as well as child protection. Should the role involve working with ICT components, be prepared to highlight your experience with learning technology past and present.
Also, make sure you highlight specific examples from your experience. Generic statements of belief do not mean much on their own. Evidence of how you have applied a particular idea or resource, what benefits it brought to the learners, and your reflections will demonstrate your capabilities much more clearly.
If there is an aspect of the role that you do not have much direct experience of, identify and emphasise those areas of your work history that are most relevant (again, be sure to think of specific examples). Also, be prepared to talk about other times in your career when you have had to take on new challenges and adapt to changing circumstances. This will often be just as valid an answer as having performed the exact same duties before.
Prevent potential disruptions
Once you have your interview date and time, clear your calendar. Avoid any time-consuming projects or activities (in and out of work) on the day of the interview. Allow yourself plenty of time to either arrive at the interview location or be ready for the video/telephone call. Sending a last-minute message to say you are on your way from the dentist is unlikely to go down well.
If you are being interviewed face-to-face, make sure people know you will be out of contact before, during, and immediately after your timeslot. If you are having an online or telephone interview, identify a quiet space where you can log in and speak uninterrupted. Again, let people know where and when you will be interviewed just so they don’t burst into the room with a cup of tea or to tell you that Bargain Hunt is about to start.
Check your audio and visuals
Online interviews are especially common for ELT jobs when the recruiter is based in another country. Don’t let any potential technical issues derail the conference call before it begins. Check your internet connection and if necessary, ask anyone else around to refrain from streaming their favourite movie or downloading the entire Paul Weller back catalogue.
Also make sure you check your audio equipment so that you can clearly hear your interviewers and they can clearly hear you. A head set with a microphone might look a little silly, but it can make a world of difference (built-in mics on laptops and PCs are usually poor quality). I would also recommend using a computer rather than a phone or tablet, so you can sit comfortably and keep your hands free.
Also, dress like you are going to have your webcam on. Recruiters often want a visual element to an online interview to make it more personal and to see what impression you will make. I once interviewed someone who sat opposite his camera in a ‘vintage’ t-shirt – not the best of looks!
Finally, choose your backdrop carefully. Avoid any spots where light is coming from behind you to the webcam, and also avoid any places where people are likely to walk behind you constantly. Double-check that your immediate background is uncluttered. I have seen clothes racks complete with recently washed socks, untidy bedrooms, and cats cleaning themselves behind interviewees and it can be very distracting!
Whether your interview is face-to-face or online, keeping clam is paramount. Making sure you are ready early enough to not be rushed but not so early that you end up fretting is key to making a good impression. Of course, some nervousness is to be expected but don’t let it take over. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think before responding as it is to request clarification or ask for the interviewer to repeat a question.
Maintaining eye contact is a classic but highly useful piece of advice and it applies to both face-to-face and online scenarios. When being interviewed over the internet, make an effort to look directly at your webcam and not off to the side as many people do,
Finally, remember that any reputable institution is selling itself to you, the potential employee, as much as you are selling yourself to them. Nobody is trying to catch you out or expose you as unsuitable. If you have made it this far in the process, it is because you have impressed the recruiters. Now, you just need to show them that the ‘live you’ is just as good as the ‘on paper you’.
And finally, that classic part of any interview – have you got any questions for us? There are certain queries interviewers hear all the time: What opportunities for professional development are available? How many students per class? What nationalities/levels/ages are your students? Avoid these. They won’t make you stand out.
Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewers tough questions. Ask them where they see the school in five years’ time. Ask them what the biggest immediate challenges as identified in their development plan are. Ask them why you should choose them over another employer. Ask them what they would expect from you in your first year in the job.
These kinds of questions show that you take your work seriously and you take yourself seriously. It also allows you to double check how professional your prospective employers are. If they do not have a development plan, vision, or expectations, it is probably best to take your experience elsewhere.
What advice would you add? Is there anything here that you would like to comment on or disagree with? Please let us know in the comments!