Making a Good Impression – Interview Essentials 

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. In this fifth installment of our blog series designed to help educators in our community find success in their career journey, TESL Ontario has reached out to eight (8) Ontario hiring managers across various sectors in our field and asked them to share some advice on interview essentials.  

Interview Essentials 

Whether you’re an experienced ESL educator or just starting your career in the field, a strong interview is essential in capturing the attention of and connecting with hiring managers in the ESL education landscape. Drawing from their experience and expertise, we asked eight hiring managers what interview advice they would give for those seeking positions in ESL education. Here’s what they had to say: 

Clear and Concise Communication 

Being able to effectively communicate your thoughts is highly sought in any professional setting but especially in the field of ESL education, where you are constantly interacting with language learners, and expected to have a high level of English proficiency. Our employers emphasized how clear and concise communication demonstrates your language proficiency, and professionalism by actively listening to comprehend what is being asked, and organizing and managing your thoughts logically, highlighting any key points while eliminating any jargon or rambling. In addition, don’t be afraid to address feedback in your interview. For instance, if the interviewer asks for clarification, be responsive and answer accordingly. 

Ability to explain answers clearly and concisely.” Director of Studies (Adult Non-Credit ESL) 

We try to be mindful that job interviews often make people nervous. Don’t be afraid to tell us you are nervous. We understand. Feel free to bring a notepad to collect your thoughts. Don’t be afraid to ask us to repeat a question or to clarify a question. Be clear in your answers.” Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

“Sound, concrete responses and examples that directly relate to the questions; genuine, personalized reflection on the interview questions…candidness in admitting they don’t know/don’t fully know the answer to a question.” Coordinator (ESL/LINC) 

Demonstrating Agency and Storytelling 

When answering behavioural or situational questions, some of our employers highlighted how demonstrating agency and storytelling allows you to illustrate your experiences, skills, and achieved results in a real-life situation. Storytelling showcases effective communication skills as you are able to describe and recount situations, events, or experiences, your involvement and actions, achieved results, and the impact and significance. Storytelling also allows you to connect, and build rapport with the interviewer, by making your response more engaging and humanizing the discussion while staying professional. In doing so, you leave a positive impression of the value, character, and energy that you can bring to your new role. Storytelling does not mean leading the conversation off-topic. Rather, it is a way to contextualize the surface-level, or textbook description of your qualifications, and make you a personable, memorable, and impressionable candidate. 

Storytelling is important–tell me a clear story of an event that had an impact, and the candidate’s agency in that story.  A good story tells more than the facts, it shows character as well.  As a candidate, invest in and practice your most important accomplishments as a storyteller.” Associate Director (EAP)  

We use situational questions so I am interested in the examples the candidate chooses, their description of how they handled the challenge and their reflection on how well they responded in this situation.” Program Administrator (ESL/LINC) 

Understanding of Teaching, Passion, and Empathy 

Demonstrating your knowledge of the field of ESL education and highlighting experiences, skills, and accomplishments that demonstrate qualities of a strong educator are important in establishing your credibility. In the field of ESL education, this may include your familiarity with learning frameworks, education principles, involvement with diverse, newcomer, or settlement communities, involvement with education and student communities, and using industry terminology and keywords.  

We are looking for understanding and knowledge about teaching within the CLB and ALL framework, adult education principles, empathy and understanding of our newcomer clients.” Program Manager (LINC, ESL, LBS) 

Enthusiasm and passion, knowledge of teaching strategies, examples that demonstrate problem-solving skills.” VP Academic (EAP) 

Preparedness and Organization 

Preparedness and organization may involve researching about the organization, reviewing the role description, anticipating commonly asked questions, practicing some answers to ensure that they are clear, relevant, and keep you within the timeframe of the interview, and arriving on time/a few minutes early. In addition to making yourself feel more confident and self-assured, our employers expressed that preparedness also allows you to tailor your responses and present yourself in the best way. Remember, you don’t need to rehearse your answers to the point of monotonous recitation. No matter how much you prepare, you will inevitably need to adapt your answers to respond to what is asked by the interviewers. Practice, but don’t rehearse! 

Preparedness is impressive. Candidates who present complete answers without rambling on demonstrate a level of logic and organization that is beneficial as a teacher.” Associate Chair (LINC, OSLT, EAP, ESP) 

“…respect for time allotment of the interview.” Coordinator (ESL/LINC) 

“Come prepared with one or two questions to ask at the end of the interview about the teaching expectations or then something you want to highlight about why we should hire you.” Manager, Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

Behaviours and Mistakes to Avoid

When we asked our employers for any advice on mistakes to avoid for interviews, many re-emphasized the need for clear and concise communication, conveying enthusiasm for the position, demonstrating passion for the field and commitment to the student learning experience, and showing respect and professionalism.  

Being off-topic or running over time without adding new information.  Interviews are a short window, you have to make the time count!” Associate Director (EAP) 

“Clarity in the interview is also important. If I have a hard time understanding answers, students will too.” Associate Chair (LINC, OSLT, EAP, ESP) 

 “During the interview, it would be proving lengthy memorized answers that are too general and not directly related to the questions.” VP Academic (EAP)   

Behaviours that make me lose interest are when someone does not have empathy for the perspective and experience of the learners, does not take responsibility for their part in classroom challenges, or is  apparently unable to apply their knowledge.” Program Administrator (ESL/LINC) 

“Anything that shows lack of respect to diversity, inclusion or taking direction. Lack of genuine enthusiasm about their studies or their work in ESL.” Manager, Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

“Assumptions that teaching ESL is the same as speaking English and talking with people; use of past/present professional and social connections without taking the interview and its components seriously; disregard for timing of interview with overly long responses and/or not answering the interview questions (going off topic).” Coordinator (LINC/ESL) 

Lack of professionalism e.g. arriving late (without notifying us), being unprepared, or not really interested in the job (e.g. They have no intention of accepting an offer as they accepted one elsewhere).” Manager, Continuing and Community Education (NON-Credit ESL, LINC, EAP, ESP) 

Concluding Thoughts

It is incredibly important to understand how to effectively communicate your values and qualifications in a way that meets the specific needs of your role. Being well prepared is essential to connecting with hiring managers and showcasing your commitment to providing education to language learners. Best of luck in your job search! 

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

The Career Connections: 2023 Career Fair, and a Career Booster forum will take place as part of the 2023 TESL Ontario Annual Virtual Conference this November. Please see the links for more information and updates on the events. 

Career Series

Part 1: Get the offer – Qualities of a Successful Job Applicant

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 

Kiara Kim is the Resource Development Assistant at TESL Ontario for summer 2023. She is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto Mississauga with an HBSc in Anthropology. Throughout her undergrad, she worked actively within university programming, and various community research projects in fields of anthropology of health, historical archaeology, and English language education. She is looking forward to furthering her intersecting interests in research and education. 


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