Be Prepared: Crucial Interview Questions for English Teachers Applying Abroad

Have you ever had an interview that was an absolute disaster?

The first interview I had after graduating college was with a marketing firm. I showed up to the meeting unprepared and overconfident.

Then they asked me which project in their portfolio I liked the most and why… and I had no idea how to answer.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get the job.

What I did take away from that experience was an understanding of why it’s important to prepare for interviews ahead of time, which helped me when I interviewed for my first overseas teaching position in South Korea.

That time, I aced the interview and got the job.

Here’s how you can, too.

How to Prepare for Your Overseas Teaching Interview

The first step towards a smooth interview is to prepare.

Learn about your target country

Along with rehearsing answers for questions you anticipate the interviewer will ask, you also need to spend a little time researching the country you’re applying to. A good way to do this is by engaging in conversations with expats living in various countries around the world.

Sites like Expat Forum, the Job Discussion Forums at Dave’s ESL Cafe and Dave’s South Korean discussion forum are all great places to learn more about living abroad.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when researching and preparing for your interview:

  • What are the duties teachers in similar positions are expected to perform?
  • What are your students’ goals and how can you help them reach these goals?

Take the type of school into account

Think about the type of school you’re applying to. If you’re working in the public school system, you’ll probably be teaching some form of national or provincial English curriculum. But if you’re working in a private school or tutoring one-on-one sessions, you could be expected to come up with your own curriculum.

Consider your future students’ ages

As you prepare for your interview you’ll also need to be mindful of the students’ ages.

If you’re applying for a kindergarten or elementary position, you’ll want to talk about ways to make your class fun and active.

If, on the other hand, you’re applying to teach teenagers, you could mention a few strategies to help them improve their English test scores, build their vocabulary and boost their conversational skills.

And if you’re interviewing for an adult teaching position, focus on ways to help students learn how to use English that will benefit them out in the world.

10 Interview Questions for English Teachers to Prepare for When Applying Abroad

Once you’ve done a little research about the prospective country, it’s time to prepare for the interview itself. Usually your interview will take place on Skype or over the telephone (or even in person). It’s important to be prepared to answer questions on the spot without mincing your words or drawing blanks.

Here are 10 common interview questions that English teachers are asked, as well as how you can prepare for them so that you come across as confident, professional and competent.

1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?

It’s safe to assume that every interview will start with this question. And while it seems like a straightforward question to answer, your interviewer probably doesn’t want to hear about your astrological sign or how pizza is your favorite food. Instead, they want to know more about your personality and how it relates to the position you’re applying for.

By asking this question, your interviewer really wants to know about the skills you have that are relevant to the job. For this reason, you need to frame your answer in a way that tells them you’re qualified for this particular position.

For example, if you were interviewing for an elementary school position in South Korea, here are some ways you could answer the question:

  • I enjoy trying new things and learning about new cultures, and have taken the time to learn a little bit about Korean history.
  • I’m a very active person, which is why I enjoy planning English lessons with a lot of hands-on activities.
  • I like working with children and have experience volunteering at my local recreational center.

2. Why do you want to be a teacher?

This is another common interview question, and is one that a lot of unprepared people answer wrong.

If your interviewer asks you why you want to be a teacher or why you want this job in particularl, you need to construct your answer in a way that shifts the focus from you onto the job itself. You never want to answer this question by saying you simply want a job, that the pay is good or because you want to travel abroad.

Instead, focus on answers that really let the interviewer know that teaching is your passion. Tell them that you enjoy helping people or that you want to use your skills to empower students by teaching them how to succeed in an English-speaking environment.

3. What’s the best way to teach English?

If you’re asked this question during your interview, there’s a good chance that you’re being asked a trick question.

That’s because there is no “best way” to teach English. People learn differently and what works for one student might not be the best approach for another. For this reason, you shouldn’t answer this question by talking about specific teaching methods like drilling vocabulary or reading and writing.

Instead, answer the question by saying the best way to teach English is to create a number of different activities to appeal to various types of learning styles. That way, everyone can understand and enjoy your lessons.

4. What’s a challenge you’ve faced in the classroom?

You’ll want to be careful when answering this question. If you talk about being unable to control problem students, your interviewer may think you have poor classroom management skills. Rather than speak about behavioral and academic challenges you’ve had with particular students, talk about actual classroom challenges like teaching without state-of-the-art technology, using outdated books or having under-resourced classrooms.

Also, make sure that you spin your answer into a success story. An example would be teaching at a school that had minimal resources, and how your solution was to create your own props, flashcards and other teaching aids with paper and markers.

5. What are some successful teaching methods you use?

A good way to answer this question is to focus on creating lessons that involve a multitude of different activities that get your students talking and participating in class. The goal here is to showcase your versatility so your interviewer knows that your teaching methods extend beyond worksheets and textbook activities.

To do this, you can mention some of the following teaching methods:

  • In-class debates and presentations.
  • Role-playing exercises.
  • Arts-and-crafts activities.
  • Teaching with television and music.

6. How do you handle a problem student?

As a teacher, you’ll encounter problem students from time to time. You interviewer understands that, which is why they’re not interested in whether you’ve had problem students, but how you’ve handled them.

As an ESL teacher in a foreign country, it’s rarely your role to act as the disciplinarian. Native teachers often take care of that simply because they’re able to better communicate with the students or their parents.

When answering this question, don’t focus on being punitive. Instead, talk about how every student has the potential to excel in English, how problem students aren’t being engaged properly and how devoting more time to helping them overcome their challenges motivates them to participate in the classroom and not be disruptive.

7. How do you make sure your students understand you?

Having your students understand you is an important part of being an English teacher. That’s why you should answer this question in a way that shows the interviewer you go the extra step to check your students’ understanding.

One way to do this is to elicit responses from your students instead of spoon-feeding them definitions. With the help of concept check questions (CCQs) and instruction check questions (ICQs), you can assess your students’ understanding without directly asking them questions.

For example, if you just finished teaching a lesson on Japanese food, you could ask the following CCQs to your students to gauge their understanding:

  • Is sushi made from pork?
  • Is sushi fish and noodles?
  • Do they eat a lot of kimchi in Japan?

The same concept applies with ICQs, except you’re testing their understanding of instructions instead of learning material. If you’ve just told your class to write a paragraph on how to eat sushi, some examples of ICQs would be:

  • Are you going to write three paragraphs?
  • Are you writing about how to make sushi?
  • Can you write about hamburgers?

You might also want to mention that you frequently give your students quizzes and assessments designed to check their understanding. This can be done through a number of different exercises such as matching vocabulary words to definitions, fill-in-the-blank exercises and short writing activities.

Another thing to consider adding in your answer is the importance of teaching students how to ask for clarification when they don’t understand something.

8. What are your qualifications?

Most schools you apply to are going to want some sort of qualification that proves you’re a competent teacher. Universities, prestigious private schools and high-paying positions in some countries often want a master’s degree in either teaching or linguistics.

At the very least you’ll need a teaching certification or post-graduate certificate of education (PGCE).

There are also other programs like DELTA, CELTA and TEFL certifications that many schools accept as a teaching qualification.

While it’s ideal to have one of these degrees or certificates, you can still land a good job without one if you’re able to sell yourself. And in order to do that you’ll need to answer this question in a way that ties your work experience into teaching.

Answer this question by talking about any leadership positions you’ve had over the years, like:

  • Working as a one-on-one tutor.
  • Volunteering at a youth outreach program.
  • Working as a camp counselor.

Each of these positions requires the same skillset that you need to be an effective classroom teacher, like building rapport and helping individuals overcome various obstacles in their way.

9. Why do you think students need to learn English?

How you answer this question will help your interviewer gauge what you think your students’ needs and expectations are. For this reason, you shouldn’t give a brief answer talking about how English is everywhere. Instead, focus on how learning English can empower your students.

For example, traveling abroad becomes much easier once you’re able to speak English since it’s a global language. There might be situations where hotels, airports or tourist attractions don’t have a native speaker in your students’ first language—but there’s a greater possibility that an English speaker will be available.

Furthermore, knowing English opens up a world of opportunities, including international jobs and degree programs that require English proficiency.

10. Have you ever lived in another country before?

Regardless of whether your answer is yes or no, you want to answer the question in a way that tells the interviewer that you’re agreeable and flexible.

Talk about how you love stepping out of your comfort zone, learning about new cultures and experiencing new things. That way, prospective employers won’t be afraid of you abandoning your position because of culture shock.


Before your next interview with an overseas school, use this list to anticipate potential questions and come up with good responses for them. That way, you’ll sound more confident and knowledgeable throughout your interview, increasing your chances of getting the job!

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