What to do, and what not to do, when applying to be an English teacher abroad

don't give up

So, you’ve decided that teaching English abroad is something you’d like to do.  You’ve got yourself qualified.  You have your brand new teaching certificate ready to present to potential employers.  Now you’re going to start applying for jobs.

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You’ve got your teaching certificate and you’re ready to go!

What to do first?

First thing you should do is write a good CV (or ‘resume’ – although there is a technical difference, the two terms are now more or less interchangeable).  Now, CV writing is a personal thing.  Many people will argue about the correct way to present it, what information you should put in it etc.  For example, I’ve seen CVs stating marital status and how many children the applicant has.  Some CVs have a photo on the first page.  Some have a lot of information, some just have the most important things like education and experience.

So, you should probably do a little research about the standard format of CVs in the country that you’re aiming to teach in.  But don’t stress out about it too much, especially if you can’t find a lot of information about it.

When I was applying for teaching jobs in Eastern Europe and Russia, I simply used the format that our trainer on the TESOL course suggested.  And I got a job.  As long as your CV is clear, contains all the necessary information, and is easy to read you should be ok.

Create an easy to read CV

Recruiters and potential employers don’t want to spend hours sifting through a 5 page CV just to find your employment history.  Two pages is enough, so don’t go overboard with how much information you include.  Keep it to the point.  The first thing you should consider is what headings you’re going to include.

Your CV

  • Personal details – name, nationality, date of birth, contact details eg. email address, phone number etc.  I don’t think it’s necessary to put your address here, as you’re applying for a job in another country.
  • Employment history – list your most recent position first, with the start date (and end date if you’ve left already).  Then write a very short summary of the responsibilities you have/had in that position.  Then list your jobs previous to that one in reverse order, with dates and also listing your main responsibilities.  If you’re old like me and have had a lot of different jobs, don’t list them all going back to 1985 or whenever.  Just list the most recent years.  I usually go back 10 years, but of course if you’re younger you should list everything you’ve done since finishing your education (within reason – no need to mention that job that lasted only 2 days because you were too lazy/hungover to go in on the third morning).  Try to highlight any responsibilities you’ve had in previous jobs that are transferable to English teaching eg. staff training, mentoring new employees etc.
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  • Education/training – here you can mention the year you graduated and results obtained.  Once again, for the oldies, no need to list your school education.  It’s far too long ago for anybody to even care.  Definitely mention any university degrees or other education you completed, eg. apprenticeships or technical education.  And of course, your teacher training course, eg. CELTA, TESOL etc. also goes here.  Make sure you put the date/year of any qualifications.  You can mention any courses you’ve started but not finished here if you think it’s relevant to teaching, otherwise I’d leave them out.  Nobody cares if you started ‘Macrame for Beginners‘ in 2005 but didn’t finish it even though you are planning to get back to it at some point in the future.
  • In the next section you can put any achievements (eg. ‘Employee of the Month’.  But probably best not to mention that you were the winner of the beer drinking tournament in your final year at university), special skills you’ve obtained (eg. computer skills, or being fluent in a second language), and finally list two or three hobbies or interests.  Make it interesting. Gone are the days of ‘I like reading, cooking and travelling’.  You really don’t have to list any hobbies if you think it’s not going to enhance your application.
  • References – I suggest listing two people you’ve worked for, or studied under, with their contact email address.  Your trainer from your CELTA course is a good idea to list as a referee if you haven’t had any previous teaching positions.  As you’re applying for positions abroad you probably don’t need phone numbers here.  Just list the person’s name, position and company, and email address for contact.  If the recruiter/future employer wants to contact them by phone or Skype they’ll ask you for the contact details.  Whatever you do, make sure that the people you’ve nominated as referees know about it.  Check that their email address is still current and let them know that someone might contact them about your job application.  Ask them to check their spam from time to time in case any requests for references end up there.

Your cover letter

Yes, you should always write a cover letter every time you send an application for a job.  Don’t use the same cover letter for each different job application.  You need to personalise each one to the position/school/country you are applying for.

If the job advertised is for an ‘EFL Teacher’, then in your cover letter you shouldn’t refer to it as ‘TESOL Teacher’, or vice versa.  Read the job advertisements carefully and adapt your cover letter (and CV) to fit the position and the requirements stated in the ad.


If the job is specifically for teaching adults, don’t go on in your cover letter about how good you are with children.  Don’t say that you loved your previous teaching job because your students were just so receptive to your own version of ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’.

The job is for teaching, so don’t write three paragraphs about your success in your marketing career, your love of marketing or how good your boss thinks you are at marketing.  It’s not going to help.

The interview

So, a school has contacted you and asked you to participate in a Skype interview.  This is good – it means that they like you and are interested in seeing you and hearing you speak English (they want to be sure you’re understandable and don’t have a ‘difficult’ accent).  They might also ask you to conduct a demo lesson as part of the interview.  Don’t panic, it’s standard and they just want to see your teaching style.

Make sure everything’s ready for your Skype interview

They’ll ask you for a convenient time/day to have the interview.

Here’s something you might not have thought about – don’t tell them that you’re free any day this week, then when they try to schedule an interview for Thursday, you tell them that your elderly aunt and uncle are coming over and you have to look after them so you can’t have the interview on Thursday.

Don’t tell them that you’re available all day every Friday, and when they try to schedule an interview with you on Friday at 11.00am you tell them that 11.30am would be better.

We all know that things happen and sometimes we have to make changes in our schedule, but it’s not a good look if you offer a suitable time and then change it after it’s been confirmed.

Here are some tips for pre-interview preparation:

  • Read their email carefully and make a note of the day and time of the interview.  Check the time difference between your hometown and their part of the world.  If it’s March or October, check the daylight savings/summer time changes if applicable (you don’t want to be an hour late/early and miss the interview).
  • Prepare your demo lesson. You will probably present your demo lesson to the same person who interviews you.  They’ll probably ask you to send them a lesson plan before you start.  Depending on their guidelines, choose something simple that shows your teaching skills in a good light.  Don’t go for something super complex, it might backfire on you.  Also, a demo lesson is a demo lesson, it’s not just you talking about how you would conduct the lesson, it’s conducting the lesson!
  • Read everything they’ve sent you about  the company and position.  Then read it again, twice.  Prepare any questions you’d like answered before you connect for the interview.
  • Decide what to wear in advance and make sure it’s ironed/clean.
  • Make sure that your immediate environment is clean and tidy.  Clear your desk.  Check the area around you that the interviewer will see and make sure there’s nothing ridiculous hanging around.  Like your dirty clothes behind you on the bed.  Or your unmade bed.  Or a view of your bathroom.  They want to see a professional person here, they don’t need to know about your personal habits.
  • Do a little revision of English grammar, they’re sure to ask you a couple of grammar questions during the interview.
  • Make sure that your Skype is working correctly and that you’ve given them your correct Skype contact name so they can reach you without any problems.  Do a Skype test for the microphone and speakers.  Check that the video is working ok and you have enough lighting to show your face clearly.  Be ready 10 minutes before the interview time.

On the day of the interview, be ready.  Check the time.  Check it again.  Comb your hair.

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The interview

  • Smile.
  • Answer the questions clearly in your best English.  Try not to use too much slang or colloquial English.
  • At some point they will ask you if you have any questions – don’t say ‘no’.  Ask one or two questions to show you’re interested (you’ve prepared some questions already, remember?).
  • Don’t ask them what the salary is ‘because it’s not in the information you sent me’.  If the information is in there, it tells the interviewer that you haven’t read the information properly and they think that you’re not really interested in the position after all.
  • If you’re using your laptop for the Skype interview, don’t pick up your phone, drop it on the floor, bend over and pick it up while the interview is still being conducted.  They will see you doing it.  And it won’t look good.
  • Don’t fall off your chair during the interview.
  • If they ask you something about teaching or grammar that  you can’t answer (because you’re not experienced enough), tell them that you don’t know.  Don’t try and be ‘clever’ and bluff the interviewer.  It won’t work.
  • You should try to look at the webcam and not the screen during the interview.  However, if you really can’t keep your eyes on the webcam (and who can?), then at least look at the screen and not something on the wall to the right of you, or your lap.  It’s better to look in the general direction of the camera if possible.
  • Highlight your positive qualities during the interview, it’s the only chance you have to show them that you’re the right person for the position.

And then you will have to wait.  Depending on how quickly they need to make a decision you might be waiting a day or a month.  Or you might never hear from them again.

If you don’t hear from them in the time frame they gave you, send them a short email thanking them for the opportunity to interview with them and invite them to contact you if they have any other questions regarding your application.  Ask them for an update on your application.  Sometimes they just don’t have enough time to let people know when they haven’t been successful.

If you haven’t been successful, let it go, move on.  There will be other jobs to apply for.  Keep looking and keep practising your interview skills.

don't give up

If you do hear back from them with a job offer, well done!  Time to get ready to relocate and start your new adventure.

If you have any other handy tips about applying for English teaching jobs, let us know in the comments below.

Good luck!

When you’ve been offered a job, here’s what you need to do to get your visa and prepare to leave home.

~ Cheryl

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Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

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