Interview tips for ESL English teacher jobs

Skype video interview

Jim Althans packed up and flew to China to teach English in 2004. He has taught at kindergartens in remote villages, vice presidents in shiny offices and everything in between, enjoying every minute of it. He now works at Gold Star TEFL Recruitment helping teachers find their next job in China.

English teacher interview tips

Looking for a new teaching job in China can be a full time job in itself so once you have secured an interview with a good school you will definitely want to make sure you are fully prepared and present yourself in the best possible light. The interview is a vitally important part of the recruitment process and there are a number of things you need to know in order to make sure everything goes smoothly.

I’ve interviewed over a hundred people for teaching jobs over the years and have a good idea of what schools are looking for in a candidate, the kind of questions asked in an interview and advice on what to avoid doing during the interview process. This article will provide plenty of interview tips for ESL teachers which will help you structure your interview answers.

For a good insight into the day to day life of an English teacher in China, have a read through these interviews with current teachers and also a look through our FAQ section.

Before the job interview

Obviously it is wise to read up about the company and find out all you can about their schools, teaching methods, course material, requirements and any other details you can. Not only does it show initiative and that you are genuinely interested in job you are interviewing for but having a good understanding of the company allows you to make a more informed decision on whether that particular school is right for you. If you are planning on flying halfway across the world to teach somewhere for a year, you want to make sure it’s with a school you will enjoy being at.

Write down all the questions you want to ask before the interview and have them ready. The interviewer will be expecting you to have plenty to ask so make it as long as you want!

Getting ready for a Skype interview

Most interviews are done via Skype and are usually video calls so make sure you have tested your microphone and headphones, have a webcam ready and a fast internet connection. With Skype you can set your profile picture too so make sure you have a professional one for the interview. Make sure you have added the schools Skype ID well ahead of time. Often there will be a time difference between the interviewer and candidate so make sure you have double checked that you have the right time, is a good site to use.

Skype Interview

It’s definitely worth finding a quiet, well lit place for the interview. Not long ago I interviewed someone who was in a noisy, outdoor internet café with his baby son on his lap and a beer in his hand. The baby was climbing all over him and I couldn’t hear half of what he was saying, not the best way to go after a new job.

Dress professionally, as you would for a face to face interview, so a shirt and tie for men and smart clothes for women.

Tips for during the interview

Most interviews with schools will last from 45 – 90 minutes and usually start with some small talk. The interview will usually be spilt into three sections, beginning with the interviewer asking you questions, then moving on to telling you about the job, school and city and finally answering any questions you have.

Generally the interviewer will be asking questions related to your previous teaching experience (or if you don’t have any yet, then about your TEFL course), your views on teaching, how you would teach specific language or grammar points, classroom management techniques, dealing with discipline issues (especially if you are interviewing for a young learner job), teaching materials you have made, lesson planning as well as questions not related to teaching such as how you work with a team and cultural sensitivity perhaps.

Teacher job interview

English First interviews are generally conducted by the Director of Studies (DoS) of the school that you are interviewing for and typically will be just one interview. Typical questions asked in a teaching interview are listed below.

Disney English will typically have one interview going into detail on the topics mentioned above but with an added emphasis on any previous drama, singing and performance experience. The interviewer will not necessarily be someone working in the school that you are interviewing for.

Questions asked in an English teacher job interview

Sample interview questions for recent TEFL course graduates

  • What did the course cover?
  • What did you find most interesting?
  • What did you find most challenging?
  • What was the most useful feedback you got from your tutor?
  • Did you make any of your own materials?
  • Which areas do you still need to improve on?

Sample interview questions for experienced teachers

  • Can you tell me more about your experience at (previous schools)?
  • What further training have you received? (workshops, seminars etc)
  • How do you deal with difficult students?
  • Are there any specific areas of your teaching you have been working on?
  • How do you motivate students?
  • What courses books have you used? Any preferences?
  • What is a good activity you have used recently?
  • What kind of feedback have you got from observed lessons?
  • Talk me through a lesson that went well
  • How would you teach the present perfect?
  • What are your goals for the future for your teaching?
  • How do you teach large group sizes?
  • Have you used interactive white boards before?
  • How do you feel about having an “English only” rule in the classrooms?
  • Language schools often use the ‘communicative approach’, what do you understand by that?
  • What are the main differences in the approach needed to teach young learners versus adults?
  • What are the main roles of a teacher?
  • What are the keys to effective learning?
  • What classroom management techniques do you use ensure your classes run smoothly?
  • What makes a good lesson plan?

Teacher job interview notes

Ideal qualities the school is looking for in a candidate

Don’t expect the interview to be overly formal, the school will be looking to get to know you and find out whether you would be a good fit at the school. Schools in China generally have a tight-knit teaching team and it is important that everyone gets along. The kind of qualities they will be looking for are of course a genuine enthusiasm and passion for the job and plenty of energy especially if the job is for teaching young learners.

Be clear about your reasons for wanting to live and teach abroad and make sure you can show that you will be able to cope with the challenges. Reliability and professionalism are important as is the ability to be flexible, open minded and culturally aware. The school will have Chinese as well as Western management, Chinese teaching assistants as well as a teachers room with teachers from all over the world, so it’s vital that you understand that different people have different ways of doing things.

The chance for you to ask questions in the interview

The interview is of course a chance for you to ask all the questions that you have and to really find out if it’s the right school for you. These will be both teaching and non teaching related questions. Don’t be afraid to ask about the contract, compensation package as well as general questions about the city and way of life. Some of the common questions to ask in a teacher interview are listed below:

Interview questions to ask about the job and school

  • What are the teaching resources like?
  • How many classes are taught per week?
  • How long are the classes and how many students in each class?
  • Are teaching assistants available?
  • What’s the technology like? Does your school have interactive white boards?
  • How much flexibility are teachers given on how they teach?
  • Are there any off-site classes or are they all taught in the school?

Interview questions to ask about the teachers accommodation

  • Is accommodation provided?
  • Is it furnished?
  • Am I responsible for paying the bills?
  • Will I be sharing with another teacher? Do I have the option of getting my own housing?
  • How far is it from the school?

Interview questions to ask about the city

  • What is the population?
  • What is there to do in the city?
  • Are there sports facilities / gym / supermarket near the school?
  • What kind of entertainment is there?
  • What are my options for learning Chinese?
  • What is the cost of living like?
  • Are there any products not available that I should bring with me?

Teaching in China - Interview Questions

You might also want to ask about flight allowances, bonuses, appraisals, training, admin duties, promotion opportunities and the visa application process.

It is also often a good idea to ask for the email address or Skype ID of one or two current teachers at the school to ask them about the day to day life of a teacher there. Most schools will have no problem arranging for you to speak with them and it is an excellent way to get an insight into the work life.

After the job interview

After the interview you can expect to hear from the school with a final result within 4 working days. The school may well be talking to a few other candidates but usually like to get a job offer out quickly to candidates they want to hire. A job offer will be sent via email and sometimes you will be given a deadline on when they expect an answer. Schools will usually send a sample contract along with the attachments (disciplinary procedure, accommodation policy, insurance policy etc) for you to have a read over however it is common in China for the teacher to not actually sign the contract until they arrive at the school and begin work. Sometimes schools will ask you to sign a “Letter of Intent” (LOI) which is in place of a contract and states that you have accepted the job and intend to teach at their school.

Once a job has been offered and accepted the school will begin the visa application process, which can take between three and five weeks. Once the visa is in your passport, the adventure begins and you can enter China where you will be met at the airport, taken to your apartment and then given a training and orientation course lasting around five days. To read some interviews with current teachers about their life inside and outside the classroom in China have a look at our Talking To Teachers and Articles section.

Teaching in China - Interview Tips

So for the interview, remember to be well prepared and relaxed. It is a chance for you to really show why you are the right person for the job, let your personality shine through and ask plenty of questions. If all goes well you will have a handful of offers and be in the position to pick and choose the very best job. To take the first step, put in an application here.

Jim Althans packed up and flew to China to teach English in 2004. He has taught at kindergartens in remote villages, vice presidents in shiny offices and everything in between, enjoying every minute of it. He now works at Gold Star TEFL Recruitment helping teachers find their next job in China.


  1. Mona Dunphy says:

    Good day,
    I have recently earned a TEFL certificate from the Boston Academy of English.
    I would like to teach in China, but have found that it may be difficult to find a job if one is over the age of fifty-five. I am a true professional with life experiences and am healthy and energetic. What advice do you have for me so that I can improve my chances of getting hired in spite of my age.
    I thank you.
    Mona Dunphy

    • Jim says:

      Hi Mona, congrats on finishing the TEFL course, they can be quite intense! In our experience different provinces in China enforce age restrictions for obtaining a work visa in different ways. One major school we work with, for example, can hire teachers up to 60 years old in Beijing, Tianjin and Qingdao but only up to 55 in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Hangzhou.

      Some schools, especially those that teacher young learners, rightly or wrongly assume older teachers do not have as much energy do deal with the students and discriminate against older teachers. Many of them do not but be prepared to encounter this kind assumption. It’s advised that for anyone applying to teach young learners, no matter how old you are, that you show plenty of energy during the interview and demonstrate with examples previous work with kids, even non teaching related. It could also be an idea to provide videos of classes you have taught and also to record a video introduction of yourself to submit along with your resume.

  2. Chris Swartwout says:

    Dear Mr. Althans,
    Since I am a young man for my age (60), do I have a better chance of landing a job in a more remote section of China? My second question is once I have successfully taught one year in China, no matter where the location, are my chances greatly enhanced to obtain work in major cities.

    Sincere thanks,
    Chris Swartwout

    • Jim says:

      Hi Chris – thanks for the message. In our experience different provinces in China have different requirements when it comes to age. For example one school we work with can acquire a work visa for teachers aged 60 in Beijing and Tianjin but only for those under 55 years old in other cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. Saying that, there seems to be some variation in regulations even within a city, depending on which school you are talking to. I would suggest trying as many different areas in China as possible. In answer to your second question, having a years experience will definitely open the doors to more opportunities, however if you are then 61 years old this may present greater trouble securing a work visa as the areas that have cut off ages at 60 will no longer be an option. There is an informative, if a little lengthy, article which you might like to read here –

  3. Trinh says:

    How is teaching in China? Many have discouraged me to do so, but I really need to get an overseas job teaching English so have to try everything. Does this company discriminate against Asian americans?? I have noticed many Asian countries like Taiwan for example and also China think that only “white looking people” can speak English fluently. I have tried to apply to this one agency in taiwan and once they saw my photo, they never contacted me again. Basically, since I am Asian American, they did not care what my qualifications were… By the way, are there still teaching jobs via Goldstar or in China that do not require 2 years of teaching experience? I do have some teaching experience from my internships and stuff. I have a BA ,MA in TESOL and a TESOL Certificate. I hold a US passport as well, but am a bit weak on the experience area although I do have some experience. But I think the biggest issue is that I am not “white” looking which is something that I cannot do anything about… I feel so helpless and sad that I don’t know what I do and seem to be stuck at a dead end. Why can’t the Asian countries realize that not only “white” looking people can speak English fluently???

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for the message. I understand your frustration, there are a lot of schools in China who do unfortunately discriminate against Asian teachers, even if they have passports from native English speaking countries and have lived there all their life. It is an issue but is changing slowly over time. The pressure comes from the students (and parents of students) and I think is in part due to the fact that many can not speak English well so have no way of really knowing that the Asian teacher is in fact from America.

      I would urge you to not give up. We have helped find a number of Asian Americans teaching jobs but it does require patience. It is clear that you have exceptional qualifications too.

      Regarding experience needed, we do have some schools that require a minimum over 2 years but plenty that can hire teachers with no previous experience.

  4. JOSEPH says:

    if you are in a country which teaches English from lower level to secondary education could you be in a position to teach English in China, if you have some experience on English ground

  5. yin xue says:

    Hi there, when looking for recruiting a new teacher, what do the employer look at first? whether the person is native or the qualifications the person currently hold. I am Asian born and been living in an English speaking country for about 16 years now. Holding aus/nz passport and completed a Bachelors degree in AUS. But when i went to the interview, the first question asked was ‘were you born in china?’ then, the person just simply said no need to continue this interview. Right now i am stuck on looking for a good TESOL or TEFL course that can better my chance to teach in China. I am so confused with all the requirements and hours needed and everything else. So, i just want to hear from the employer’s point of view. Because as of now i am stuck on multiple levels. If i was to do a TEFL course, is it better to do in class or can be on-line? If i was asian born, will i be less likely to be hired? cheers

    • Jim says:

      Hi, thanks for your message. Unfortunately there are still a lot of schools in China that are looking to hire white teachers from native English speaking countries and discrimination does take place. Things are changing for the better but slowly. Having said that, there are definitely schools that are more open minded and hire based on qualifications, experience and being well suited for the job (teaching kids for example requires lots of energy and being able to inspire kids). We have helped plenty of Asian looking native English speakers to get good teaching jobs in China, it will require patience though.

      Regarding TEFL qualifications, we recommend INTESOL as they are well established (over 20 years) and offer accredited courses both online or face to face or a mix of both. Generally face to face courses are better but not everyone can take the time off work required to attend them or afford the higher fees. Online courses are still good as you will have a course tutor to mark your work and provide feedback. More details on INTESOL courses here –

  6. Mike schmuck says:

    I have a question about teaching in china, i hold a german passport but i am canadian resident, have a tesol and have some years teaching english in germany and in thailand as well as online teaching via skype.
    Would it be possible for me to land a teaching job in china for english and german? I am 53 years old and ready to move back to asia.

    Thx and regards

    • Jim says:

      Hi Mike – thanks for the message. Yes there are definitely jobs in China for teachers with passports from non native English speaking countries, provided of course you have fluent English and a clear accent. We do not deal with schools that teach German, however, just English. I’m sure there must be schools out there that are in need of German teachers, especially in the larger cities.

  7. Thea says:

    Hello there. I just want to ask, would it be possible for a Filipino teacher to teach in China? I am TESOL certified and currently doing some online teaching jobs.

    • Jim says:

      Hi Thea – yes there are definitely jobs in China for non native English speakers provided they have fluent English and a clear accent. If you are flexible regarding location and patient in the application process you will be able to find good jobs with good schools.

  8. Maria Rajan says:


    I am from India, a non native English speaker. I have taken up my INTESOL course. Will it be possible for me to find a job in china, will they accept Indians to teach? or is it just a waste of time for me to apply and the answer is always NO. pl help me

    • Jim says:

      Hi Maria – It is definitely possible to get a job teaching in China, we have helped many non natives teachers to get them. You will definitely have to be patient and apply to a lot of schools. You will have to have fluent English and a clear accent. If you can make a short video introduction to accompany your applications that will certainly help. Also being flexible regarding locations in China will increase your chances.

  9. Jenefer says:

    Hello Sir
    I am Asian. I have a TESOL certificate (taken online) and I am currently teaching here in China. My contract will expire next year. Would you still accept applicants until next year? I am very interested in applying and willing to be assigned at any available site.

    Thank you..

  10. Chris Macaulay says:

    Hi there,

    I’m looking to apply for teaching roles in China along with my girlfriend. We both have Bachelor degrees and have completed an online 120-hour TEFL course. I was just wondering if it would be possible for both us to be provided with accommodation together but still be paid for by the school or schools we work for?


    • Jim says:

      Hi Chris – Thanks for the message. It is quite common for couples to come to China to teach together and many schools are very much open to hiring couples. Usually schools will provide free housing for teachers and you of course would be able to live with your girlfriend. Some schools offer a monthly housing allowance instead of providing free housing in which case you would also be able to pool that money together to rent an apartment and will most likely have some left over. Please do both submit separate applications here, mentioning that you are a couple in the ‘comments’ section and we will provide more details on suitable schools for you to look over and then set up interviews with the schools you like the look of –

      • Chris Macaulay says:

        Thanks for the feedback Jim, appreciate it. You’ve cleared up my concern over the accommodation.

        We will be sending our applications soon.


  11. CHARLES DURAI says:

    Hello !
    Greetings from Charles, India !

    I am an English Language Teacher with CELTA (Cambridge ESOL) with 5 years of teaching. I am interested to work in China. How about the opportunities there now?
    Thank you

  12. benjamin gweru says:

    I am a Zimbabwean aged 25 with a BA Degree from the University of Zimbabwe.Any chances for the job , i also have one year experience in teaching English language and English Literature at secondary level..

  13. Susan says:

    My husband and I are both TESOL qualified, I have a degree, he does not, although he has many years experience in the Police Force and holds a specialised position and has been a Field Training Officer for years. We are both very keen to teach in China and are looking to do this early in 2015. Realistically though, is there a liklihood of obtaining positions as a couple? We don’t necessarily need to work within the same school/organisation. Further, are there opportunities for people with a great deal of experience but without a degree? We are both ‘mature’ but with an endless amount of enthusiasm and energy and would be looking for a 12 month contract at mimimum.

    • Jim says:

      Hi Susan, thanks for the message. Most schools do require a Bachelor’s degree and TEFL / TESOL certificate however there are certainly options for those without a degree. The issue for the schools is not whether you have a degree in and of itself but rather the need for a degree in order to apply for a work visa.

      Different provinces (and even cities within a province) have different regulations and enforce this rule in different ways. Sometimes previous teaching experience can count instead of a degree for example. Things are also constantly changing which is why it is a good idea to use a recruiter like ourselves as we are in daily contact with numerous schools all over China and keep abreast of which schools can and cannot hire teachers without a degree.

      Please complete an application here and we will get in touch with more details –

  14. Marcia Reid says:

    Hello Sir,

    I am 49 Jamaican and I have just completed my TEFL 120hr in November of 2014. I have a Master’s in Business Administration and my working experiences are in an office in business for most of my working life. My teaching experience is limited to working summer holidays at my old Primary school. However, I am equipped and ready to dedicate my time to teaching.I would prefer to teach young learners but note your comment about the age difference in China. Can you offer any suggestions or assistance at this time?


  15. Ina Coyle says:

    Dear Jim Althans,

    I was wondering if you would be able to help me. I have been thinking of applying for this program since I finished my summer program in Disney World in 2013. I have an undergraduate and MA degree in music and have volunteered teaching music and primary school children throughout my degrees. However, I have not had a formal teaching post and only graduated from my MA on September 2014. Would this mean that if I applied I would not be considered?
    Thank you for any help that you could provide.

    Best Wishes,


  16. Shirley mahlalela says:

    I’m a black African from South Africa .I lived in th uk for the past ten years ..I’m a teacher by profession .studied in th UK. I hold a MSc in education n training Management. I have experience in teaching young kids as well as challenging adults Wth disabilities. Do I stand a chance of getting a teaching job regardless of my Skin Colour…?

    • Jim says:

      Hi Shirley, yes you certainly do stand a chance. While discrimination in China is definitely an issue there are plenty of schools who are open minded and progressive enough to look beyond skin colour when making hiring decisions. You will need to be patient and persistent in your job search, but there are definitely positions for candidates with good qualifications and the right attitude.

  17. Arvin Soliva says:

    I am surfing in the internet and looking for a job abroad, I was able to read what is in this site, I am 22 yrs old. And a graduate of Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in English and I am interested to apply.


  1. […] how to prepare for the job interview, questions to expect and a list of what you might want to ask in this article, so below let’s look at 5 areas you should check before accepting the […]

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