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Get a Job Teaching English Abroad: 10 Things Employers Look For

English teacher in Turkey

The search for overseas teaching positions is, in many ways, similar to any job search. Of course, if you want to get a job teaching English abroad, you’ll want to demonstrate that you’re reliable and professional and that you’ve done your research on the organization to which you’re applying. Yet, international TEFL jobs also demand qualifications that are a bit outside the box.

Check out this list of 10 things TEFL employers want to see in you, the new teacher, so that you can highlight these skills on your TEFL resume and cover letter and come to your interview prepared.

1. Adaptability

TEFL jobs abroad, which are often for year-long contracts, involve intense amounts of adaptability. Many applicants to these jobs are new to teaching, have never been the country where they plan to relocate, and don’t speak the local language. For this reason, employers highly value adaptability in candidates.

Although you may feel you have adaptability built-in to your personality, you need to convey the ways that you specifically implement this skill in your professional life. Well before you have an interview, think about situations you’ve experienced that required you to think on your feet in response to a change. How did you react in the moment? How did you make it into a positive outcome? Do you have any regrets that you learned a lesson from? This information will be key for any TEFL employer.

2. Experience working with kids, even if it’s informal

TEFL Teacher Sanet

TEFL teacher in Taiwan, Sanet Van Tonder

Not all TEFL jobs involve teaching young learners, but most will. Therefore, experience with kids is one of the top things that employers look for. You might have been a Scout Leader for a time, coached sports, or worked with youth in your area as part of a volunteer project. This is excellent if you want to get hired as a new ESL teacher. You don’t need to have volunteered regularly for this to count. All experience with children and teens increases your chances of having a smoother transition into teaching these age groups, which employers appreciate.

Learn more about teaching young students: How to Teach Kids English: Everything you Need to Know About ESL for Young Learners.

3. Willingness to learn, in addition to teach

The best teachers are the ones who put time into learning new things themselves. It’s never appealing for employers when a new teacher who hasn’t yet taught in a classroom environment implies they know everything already. Yes, you’ve probably studied to get an online TEFL certificate. Great! However, there are infinite paths to knowledge and skill in teaching. It’s unlikely that you already know it all.

Teachers who are amazing at their jobs are the ones who value learning outside of work as well. You can demonstrate this quality to employers by studying a language (preferably the one in the country where you plan to teach), being widely-read, well-informed on local news, and interested in new skills. And who knows? You might inspire your students to keep learning outside school, too.

4. A sincere interest in teaching English– not just traveling abroad

Even though many TEFL teachers start out with a desire to earn a living while they travel, the truth is that teaching isn’t the best path for someone who just wants to travel. Frankly, TEFL has a bit of a “bad reputation” at times because of teachers who move abroad but aren’t committed to showing up on time and teaching classes to the best of their ability, or who flake out on their contracts because they are just there to see the country. In reality, teaching is emotional and labor-intensive, and the preparation that’s required needs focus.

TEFL employers are looking for serious teachers who make the students, rather than the travel experience, their priority. Be prepared to demonstrate your work ethic and talk about how your TEFL training prepared you for the job of teaching English. And don’t worry, most TEFL jobs offer significant vacation time, meaning you’ll still have the opportunity to see the country outside of work.

5. A clear idea of your preferred teaching style

It’s a good idea to show that you have self-knowledge when you present yourself to a potential employer. Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and being able to articulate how your personality would fit within a given curriculum is a great way to show you are serious about teaching.

If you took a TEFL certification course, you learned about various teaching styles. Which one resonated with you and why? How would you apply this style to the classroom? Use this knowledge to define yourself and stand out as a professional teacher when interviewing for TEFL jobs.

6. An understanding of the logistics of moving abroad

One thing that many TEFL job candidates overlook when thinking of moving abroad is the logistical, bureaucratic side of things, such as securing legal status to work in the country (i.e. a visa). You’ll want to demonstrate that you’ve started the most difficult parts of the process before you even contact employers. Depending on the country, this may include a criminal record check, notarization of your degree or TEFL certifications, and other necessary documents.

You can’t move abroad without a brush with visas and immigration, so show potential employers that you’re on top of things by visiting the consulate website for the country in which you plan to teach, to learn as much as you can about legal requirements.

7. International experience

Along with an understanding of visas and immigration, it helps to highlight any previous international experience, such as having studied abroad or traveled to foreign countries. This way, during interviews you can talk to employers about real-life experiences you’ve had while traveling or living abroad in the past. You can share examples of ways you adapted to cultures or learned about the world and yourself, and share why you want to have a similar experience living in the country where you’re applying. You’ll look more like a proven commodity in terms of international living.

8. Positivity

Try to be the best version of yourself that you can be during your interview. If you’re relaxed, friendly, and positive, employers will see you as the type of teacher with whom students will feel comfortable in the classroom and colleagues will work easily.

To get yourself into this positive state before an interview, consider doing something that makes you genuinely happy. This might be taking a brisk walk, looking at cat videos online, or reading something funny. Take the time to put effort into yourself and your happiness in order to come across well in the conversation.

9. Professionalism

When you’re seeking a job, you need to appear as if you already know how to be a professional. Even if you’re applying for a position that won’t require you to wear office attire, it’s still advisable to present yourself in this way, such as a shirt and tie for men and a professional-looking blouse and pants or a dress for women.

Beyond your appearance, don’t forget to take into account how you’ll appear to the employer during your Skype interview (which may be your living room!). Be sure your webcam and microphone are working properly and that the background they’ll see behind you is tidy and professional.

Read more: What’s a Skype TEFL Interview Really Like?

10. Perfect grammar on your resume and cover letter

This one is particularly important for TEFL teachers since you’re applying for jobs as an expert in the English language! Use a spelling and grammar-check function, such as Grammarly, to find errors on your resume and cover letter, but also ask someone (or several people) to review these for you to catch anything that might have been missed.

Ready to put these tips to use to get a job teaching English abroad?

Refer to these 10 things TEFL employers look for as a checklist when applying to teaching jobs abroad. If you’re updating your resume, highlight these specific qualities in your job descriptions or reference them in your list of relevant skills. When you have TEFL interviews scheduled, come prepared with specific examples to share that demonstrate your adaptability, willingness to learn, teaching style, and other key points on this list that employers are looking for.

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Coleen Monroe is a Colorado native who has left a trail of new homes for herself around the world. She's set foot in 30 countries and lived on four continents in the last eleven years. Her nomad homes have been in Chilean Patagonia, France, Italy, Switzerland, South Korea, England, and Iceland. Her latest travel adventures took her to Yunnan, Beijing, Jiangxi, and Southern China, where she's currently teaching.