Aug 24

Questions to ask in an ELT interview

FAQs about elt
Post CELTA? Looking for a job? Ask these questions...
When you're looking for an English language teaching job overseas, there are some things it's useful to ask about. Want to know what they are? They're all here for you!
Video transcript

So you’ve finished your CELTA, you’re clutching your certificate and you’re looking at the next stage- getting a job!

There are a lot of great schools out there but also, I’m afraid to say, a lot of cowboy outfits, so it’s worth thinking about what YOU should be asking THEM in your interview.

Want some ideas? Keep watching…

I’m Jo Gakonga- I’ve been teaching English since 1989 and teaching on CELTA and MA TESOL courses for over 20 years and if we’re meeting for the first time, I’ve got a website at where I make useful training material for English language teachers at all stages of their careers. I’ve had so much fun teaching English over the years and so I love helping people in THEIR first career steps in this industry.

Of course, many people teach English in their own country but for a lot of CELTA graduates, the goal is to teach overseas and this can be hugely rewarding, but looking for a job and going abroad to take it up requires a bit of a leap of faith and you should find out as much as you can before you go.

Before we go any further, I’d like to just take a minute to float an idea. My personal experience is that if you have an idea of where you want to go, it can be a great thing to just go there and look for work- knock on some language school doors or look for ads in the country. This has a few advantages...

For you- you can see the school and get a better idea of what it’s like. You can also get an idea of the place- do you want to live there? You might also find it easier to find work because for an employer- you’re not such a risk- they get a better impression of you and can employ you part-time to start with. You might start by having part time work, but it’ll probably build up very quickly. This is especially a good idea if you have permission to work in the country concerned.

There are a couple of drawbacks, of course. You might not feel comfortable to do it and it’s expensive to live while you are finding work in some countries. If you go on a tourist visa, you’ll also probably have to leave the country to change it when a school sponsors you for work, but that’s usually just to another country- not right back to your home country.

OK- whether you choose to take this route or apply from your home country (and especially in this case) you’re going to need some info about the school.

Obviously as a new teacher, you can’t be too fussy, but asking questions- lots of questions- in your interview will make sure that you have a clear picture of what you’re going to AND it’ll also give your interviewer a good impression of you.

Don’t worry that it’ll put them off you or make you look unprofessional. The opposite is true. I interviewed Gabriel Leslie recently- a DoS in a language school in Cambridge- and he said exactly the same thing.

So what should you ask? There are lots of things to cover and they broadly split into these three areas – the school, the learners and the contract. Here we go…

The school
You need to know a bit about the school, so this is a good place to start.
  • The Director of Studies (DoS): This is the person who will be responsible for your training and development, so it's useful to know something about them. You could ask them (in an interested way, not as an inquisition!) about their teaching experience, their qualifications, and how long they’ve been working there
  • Other staff: It’s also useful to have an idea of the size of the school- how many other teachers work there, how long do they usually stay (this can be a good indication of how nice a place it is to work) and would it be possible to speak to one of them about what it’s like to live in that place (it’s a great sign if the school is prepared to put you in touch with a current member of staff, but don’t take it as a terrible thing if they won’t- everyone’s busy).
  • Moving on, Coursebooks and resources: What coursebooks will you be using? Do you have any choice? What other resources are available? (photocopiers/ computers etc).
  • Finally, Continuing Professional Development: You’re a novice teacher- it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll get support. Ask what kind of CPD is available and whether they have a mentor/ buddy system for new staff.

The learners

As well as the school, it’s useful to have an idea about the learners.
  • Levels: What levels will you be teaching and what’s the average class size?
  • Learners: What kind of learners will you be teaching? Children/ teenagers/ adults? Are the classes General English or are they usually working towards exams like the Cambridge suite or IELTS?
  • Length of courses: How long are the courses you'll be teaching and how often do they meet? Every day, once a week etc? Also when? Mornings? Afternoons? Evenings? Will you need to work split shifts? (morning and evening with the afternoon free?). Are the classes on site in the school or will you need to travel? If so, is that travel time paid?

The contract

Finally, you need to know what you’re signing up for so find out about your contract.
  • Ts&Cs: Make sure you read the contract and understand all of the terms and conditions before you sign it. Look at the length of the contract, the notice requirements, the salary, holidays, travel and any benefits they offer.
  • Salary: How much are they going to pay you? This is an important question, but remember that you should take into account the cost of living in that country. If the salary seems low, ask about average rent locally and how much it costs to go out for a meal to get an idea of whether you can live comfortably on what they are offering.
  • Benefits: As well as your basic pay, make sure you find out what other benefits are offered? Will the school help you with your visa and work permit and will they pay for your flight and when (it’s often at the end of your contract so you’ll need to find the money up front yourself at first). Ask about the number of holidays you'll get and whether you have a choice about when to take them.
  • Sickness provision: No one wants to think about this, but what happens if you get sick? Ask about the school's sickness policy, and whether you'll be covered for medical treatment.
  • Accommodation: Finally, where are you going to live? Is accommodation provided by the school? If not, how much is average rent and are there are any options for you to share with other teachers?

This might seem like quite a lot, but remember that they will probably give you most of this information before or during your interview, so you shouldn’t need to ask all of this. See it as a bit of a useful checklist.

OK - Just a couple of final tips before I go:

Do your research. Before you start applying for jobs, do some research on the different schools and companies that are hiring (there’s a list of some reputable organisations below). You can’t be too picky before you have some experience, but don’t jump into anything without checking it out and if you have bad feelings about a job or school, it’s probably good to trust your instincts. Having said that, be as flexible as you can with your location and teaching preferences and apply for lots of different jobs- eventually, you’ll find the one that’s best for you.

I hope this advice helps you in your job search. Good luck and I hope you have as much fun as I’ve had over the years!

Created with