I personally always find it useful to know what I am walking into when it comes to interviews and meeting new business owners and operators.
The Hiring Process: Big Schools
If you choose to look for an English teaching job with a larger school, the process is usually a little more organized, but also more complicated. When I applied for a job with Hess several years ago, this is what happened from start to finish:
- I first had to submit an online application and a resume.
- After a few days I received an email requesting that we establish a time for a telephone interview.
- Upon agreeing on a mutually acceptable time, I received a call and had about a 15-30 minute interview (it was a long time ago, so my memory could be a little off as far as the time). Note: I will go into the actual interview questions further down the page.
- With the interview ending pleasantly, I was told that all looks well, and after a final review I will be informed of their decision via email.
- A few days passed when I received an email with a lot of Hess literature basically explaining the job in more detail, information on their training period, when to arrive to Taiwan, and other useful tidbits.
- I bought my flight, and flew to Taipei. After getting through immigration I was met by a taxi driver holding a sign with my name on it (pretty cool) in the lobby of the airport that took me to the hotel Hess set up for its training group.
- After a couple of days at the hotel, the training started. A bus would take the entire training group from the hotel to the Hess office where we spent the day in training sessions, though one of the first days we were taken on a bus tour of Taipei.
- Several days into training I realized that we didn’t actually have jobs yet, and that this was a very long interviewing process, not simply a training period, though, I believe everyone in my 40+ person group were offered positions. I do have a friend that was in a different group in which someone was not offered a position, so it’s something to be aware of.
- There was a final end of training teaching demonstration in front of the adult trainers, and not in front of Taiwanese students.
- After officially getting hired, (signing contracts, applying for ARCs, etc.) there was a big night out at a Taipei pub. The next day people shipped out to their various parts of the island.
During my 9+ years of living and working in Asia, this was by far the most extensive and drawn out process I have encountered.
I have worked for a few cram schools, private schools, taught English for company executives, and worked in a local business as a publishing consultant, and while a couple of them followed a similar pattern, none of them were as extensive.
There are both pros and cons to the way the large schools hire, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to go through that route.
The Hiring Process: Small Schools
Smaller schools usually have a much simpler routine. You can either send them a resume online or drop one off at the school. If they are interested in you, you usually get an interview request rather quickly.
To date, I have never interviewed with a school owner, no matter how small the school. Instead, I always met with the head English teacher. Sometimes there was a short interview followed by a request to do a teaching demo, and sometimes the interview came after the teaching demo, but there was almost always both an interview and some sort of demo involved.
In most cases I was offered a job right on the spot. A couple of times I had to wait for a phone call or email for offered positions.
The turnaround from start to finish with small schools has been much faster than that with the bigger schools, but there was also less training or support, if any.
Typical Interview Questions
No matter what type of job you are looking for, knowing what to expect during an interview always makes the experience go more smoothly.
The larger schools tend to ask more teaching related questions. A question I remember from my Hess telephone interview was something similar to, “How would you explain gender pronouns to Taiwanese children?”
The smaller schools tended to ask more personal questions, such as if you have any overseas living experiences and whether you see yourself in Taiwan for more than a year. They seem to be more worried about stability than the larger schools, which makes sense, as they don’t really have the large number of teachers available as substitutes if someone leaves without giving notice.
Teaching Demo Advice
The other half of what really happens at an interview is the teaching demonstration. Almost all schools, no matter the size or type, will ask for some form of demo. There are two basic types.
The more professional and knowledgeable places will have you demo a short lesson, perhaps 15 minutes, in front one or more adult staff members. This is a total simulation, and they just usually want to see if you can communicate basic ideas clearly and logically organic a lesson plan.
This is basically the best you can hope for for a couple of reasons. First, there will never be any curve balls. Most of the fake students will just play along. At one point someone will pretend to not understand something, and that’s your chance to show how you can approach teaching an idea from several directions.
The second reason this is the type of demo that you want is that it’s not blatantly breaking any laws. You are not making money, volunteering time, or helping someone else make money. That’s a little bit different than the other form of demo.
Many schools will ask you to demo a short lesson, again about 15 minutes, in front of actual students. The students will have been given prior notice, and from my experience, they have almost always already been taught the material. These demos are usually more about your interaction with the children. Schools typically like to see teachers that involve the children in the lesson and not just lecture to them.
As much as this style demo seems more practical than having fake adult students, it comes with its own problem. It’s illegal. I am not a lawyer, so do your own due diligence anytime I talk about the law, but from my understanding, the authorities view this as working without a work visa.
You are standing up in front of paying customers doing the same job as a paid employee. Whether you accept payment or not, it certainly looks like work. Odds of you running into trouble are quite low since these are random and short, but it’s always important to know what you are getting yourself into.
It should also be noted that there are some unscrupulous buxiban owners out there. They sometimes try to trick teachers, especially new ones, into doing longer demos that run the course of an entire class. Some will be paid but others will not.
Regardless of the pay, this is definitely illegal unless you already have open work rights. This type of situation is usually more about the school trying to get a cheap or free sub than it is about them actually wanting to hire a new teacher. Anything over 15 minutes should raise some red flags.
Other Useful Tips
A few other preparations can make your job hunt and interviewing silky smooth. You may not need all of these, but it’s better to have them and not need them, than the other way around:
- Always bring a paper copy of your resume/CV, even if you emailed the interviewing school a copy already.
- Carry your passport, or a copy of your passport, to your interviews. I have been offered decent positions after interviewing, and having my info and I.D. let me lock things up. Great positions can disappear overnight.
- Speak slowly to everyone. Whether you are saying hello to a student in the hallway or talking with the fluent Taiwanese head teacher, control your talking speed. Even the best English speakers here aren’t used to our various accents, and slowing things down really helps.
- Smile. You will get so many more job offers with a big goofy grin than a super serious scowl. There are lots of foreigners here, but xenophobia is buried deep within this culture, and people feel a lot more comfortable with smiles.
- Business casual is usually overkill, but for your first interview it’s perfect. Many schools have no problems with their teachers wearing jeans and t-shirts, but some prefer pants and collared shirts. Even if you know the school has a rather relaxed dress code, stepping it up one notch will show them that you are serious. This is important because native English speakers are a pretty heavy cost on the smaller schools, and they will almost always choose a teacher who displays a friendly and professional demeanor over a relaxed carefree one. You can always tone things down once the job is yours, but first impressions are huge here.
- If you must have facial hair, clean it up. It’s more acceptable now than in the past, but some people still link facial hair to organized crime, or simply feel that it’s dirty. If you must have a beard, keep it trimmed. And just like I mentioned before, you can always relax things once you have a job.
If you want to teach English in Taiwan, and you treat it like you would a legitimate job in your home country, your search should go smoothly. Have all of your personal information handy, and be prepared for both interview questions and teaching demos. And last but most certainly not least, bring a good attitude.
Your resume may get you into the door, but it’s the interview that gets you the job. Cram schools and buxibans are businesses. They want friendly, reliable, responsible teachers. If you can offer those qualities, you instantly put yourself on their shortlist.