8 TEFL Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

By Lorena Siegel
June 10, 2020
TEFL teacher doing an online interview

We asked experienced English teacher and tutoring business owner, Lorena Siegel, in Mexico, to share her insights on the interview process for prospective teachers. She tells us what she looks for when hiring new teachers for her business and shares common TEFL interview questions you may be asked, plus tips on how to answer them.  

Getting ready for any interview can be an unnerving experience. So many questions can race through your mind from, “What should I wear?” to “What questions will they ask me?” However, TEFL interviews, whether for online or in-person teaching jobs, can be even more nerve-racking, in part because you may be new to teaching, and in part because these interviews usually take place remotely, over Zoom or Skype.

Hear from Bridge Jobs Advisor, Ben: What’s a Skype Interview Really Like?

The key to acing your teaching interview? Preparation. As an English teacher myself for many years and now the owner of my own English language tutoring business, I’ve been on both sides of the table – interviewee and interviewer. With these dual perspectives, I can help you get ready for your TEFL interview by sharing what I look for when hiring a new teacher, some specific questions I ask during an interview (and why), and specific tips for preparing for your own interview.

Before I Ask TEFL Interview Questions, I Look for These Qualities   

When I interview a teacher, my questions go well beyond TEFL/TESOL certification and experience. I purposely ask questions that will give me a pretty good idea as to whether or not I can work with the candidate. I inquire about things such as background and interests, as well as more practical questions related to job – tutoring students here in Playa del Carmen, Mexico – regarding availability (including how close the person lives to the place where they will be working), and what method of transportation they’ll be relying on in order to get to class. But most importantly, I try to see the prospective teacher through the eyes of my students. Because I think about how the group will view the person standing at the head of the class, I tend to focus on the following characteristics:

A genuine smile

An authentic smile can help make a great first impression and conveys self-assurance and professionalism. It not only communicates friendliness but also accessibility and confidence. Simply put, a warm and genuine smile can make students feel at ease and motivate them to open themselves up to the process of learning a new language.

Allie Online Teacher

Allie was recently hired as an online English teacher with the company Palfish. Read her story

Good energy

This may sound a little abstract, but we often depend on our instincts to helps us understand the people we are meeting for the very first time. And though it goes without saying that it’s never a good idea to judge a book by its cover, two people can have a pretty good feeling as to whether or not they can work with each other by the time the interview is over.

Relaxed body language  

Is the person relaxed and open or does she unconsciously fold her arms over her chest in an attempt to protect herself? Again, because I’m seeing the teacher applicant from my students’ point of view, I do my best to make sure that she can come across as confident and emotionally trustworthy. My goal is to find someone who will know how to create a safe space for my students and, in turn, keep them coming back to class.

A clear speaking voice that can easily be understood  

There’s nothing worse than a teacher who mumbles, uses “up-speak,” or overloads her sentences with filler words such as “like,” “you know,” and “um.”   A lot of people can speak English well, but a person who has a strong command of the language, whose words flow easily, and who is aware of how others hear her, is naturally bound to be an outstanding TEFL teacher.

A desire to help others

This question is closely connected to why someone wants to teach. So, though I look to hire someone who is both reliable and responsible, I will often ask questions about past experiences in which the candidate has helped someone and how that experience has affected her. Because it’s the students who most concern me, I do my best to make sure that the person I’m hiring has the ability to care about and connect with the people around her.

Adaptability and patience

English students need to feel safe in their environment, otherwise, they will never put to use what they’ve learned in the classroom, or worse yet, they’ll drop out of the class altogether! A  calm and patient personality can help students who are having a difficult time grasping new concepts. And if the teacher has a sense of humor and can find imaginative ways to teach a difficult lesson, this scores more points in his or her favor.

For more ideas on how to improve your body language and the quality of your energy prior to an interview, you can watch this Ted Talk, featuring Amy Cuddy: More Confidence in 2 Minutes (condensed):

8 TEFL Interview Questions I Ask Prospective Teachers– and Why

Now that we’ve covered what I look for in a candidate, here are some of the specific questions I usually ask to determine if the person has those qualities I’m looking for. When applying for an online or in-person TEFL job, you might be asked very similar questions, so I’ve included the reasoning behind each one to help you formulate your own best answers.    

1. Tell me a little about where you grew up and where you went to school.

This question gives me a general idea about who you are and what your life experiences have been. It’s also a way to make an emotional connection with you. For example, some people have spent their childhood moving from one country to another, while others have never left their hometown. One experience is in no way better than the other; it just gives me a point of reference regarding your life without getting too personal.

2. What was your favorite class in school?

If your answer is English, then I can be pretty sure that you feel comfortable, perhaps even passionate about the language. But it really doesn’t matter what your favorite subject is. If you have an innate interest in learning new things and you’re enthusiastic about it, make sure you find a way to let your interviewer sense that excitement.

3. Why do you want to teach English?

All interviewers will ask you this question, but keep in mind that they are looking for the answer that will set you apart from the rest of the candidates. You might say you’re a “people person” or that you really like working with children, but if you don’t bring up specific experiences that prove your statements, your resume will probably end up at the bottom of the pile. Think along the lines of these examples:

  • I love working with kids! When I was a camp counselor in college it sparked my interest in teaching because…
  • Teaching is a great fit for me because I’m a people person. When I worked as a tutor in college, I enjoyed getting to know my students and seeing their progress…
  • I believe learning a new language creates opportunities for students, and as an online English teacher, I can put those opportunities within reach of more students worldwide. I learned Spanish online, and the experience…

Online English class

Juicy Mae teaches online because she likes to “talk to people from different nationalities and learn about their culture and lifestyles.”

Also, think about the reasons that make you, or would make you, a good English language teacher. Do you believe you have something different to offer your students? Whatever the reason, be sure to let the interviewer know what sets you apart from the other candidates.

  • Are you good at listening as well as speaking?
  • Does helping others give you a sense of satisfaction, and if so, why?
  • Have you been a language learner yourself, perhaps online? What did you learn from that experience that you can apply to teaching virtually or in person?

4. Tell me about some of your experiences as an English teacher.  

This question is asked in order to get a better idea of who you are as a teacher. It brings your resume to life and allows you to be more specific about your work or academic history.

If you have experience as a teacher, either teaching English online or in a traditional classroom (at home or abroad), you should share moments that stand out above all the others and which reflect your skills as a competent teacher. To be sure, a good teacher is well organized, shows up to class on time, and is responsible for her students’ well-being. But a great teacher is someone who is relatable and able to communicate both abstract and concrete ideas in an exciting and memorable way. She’s happy to share information that encourages her class to dig deeper on their own, and her desire for them to learn is contagious! Her talent is to inspire students to use their newly acquired skills in the real world without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

5. If you haven’t taught English before, what related experience do you have, especially working with children, teens, or adults?

This question is asked to see if your life experiences will make you a good candidate for the position, despite the fact that you haven’t taught. If you have never stood in front of a classroom, you will have to dig deeper and make a list of all the things you’ve done in your life that can be applied to teaching. This would be a good time to pull examples of what you’ve learned from your TEFL certification course, or to show how previous jobs demonstrate that you’re a hard-working, adaptable person who looks forward to learning new things every day. For example:

  • Working at a summer camp shows your enthusiasm for working with children, as could coaching, babysitting, or one-on-one tutoring.
  • If you’ve waited on tables or worked at a fast-food restaurant, you automatically have experience dealing with multitasking in highly stressful situations.
  • Working what you might consider a boring job, sitting in front of a computer all day, can translate to technology and troubleshooting skills that are key for online English teaching jobs.
  • Even spending the summer mowing lawns shows that you’re a self-starter who can work under difficult conditions, in environments requiring self-motivation.

TEFL Teacher

Consider ways your non-teaching experience applies to the job for which you’re interviewing

Remember, all experience is good, and whether you know it or not, everything you’ve learned throughout the years, both in and out of school, is valuable knowledge that can be used in the English classroom.

Learn more about how your non-teaching skills can be applied to teaching English.

6. What do you hope to gain from teaching English?    

Keep in mind that your desire to teach English online so you can travel the world as a digital nomad may be important to you, but schools and companies are looking for teachers who will make a difference in their students’ lives. It’s also the school’s or company’s goal to set itself above all others in this highly competitive world, and you can rest assured they won’t be very interested in hiring people who will not align themselves with that goal.

Focus on how you will foster your students’ development or learn and develop professionally. Some example answers might be:

  • I want to help my students broaden their opportunities through learning English, such as advancing in their career or excelling in school.
  • I want to make a positive impact on the future of children, and hopefully encourage them to be lifelong learners.
  • Having already taught adult students, I’m ready to apply new skills I’ve learned and grow as a teacher, working with young students.

7. What do you do in your free time (i.e. hobbies, social life, volunteer work, travel)

English Teacher in Thailand

English teacher, Kelsea, volunteering with elephants in Thailand

This question is asked in order to find out what might set you apart from other candidates. So, talk a little about how you live.

  • Do you like to take short trips on your days off and see the sites, or would you rather stay at home with a good book?
  • Do you look forward to hanging out with your friends all weekend, or do you prefer to take long bike rides on your own to reflect and recharge after a long work week?
  • Do you take online classes for personal interest or volunteer in your free time? This can show your interest in personal enrichment or helping others.

8. Do you have any questions for us?

Always come prepared with questions that show you’ve researched the school or company (see “Other Ways to Prepare for Your Interview” section) and thought about the students you’ll teach. For some examples, read 8 Questions to Ask Before You Take a TEFL Job.

More TEFL Interview Questions You May Be Asked  

The following is a list of more questions you will probably be asked during an interview. Think about them, write down your ideas, and take care not to use pat answers that may sound insincere or unsubstantial. Don’t memorize your answers but be sure to practice them out loud.

  • What personality traits or characteristics do you think make you a good English language teacher?
  • What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you follow a particular teaching philosophy, and can you explain it?
  • How do you keep your online English students interested in what you are teaching, and how do you motivate them to learn?
  • If you have a difficult group, how do you discipline your students?
  • What do you find most frustrating about teaching?
  • What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
  • Who was the most difficult student you’ve had, and how did you deal with the problem?
  • Are you able to use online teaching tools like a virtual whiteboard, screen sharing, or voice/video recording?
  • How do you incorporate social media into your teaching?

If possible, use your answers to make an emotional connection with the interviewer. There are no wrong answers, but if you can tie your time away from school to how you approach your teaching, you will stand out above the rest of the candidates.

Other Ways to Prepare for Your Interview

You’ve thought about answers to common interview questions and practiced possible answers. What else can you do to prepare?

Do your research

Next, research the school or online tutoring company you want to work for. Read about their history and what their work model is and pay close attention to their academic or corporate mission. This will give you a pretty good idea of what they are looking for in an English teacher. Likewise, think about how you can tie your own life experience to their goals by looking for concepts you can identify with. Write these ideas down and practice them either by yourself or with a friend. If you are able to match your thoughts and answers to the school’s or company’s core values, you will more than likely stand out over other candidates who are applying for the same job.

Practice speaking with confidence and conviction

The ability to speak English fluently is the first box to be checked off, and though accent-free English is no longer as important as it was 20 years ago, proper spoken and written grammar remains a significant characteristic that interviewers will be paying close attention to. Also, try to be clear and calm in your speech, but don’t fall into a monotonous drone. Finally, avoid over-using filler words and phrases, such as like, totally, awesome, and you know what I mean?

For a meaningful lesson on self-awareness and speaking with confidence, especially the use of “like”  when speaking, watch the following video featuring the inspiring teacher and poet, Taylor Mali:

Prepare to present yourself in a professional manner

Just because the interview is via Zoom, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it just the same as an in-person interview.

  • Dress professionally, in a dress shirt and nice pants, for example. Keep distracting jewelry to a minimum and you may even want to cover any tattoos that are visible (some schools have policies on body art).
  • Test your audio and video equipment before the interview. You may find that a headset works better than the built-in microphone on your computer.
  • Set your computer up for the interview and then analyze the background the employer will see. Keep it as clean as possible, avoiding distractions such as a cluttered background, ceiling fan, or pet dog who might run by during your interview.

Remember, preparation is key to acing your TEFL/TESOL job interview. Think about what the school or online company is looking for in a teacher and why, and have well thought out answers ready to answer common interview questions with confidence.

Curious what online English tutoring companies look for in job candidates, beyond the basic requirements? We asked recruiters at top companies this question to find out.