Working in Japan

6 Unconventional Tips to Help You Nail That English Teaching Job Interview

Teaching English abroad is an incredible way to see the world, meet a wide range of people, as well as explore a career that changes the lives of others. However, the first step to embarking

Teaching English abroad is an incredible way to see the world, meet a wide range of people, as well as explore a career that changes the lives of others. However, the first step to embarking on this new journey is the application process. For first time teachers this can be an especially nerve-wracking experience. This article includes 6 tips for first time and experienced teachers alike, with suggestions on how you can prepare for the interview, as well as methods to improve your performance during the interview.

1. Teach something and receive feedback

Each person holds a wealth of information that can be useful to others – what interviewers want to see is whether the candidate can clearly and thoroughly explain that information. Ask a roommate, friend, parent, or even stranger if you can teach them something then provide feedback. It could be the basics of using a mobile phone app, a dishwasher, or how to prepare your favorite dish. Encourage your partner to ask questions throughout, then allow them to give you constructive criticism. If you know a willing non-native English speaker, have them ask you any English questions they may have.

Was your tone of voice friendly? Were your instructions vague or convoluted? Were your gestures distracting? Honest feedback from your partner is vital to improving your performance. Interviewers are looking to not only see whether you have the necessary knowledge to teach, but also whether the student feels heard, respected, and encouraged throughout the process. This is how schools retain students. If your partner says that your explanation seemed dismissive or that you spoke too quickly, this is incredibly valuable information! Though hearing these words might not feel very good in the moment, it’s certainly better to iron out issues early rather than have them written in the interviewer’s notes.

2. Think about words you use everyday

Spend a little time thinking about English. If this is your first time teaching and you don’t have any English teaching qualifications, you may not have thought too deeply about how our language is constructed. You can start simple, like researching etymologies, suffixes and prefixes, and the general rules of English sentence structure. Interviewers most likely have ample experience doing the job you’re applying for, and therefore will be able to ask questions a non-native speaker may ask. Beginning to dissect the language prior to the interview will help you start seeing English from another perspective and thus make it easier to break down and explain something to a student on the spot.

3. Record yourself explaining something you know well

You’ve enlisted friends to be your pseudo-students, thought about the Latin prefix “sub” and it’s connection to “subway,” “subpar,” and even, “subwoofer,” so now it’s time that you delve into the nitty-gritty of your persona. Yes, persona. Many schools hiring English teachers require payment from the students to continue offering courses and grow the program, which therefore puts teachers squarely in the service industry. You may have endured a boring college lecturer because you were required to take the course, but students of English schools often have many options and won’t invest time nor money in a place with unenthusiastic teachers.

Get dressed up, stand in front of a mirror, and record yourself explaining a topic or instructions to your reflection. As uncomfortable as that may sound, it will go a long way to improving how you present yourself to interviewers and students. You will hear verbal ticks such as, “like” and “so” uttered far more frequently than you would have imagined. You may also notice stiff posture or nervous gestures (which is natural, especially during an interview or being in front of a classroom for the first time). Try it again, improving on these issues. By the end of your practices, you will appear far more confident and composed – i.e., hirable.

4. Research the market for the school and fit their brand

“Students are mostly toddlers to elementary schoolers” = looking for a high-energy, cheerful teacher with an eye for safety.
“High-end business clientele” = looking for an approachable yet confident teacher who is well-dressed and groomed; gestures are purposeful and is able to answer questions succinctly.
“Caters to all ages and levels” = requires a jack of all trades who is able to transition from dancing and singing songs with children to counseling adults on how to meet their language goals despite their work and family schedules.

Each school has a brand, whether it’s “come one come all” or something highly specific – whatever it is, know it. These companies are investing in you to be a representative and increase class sizes. Having a grasp of what kind of teacher your potential employer is looking for will greatly improve your chances of appearing hirable.

5. Speak with the other candidates

It is not uncommon to do an interview with other candidates where you work in pairs, simulate classes, and get a feel for what the company is all about. Take the opportunity to interact with the other candidates and connect. While it may seem that the company has assembled multiple candidates in one space for the sake of practicality, another major reason is that the interviewers need to see how you interact with strangers. If you are too highly focused on the task and brusque with your partners, interviewers may fear that you could be difficult for your coworkers or managers to work with, or unintentionally dismissive of clients when bogged down by work. That’s a liability. Interviewers don’t expect inexperienced teachers to understand their curriculum immediately or know just the right things to say in a mock lesson, but they will expect that you can be jovial, interested, and respectful to others.

6. Admit when you don’t know something

Students of English look at the language from an entirely different perspective than native speakers, and may ask questions that you may not have an immediate answer to. There are some that you can reason out on the spot, and others that are significantly more challenging. The interviewer may try to catch you off guard by such a question and will be highly curious about how you handle it. It would be impressive if you knew the answer off the top of your head. However, if you’re flustered and give a half-baked and incoherent answer, it will leave a bad impression on the interviewer.

Praise the student (interviewer) for thinking deeply about the language and asking the question. Then admit that you’re unsure about the answer, but after class you will either ask another teacher or do the necessary research to find the answer. For example:
“Wow, that’s a really fantastic question! I’m so glad you brought this up. Unfortunately, I’m unsure of the best answer to give you right now, but I will do some research after class and we can go over it the next time I see you.” You are not a dictionary nor the keeper of English grammar. An interviewer, school, as well as students will appreciate it if you acknowledge when you lack an answer and then take the initiative to provide the client with accurate information.

Teaching English in Japan is an incredibly rewarding field where you can observe your students’ growth week after week. At the same time, you will be able to see the world and experience new phases of personal growth. The first step is by securing an interview with a school, and by following these 6 tips you will surely be able to come off as confident, energetic, prepared, and friendly.

Richard Scheno is a freelance writer, master's student, and music producer who divides his time between Tokyo and New York City

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