Get the Offer – Qualities of a Successful Job Applicant 

 The language training field spans a variety of teaching sectors from government funded LINC and Adult ESL to College and University EAP and ESL, as well as private sector language schools, career colleges and tutoring agencies.  The job market in this field is vast, immensely competitive and at times difficult to navigate. 

Thousands of new graduates, internationally trained language teachers and experienced educators alike seek employment in the field of English language education each and every day. To help educators in our community find success in their job search, TESL Ontario has reached out to eight (8) Ontario hiring managers across various sectors in our field and asked them to share their perspectives on the qualities and characteristics that make an ideal candidate. 

Traits of a Hirable Candidate 

A quick google search on what employers are looking for in a hirable candidate will result in hundreds of lists filled with buzz words like: 

  • Teamwork and collaboration 
  • Critical thinking and problem solving 
  • Communication skills 
  • Adaptability 
  • Leadership 
  • Organizational skills 
  • Resilience 
  • Professionalism and work ethic 
  • Positive attitude 

But what do these really mean? What is an employer really looking for that helps them determine if you possess enough of these critical traits to offer you a position in their organization?  Here’s what eight hiring managers had to say about the qualities they look for in a successful candidate. 

Passion for the profession 

“Passion/enthusiasm is a good start. Being engaging and willing to talk about oneself and one’s passion is important to form a bond.” Associate Director (EAP) 

“Passion – I believe that if a candidate is passionate about the field and the job, it will be evident in their application and interview. It will drive them to learn more, initiate their own projects and they will be willing to try a variety of roles.” Associate Chair (LINC, OSLT, EAP, ESP)  

“What I would look for most when hiring instructors for our program is the passion for teaching that includes the candidates’ commitment to students’ success.” VP Academic (EAP)  


“Flexibility: This lends itself to an openness to learn, an ability to adapt to the diverse needs of learners and the Program itself, as well as a receptiveness to feedback.” Coordinator (ESL/LINC) 

“For me, flexibility would be #1. What I mean by flexibility is addressing the student needs in the first place – being able to tailor the lesson plans to the student needs. Also, being flexible with the class schedule and modes of teaching. Interpersonal and communication skills would be equally important.”  VP Academic (EAP) 

“I look for adaptability, flexibility, time management skills, communication skills, and interpersonal skills.” Program Administrator (LINC/ESL) 

“Flexibility is the key. Whether the world is pivoting through a pandemic or figuring out ChatGPT, the positive and flexible candidate will help to make the changes easily.” Associate Chair (LINC, OSLT, EAP, ESP) 

Professionalism and Work Ethic 

“Self-motivation is a key skill for job candidates. This quality shows that you want the best experience for your students, to learn and grow as an ESL professional, that you want to try new things, and that you do not wait for people to hand you things to do.” Manager, Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

“An important skill is to understand the balance between academic integrity and customer service.” Director of Studies (Adult non-credit ESL)  


“Strong communication skills/consistent communication habits with fellow staff and supervisors; patience; positive attitude; self-reflection; openness to and flexibility with learner circumstances and needs.”  Coordinator (ESL/LINC) 

Positive Attitude 

Attitude can’t be ignored.  A willingness to be open and positive can allow a person to learn new information faster.  Associate Director (EAP) 

Professional Skills of a Hirable Candidate 

While soft skills are incredibly important to highlight during the hiring process, and are sometimes cited by employers as being more valued than knowledge and experience – let’s face it, professional skills and experience play a vital role in your ability to land a job. Our employers shared what knowledge, skills and experience they are looking for when hiring language education teachers. 

Professional Experience 

“Everyone who comes to ESL has an interesting story of how they come to the sector and that includes a combination of theory and practical knowledge. Your experiences, your training, and how you will apply/applied them in an engaging way in your classes are things I want to hear. As we offer many skills-focused classes, I’m also interested in any work experience or training you have in other sectors outside of education.Manager, Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

“I look for both depth and breadth in a candidate – have they taught a variety of skills, levels, programs?  Has the candidate built up the necessary skills by learning more theory or practice?” Associate Director (EAP) 

“A variety of experiences in and out of the classroom is most valuable. It demonstrates that the candidate is willing to take on new tasks. The assumption is that learning skills and knowledge is gained and carried over from one role/experience to the next.” Associate Chair (LINC, OSLT, EAP, ESP) 

Knowledge of Language Education 

“Knowledge of adult education and the CLB framework are key to any new staff at our program. Candidates for our LINC and non-credit ESL programs must have their OCELT accreditation to be considered for any regular or term instructor positions.” Program Manager (ESL/LINC/LBS) 

A good understanding of CLBs is key in our program … I am looking for someone who has completed basic training and then has more than a surface knowledge of how they are organized and how to use it as a reference as an ESL instructor.Manager, Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

Classroom Experience 

“Solid awareness of task-based instruction; awareness of alignment between lesson and assessment content; strong time management and organization skills; willingness to take advantage of resources and supports provided; willingness to ask for help and receptiveness to guidance and feedback; awareness of there being diverse needs among learners (e.g., with regard to proficiency, past educational experience, circumstances of their immigrating to Canada, etc.).” Coordinator (ESL/LINC) 

“Knowledge of academic English, understanding of academic culture, promoting active learning techniques, building rapport, and setting realistic expectations.” VP Academic (EAP) 

I also look for someone who is skilled in building relationships.  I look for classroom experience.” Program Administrator (ESL/LINC) 

Technical Skills 

“Technical skills are important, as we use many different learner management systems in all of our in-person and online classes, including Padlet, Google Classroom, Avenue, Onyx, Elli (ESL library), etc.”  Program Manager (ESL/LINC/LBS) 

It is critical to have a firm understanding of the professional landscape for any career you are entering. An awareness of employment standards and norms, required skills, pedagogical practices, diverse employment sectors, and career path options in your chosen field will enable you to produce an exceptional resumé and cover letter and help you shine in your interviews.   

Visit the TESL Career Centre for essential resources designed to help you navigate the English language education employment landscape.   

Career Series

Part 2: Climbing the Ladder – Career Advancement Tips

Part 3 Getting Started in the TESL Field – Advice for New Graduates  

Part 4: Put Your Best Foot Forward – Resume and Cover Letter Essentials 

Part 5: Making a Good Impression Interview Essentials 


Allison is the Executive Director of TESL Ontario, and has been supporting the TESL community for more than 12 years through her role within the organization. She is passionate about engaging with TESL Ontario members and volunteers and working with the community for the betterment of the TESL profession. She has focused her career in not-for-profit management for the past 20 years, building diverse, member-centric, supportive professional communities.


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