Be Prepared for Tough Interview Questions

confused44040691Credentials, enthusiasm and a burning desire to teach overseas describes nearly 100% of recruiting-fair candidates. So, how do you set yourself above the bar with so many high caliber candidates competing for the same positions?

A Director’s gut feeling about how you’ll fit into and adapt to their school and geographical location certainly plays a big part in the decision-making process. For some hardship locations, a “good fit” may be more important than actual years of teaching experience and advanced degrees. But when it comes to competing for the most desirable schools, your answers to some unexpected interview questions can easily make or break the deal:

Tell me about yourself. What’s your greatest contribution to your last school? If I walked into your classroom, what would I see? How will your past or current Director describe you when I dial them up? How would your students describe you? Teach me something right now! What’s the last article or book you read on teaching? Which educational journals do you subscribe to? Tell me about a conflict you resolved.

Answering tough interview questions is something you definitely don’t want to do impromptu. Of course, if you’re thrown a curve ball you have to swing at it, but anticipating and honing your answers to possible interview questions is obviously the best way to prepare for a successful interview. You just might be Teacher of the Year material but if you can’t convince the interviewer of that, all is for naught.

The Job Search Minute is a collection of 69 one-minute videos exploring the answers to a wide variety of tough interview questions. We highly recommend this series for all teaching candidates. For questions specific to International Teaching, we invite you to Scroll Down to post and solicit responses to interview questions you could use some help with. We encourage you to also post and answer your own questions so we all can learn from each others’ knowledge.

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9 thoughts on “Be Prepared for Tough Interview Questions

  1. Patti: Tier 1 are considered to be better schools in the international circuit. They are accredited by an international body, such as CIS, the IB, or an American or British (or Australian, or Canadian) accrediting authority and are usually non profit and affiliated with an embassy (US, UK, Canada, Australia..)
    Tier 2 are schools that are accredited but are for profit.
    Tier 3 schools are not accredited and for profit.

    That’s the quick explanation.


  2. At my last skype interview I was asked if I was familiar with specific texts, assessments and programs they follow. Although I was familiar with some, I had not actually used them and I was not familiar with some of the screening assessments they used. I answered honestly and added that however I was very adaptable and and would make familiarising myself with these my priority. Ultimately, they were looking for someone adaptable, able to clearly define teaching philosophy and open to differences in culture. I was honest in my approach, and I got the job. My advice is don’t make things up if you can’t answer a question, just clearly define your personal and professional qualities that would help you overcome such a scenario.


  3. The questions in the original post are NOT curve balls they are standard interview questions that you should be able to answer in your sleep , in the same way as you should be able to speak fluidly on what makes an excellent lesson , how to adapt your lessons into an international setting, how assessment for learning takes place in your classroom etc.

    More difficult questions will challenge how you think about the way you teach for example a seemingly innocent question such as “What does success mean to you? ” clearly has many answers

    what really sets apart a great teacher interview from one that is standard is the level of detail they will go into. The best advice is to get used to the STAR format of answering questions

    Situation – set the context for your story. For example, “We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 30 interested industry players on our new product and Stuart, the guy due to deliver it, got stuck on a train from Birmingham.”

    • Task – what was required of you. For example, “It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn’t reflect badly on the company and we didn’t waste the opportunity.”

    • Activity – what you actually did. For example, “I spoke to the event organisers to find out if they could change the running order. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted Susan, another member of the team, who at a push could step in. She agreed to drop what she was doing and head to the event.”

    • Result – how well the situation played out. For example, “Stuart didn’t make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and Susan’s presentation went well – a bit rough around the edges but it was warmly received. Stuart managed to get there for the last 15 minutes to answer questions. As a result we gained some good contacts, at least two of which we converted into paying clients.”

    There are a few things to note with this response: it’s important to speak in specific rather than general terms and quantify your success. In this example, we mentioned 30 delegates, the names of the people involved and quantified two contacts converted to clients. From a listener’s perspective, this makes the story more interesting and they are more able to gauge your success. Nameless figures and undefined successes can make the answer less feel less convincing. Secondly, as there are likely to be many questions and interviewers have short attention spans, it’s important to keep your answers concise: convey the maximum achievement in the minimum time. Finally, it’s important to finish on a positive note so the overall impression is strong.


  4. The question that caught me off guard during an interview for a teaching position was: “You just witnessed the daughter of the most wealthy parent in the school cheating on a test in your class. Not only has she copied the answers, but she has also copied her neighbors name onto her paper. How would you proceed?”

    I responded that I would make a copy of both papers for my records. I would also ask the student that was cheating to stay after class for a few minutes and discuss the fact with her that I did see her copying from her neighbor. If necessary I would show her that she mistakenly copied the name from her friend’s paper to hers.

    I would make this first offense a warning only if she agreed to take the test over at lunch break. If she refused I would tell her I would have to involve the school admin. Experience tells me that if I gave the student a “0” for the test and averaged it into the grades, I would later be accused by the parents of not keeping them in the loop. I predict in this case both the school and I would could become the brunt of the parents frustrations and the cheating episode would be off the table.

    If the student repeated the copying offense on future assignments I would involve the school admin. I would not call the parents directly.

    The interviewer asked me what I would do if the school chose not to contact the parents at all and just ignore the cheating episodes? I responded that if that is the procedure I’m probably not the best fit for the position. I got the job!


  5. Advice for success

    1. Decide what sort of teacher you are and apply to the corresponding schools.

    For example, if you are a robot/clipboard/alpha type teacher, apply for those high stress, high functioning (tier 1) schools. If you are laid back and take a more holistic approach to teaching, apply for the smaller, more intimate (tier 2) schools.

    2. Don’t act too much, be yourself (easy if you have done 1.)

    3. Tell the truth (the easiest thing to remember, and simple if you have done 1 and 2).


    1. Great advice! I am now at a Tier 2 school, and the laid backness gets annoying. I’m ready for a Tier 1. I would love to get to one, but so would everyone! The money and reputation are good.

      I appreciate the good things at my Tier 2 school (like not having to work too hard), but at the end of the day, you want to develop your craft and work in a place with high expectations. If I wanted easy street with little pay, I would become a teacher’s aide. Something to consider, I guess.


    2. A well organised and effective team can help you develop as a teacher, but ultimately it is about what you do in the classroom. There are outstanding teachers (and kids) at Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools, but they never make it to Tier 1 schools mainly because

      – they like to be left alone by management
      – they don’t like bureaucracy
      – even if they wanted to work in a Tier 1 school (like me) they don’t have a track record in Tier 1 schools and they don’t know people who work in Tier 1 schools who can recommend them.

      Things to consider.


    3. About Mick T.’s response: oftentimes it’s all about timing…. I got into my current school because of my background and it was late in the recruiting season… now I am being considered again because of my background and I happen to have lived in the city in question, though this time, because it is a Tier 1 school, I have the background which qualifies me. Sometimes you just have to be patient even to be considered for Tier 1, and this comes from having been in Tier 2 and Tier 3.


    4. Patti: Tier 1 are considered to be better schools in the international circuit. They are accredited by an international body, such as CIS, the IB, or an American or British (or Australian, or Canadian) accrediting authority and are usually non profit and affiliated with an embassy (US, UK, Canada, Australia..)
      Tier 2 are schools that are accredited but are for profit.
      Tier 3 schools are not accredited and for profit.

      That’s the quick explanation.


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