Diary of a Newbie ELT Teacher Part Four: The ELT Interview

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve had a lot of lovely visitors, but I have also been busy attending a few other interviews, in order to pick up a few other classes here and there to ensure I comply with German tax laws. Freelancers here are apparently required to earn at least 17% (the number varies according to your source, but it’s less than a quarter I believe) of your income from a second source – otherwise you’re not a freelancer, which I suppose is a fair point. To that end, I accepted some offers for interviews and went along, and I thought it might be helpful for other newbie teachers to record some of the questions I’ve been asked during these experiences. I won’t be naming names of course, but I thought I would categorise the questions to help future ELT job-seekers prepare for their own interviews.

So, here goes a little collection of some of the questions I’ve come up against recently. I’ll use myself as the example, but of course change the specifics based on your own situation!

About you

So, what brought you to Berlin?
For me, this question is easy – I love German, love Germany, have always wanted to live in Berlin, and am contemplating moving into ELT publishing as a future career…but I do have to phrase my answer so that it doesn’t sound like I’m just here to get the bare minimum experience teaching before returning to the UK, so whatever your answer is, just make sure you sell it so that the interviewer knows (or at the very least thinks!) you’re in teaching for the long haul.

How long are you planning to stay here in Berlin?
Language school managers ask this because they don’t want to invest lots of time in you if you’re only backpacking through the city for the summer – I personally am not sure exactly how long I’ll be staying in Berlin, so I have been saying ‘2 years’ to be safe.

Wie gut kannst du Deutsch?
This took me by surprise in one interview – all of a sudden, my interviewer switched into German. I can thankfully speak quite decent German now, so it wasn’t a problem – but when I saw him casually write down ‘B2’ next to the box on his interview sheet for ‘German knowledge’, my outrage distracted me a little! (I would have expected my German to be estimated a little higher after university and so much time in the country, but hey ho!)

How would you describe yourself as a teacher?
I’d pick a few choice adjectives here, and then give corresponding examples. For example, I think I say ‘motivating’ as it’s something that students themselves have said to me, as well as ‘energetic’ and ‘fun’ – for those of you straight off CELTA like I was, have a look through your feedback from students from your Teaching Practices.

About your teaching qualifications

What was your final grade on the CELTA?
Pretty self-explanatory this one! (One of the people who interviewed me left a 3-month gap before replying to me, so when I’d first sent the application, I didn’t know my final grade. In most cases, this will of course be on your CV.)

What did you find hardest about the CELTA?
Just be honest here – my personal struggle was with error correction, as I always tended to correct students at unsuitable moments, so I had to learn how to save my comments for the appropriate time. I would just advise staying away from saying things like ‘the workload’ or ‘the teaching practices,’ as those answers don’t immediately suggest you’d be a great person to employ!

About your teaching experience

What’s your experience teaching business English?
Business English is big…business (!) here in Berlin, so this question also always crops up. Again, I would advise being honest: aside from my time in Berlin, my only real business English experience was teaching civil servants in the Basque government when I lived in Bilbao – but they were total beginners, so I don’t profess that this was extensive business English experience.

What kind of companies have you taught business English in?
This question will obviously not always be asked, depending on your answer to the question above. I mention the companies I teach in, and then subtly remind the interviewer that I used to work in publishing to sow the seed that I could be particularly useful in such companies 🙂

Which course books do you like and why?
As the question itself requires, you need to give a lot of examples here. I will go ahead and say that I always mention the business English classic Market Leader for its case studies, but also Language Leader for its less business-focused ‘scenarios’ and the way it presents grammar. Even after a month of teaching, you’ll have some preferences so just be sure to explain yourself well.

What is your policy on L1 in the classroom?
When answering this question (which seemingly always comes up), it went down well to give some different examples on how my policy with use of German in the classroom changes. That is, that one company class of mine, which comprises 4-5 mid-50s ladies from former East Germany who are complete beginners, asked me explicitly to translate and explain everything in German – so my behaviour in this class is very different to some intermediate classes I teach at the Berlin School of English.

How creative are you in the classroom?
I was instantly filled with fear when I heard this question, as me and creativity are not the best of friends usually… But off the top of my head I was luckily able to recall how I have created lesson plans based on TED Talks I see pop up on Twitter; how I have made templates for business cards, postcards, emails and all sorts to help students use ‘real’ English and my personal highlight, adapting Sandy Millin’s excellent suggested lesson on small talk to help teach higher-level students how to mingle with strangers. (Mentioning that you sometimes use ideas from blogs of other teachers also seems to be well-received!)

A test of your grammar knowledge

I have been given a variety of errors to correct in some of the interviews I have attended, which were more or less like those below:

  1. I walked slow to the bank because I was tiring.
  2. I have living in Berlin for 5 years.
  3. If I won the lottery, I will buy a house in Spain.

It’s likely that the questions you’re asked include common errors from the learners native to the country where you are applying – for example, in Germany, problems with the Present Perfect are common as it looks similar to their own past tense but has very different applications.

In some cases, I just had to talk through the problems, but in another I had to teach the interviewer as if he was a B1 student and help him correct the mistakes – and he was a very petulant student at that! So do be prepared for some spontaneous teaching practice and swot up on your grammar (although I have been assured this is less common…!)

Some practical questions

When are you available?
It creates a good impression if you go into the interview armed with the knowledge of when your fixed classes at other companies/schools are, so you can tell the interview what he/she will have to work around, or to enable you to fill in whichever form you’re presented with. I now have a few company classes at random times, and other one-to-one classes, so my availability isn’t excellent, but the interviewers just want as much information as they can get.

Do you have any questions?
Here is your opportunity to cover any ground which hasn’t been covered in the interview. In my experience, the interviewer often gives a little spiel about the school towards the end (presuming all has gone well) but if anything remains unclear, then now is your time to shoot! Some recommendations of mine include:

  • What kind of things do you do to help new teachers in the school? (I’m hoping for workshops, observations, seminars etc.)
  • How much do you support your teachers in terms of resources? (I’d like to hear words like ‘library’, ‘photocopier’ and ‘plan.’)
  • How much information do teachers receive before teaching a new class? (You’d expect to hear the results of some kind of needs analysis at the very least.)

And all that remains to wish is good luck! Let me know if these tips help 🙂

About BerLingo

My name is Rachel, I am 25 and I love Germany. I studied German, Spanish and Italian at Durham University for four years, one of which I spent living in Europe, and then worked at Routledge academic publishing house for almost 3 years. Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to finally fulfil a long-held ambition to live in Berlin, and so in April 2015 I completed the CELTA qualification (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, adminstered by Cambridge University) here in the German capital. Now qualified, my blog berlingo18.wordpress.com charts my experiences as a new English teacher in my favourite city... (More information about my plans can be found in my first ever blog post.)
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5 Responses to Diary of a Newbie ELT Teacher Part Four: The ELT Interview

  1. Definitely agree with you on the questions you should ask them – it’s so important to make sure good CPD is part of the package so all your good CELTA habits don’t go to waste!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mandydita says:

    Great post with lots of useful tips for interviewing! As a former employer, I can definitly say that when asked the questiong “what brought you to Berlin?”, stating a love of Geman and Germany is a good answer. Stating that it was an alternative passion and you do teaching on the side isn’t going to sit well with interviewers.
    Furthermore grammar questions are highly likely and it is a good idea to brush up on basic grammatical structures before the interview.
    One more tip, if you have any qualities which will set you apart (eg you studied law, were the treasurer or a club at uni, speak other languagues) or have recently done some form of professional development (with ELTABB for example) then find a way to mention these too! There may be classes with specific needs which you will be perfectly suited to. Or this will make the interviewer remember you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Mandy – and so sorry it took me so long to approve it 🙂 I hope I answered as you said to all the ‘Germany’ questions I’ve been asked 😉


  3. Pingback: Useful links for CELTA | Sandy Millin

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