ESL interview Questions/answers!?

Discussion in 'New Teachers Archives' started by ESL Teacher, Jun 5, 2006.

  1. ESL Teacher

    ESL Teacher Rookie

    Jun 5, 2006
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    Jun 5, 2006

    ESL Recruitment: The Interview
    A structured approach to interviewing prospective teachers

    For those of you who have already seen the first article in this series, you'll know that I take a structured approach to interviewing. The first article gave an overview of the process of recruiting. Here, I'll go through suggestions for the interview itself.


    You need to refresh your memory with the details about the post and the candidate. So go back and re-read all the related paperwork. This includes the ad you placed, the person spec and the applicant's CV. The person spec is a description of what you are looking for in an ideal candidate and was described in the first article in this series. Reviewing paperwork seems obvious, but how often have you sat in an interview where it was clear they hadn't read your CV? What did you think of their interest in you?

    Decide what questions you want to ask, which questions you will ask everybody and which will be specific to individual candidates. Also think about the order and sequencing and what info you need to give out. For this, you can see my suggestions below.

    It's usual to have two interviewers and for them to take the roles of chairperson/questioner and note-taker. Be clear about these roles before starting. To ensure fairness in decision-making all candidates for the same post should be interviewed by the same people. Consider this when setting up your interviews.

    On a practical note, have a clock in the room for the eyes of the interviewer.

    Structuring the interview

    I like to keep things simple and to ensure all areas are covered, I tend to go for a chronological structure:

    Past: qualifications and previous jobs
    Present: current situation, opinions and judgements about current ESL issues
    Future: short, medium or long-term ambitions
    Remember to create the right atmosphere from the start: put the person at ease. You won't gain anything by stressing the person out. You can do this by:

    Holding the interviews in a quiet place and refusing interruptions
    Not keeping candidates waiting without an explanation
    Starting with a friendly introduction to the interviewers
    Outlining the interview: first we'll talk about...then... State how long you think it will last.
    Starting with simple questions that the candidate should be able to answer easily.
    Starting by asking about the most recent job as the candidate will remember it more easily.
    As the interview ends, indicate what the next step will be, eg you can expect to hear from us in xx days. Thank the candidate for coming. All candidates should leave feeling they had a fair chance to express themselves and put across their case.

    Always allow time between interviews to write up notes, discuss with the fellow-interviewer and to prepare for the next interview. You'll also need a break, interviewing is a very tiring business. I would say no more than 4 hours in one day - 2 interviews of one hour in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. If you're tired, you're less able to listen to the candidates and that isn't fair to them.

    After the interview

    Make a note of your initial impressions of the candidate as soon as the interview ends, then consider the interview again 24 hours later. You usually see things differently after "sleeping on them". It's wise to keep records of reasons for offering the job (or not). This is in case of future claims of discrimination, which unfortunately do occur.

    If you have decided to request references, you can now go ahead and do this. Think about how you handle this, the more effort you put into your requests, the more info you are likely to get. Think about what exactly you need to know - eg points that were not sufficiently covered in the interview or anything that was vague - then ask specific questions.

    Interviewing skills

    Interviews differ from everyday conversations in that they have a specific purpose. Always bear your purpose in mind: how to gain enough information to decide whether or not to hire someone in a short space of time. Remember you'll be working with the person on a regular basis, so you want to get it right. A certain amount of control is needed to achieve this objective. If not, the interview can go on too long and too much time can be spent on irrelevant issues. You come out feeling you know nothing about your candidate which is not the best use of your time. Control doesn't mean being authoritarian, it does mean being able to help the candidate open up and guide the interview in the direction you want to go in.

    To get the candidate to talk freely, remember to ask open questions, eg "what sort of classes did you teach in xxx?" and not closed questions, eg "Did you teach xxx?". Open questions allow the candidate to talk freely and so allow you to get more information. With closed questions, it's very easy for the candidate to just reply yes or no. Closed questions are useful for factual information but don't stimulate discussion. For example, "Have you got the certificate?" "What grade did you get?" "When did you do it?" Here, you don't need detailed information so closed questions get you a quicker and shorter answer. However, do be careful as too many can sound like an interrogation!

    Ask for evidence that the person has the skills or experience they claim they have. Don't just accept the answer "Yes, of course I can do that". It's a good policy to probe whenever you get a vague or general answer. Examples include:

    You say you're good at handling difficult students, can you give me an example?
    You taught a mixed-level class, how did you handle it? What went well? Is there anything that didn't go so well? What did you learn from this?
    Tell me more about...
    You find teaching beginners easier/more difficult. In what way?
    Be careful when using leading or multiple questions. Leading questions elicit the answer you want. eg "What did you like about teaching beginners?" Maybe the candidate hated it but will feel obliged to say what they enjoyed. You'd get a more truthful answer by asking "What do you think about teaching beginners?" And, truthful answers give you a better picture of the person.

    Multiple questions can confuse the candidate and so they are not sure which part to answer. They tend to answer the easiest part or the last part of the question. For example: "Why did you change that way of doing it and how did you go about it and what was the reaction?" It's useful to have all this information but break this question up into three questions.

    Your ability to listen and observe will help you get a clearer image of the person in one hour. Remember the Pareto rule 80 - 20. In this case, you talk 20% of the time and listen 80% of the time.

    Examples of questions you could use:

    How would you motivate a class of students?
    What do you think are your strengths/weaknesses as a teacher?
    For an inexperienced teacher:

    What do you think are the strengths/weaknesses of a teacher you had in the past?
    What would you do in the first ten minutes of your first lesson with a new class?
    How do you decide whether a lesson has been successful or not?
    What course books or materials have you used in the past? Then probe by asking:
    What did you think of them?
    Did you supplement/adapt?
    Have you ever taught a class of different abilities? a financial English class? etc
    To probe:

    How did/would you deal with this?
    For an inexperienced teacher:

    Have you ever been in a class of different abilities? How did the teacher deal with this? What did you think of that way of handling it?
    What levels have you taught? Which do you like/dislike? Why?
    Have you worked with people of a different culture to your own? What did you think of this?
    How do you deal with deadlines?
    Has your teaching changed in the last X years?
    What aspects of your teaching would you prioritize for development?
    Remember to ask some questions about hobbies and interests to get a fuller picture of the teacher as a person.

    An alternative...

    An alternative or additional way for hiring is to ask the candidate to teach a demonstration lesson that will be observed. This is an excellent way to judge their capabilities. If you choose to do this, then provide all the necessary materials - course book, teacher's book, cassette, etc. Allow the candidate to observe the class they'll be teaching for the demo lesson well in advance and to talk to the class teacher. Remember to brief this teacher carefully on what is expected of them and the role they are to play.

    In some countries, the law can regard this as unpaid work. So check the status in your country. If this is the case and you still want to go ahead with the idea, you could pay the person for the time they spend based on the hourly rate you pay your teachers. Alternatively you can give them the materials, describe a hypothetical class (age, level...) and ask them to plan a 45 minute lesson. They can then talk you through how they would handle the lesson. This also gives you insights into a teacher's abilities, how they structure a lesson and what issues they consider when planning.

    These two connected articles will have you prepared for interviewing candidates. Other subjects to be covered include: integrating the new teacher into the existing team and taking on a new role as head teacher or director of studies. So watch this space!
  3. ESL Teacher

    ESL Teacher Rookie

    Jun 5, 2006
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    Jun 5, 2006

    Teacher Interview Question and Answer

    Mental fear of the unknown is often what produces the physical symptoms of nervousness. In addition to preparing yourself physically, you also need to prepare yourself mentally. The best way to prepare mentally is to know what may be coming. Fear of the unknown can only exist when there is an unknown. Take the time to understand some of the "standards" when it comes to interviewing questions.

    The following are some of the most difficult questions you will face in the course of your job interviews. Some questions may seem rather simple on the surface--such as "Tell me about yourself"--but these questions can have a variety of answers. The more open-ended the question, the wider the variation in the answers. Once you have become practiced in your interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a particular topic or compelling story.

    Others are "classic" interview questions, such as, "What is your greatest weakness?" Questions which most people answer inappropriately. In this case, the standard textbook answer for the "greatest weakness" question is to give a veiled positive--"I work too much. I just work and work and work"--which ends up sending the wrong message. Either you are lying or, worse yet, you are telling the truth, in which case you define working too much as a weakness and really don't want to work much at all. Think about it.

    The following answers are provided to give you a new perspective on how to answer tough interview questions. They are not there for you to lift from the page and insert into your next interview. They are there for you to use as the basic structure for formulating your own answers. While the specifics of each reply may not apply to you, try to follow the basic structure of the answer from the perspective of the interviewer. Answer the questions behaviorally, with specific examples that show clear evidence backs up what you are saying about yourself. Always provide information that shows you want to become the very best _____ for the company and that you have specifically prepared yourself to become exactly that. They want to be sold. They are waiting to be sold. Don't disappoint them!

    Tell me about yourself.

    My background to date has been centered around preparing myself to become the very best _____ I can become. Let me tell you specifically how I've prepared myself . . .

    Why should I hire you?

    Because I sincerely believe that I'm the best person for the job. I realize that there are many other college students who have the ability to do this job. I also have that ability. But I also bring an additional quality that makes me the very best person for the job--my attitude for excellence. Not just giving lip service to excellence, but putting every part of myself into achieving it. In _____ and _____ I have consistently reached for becoming the very best I can become by doing the following . . .

    What is your long-range objective? Where do you want to be 10 or 15 years from now?
    Although it's certainly difficult to predict things far into the future, I know what direction I want to develop toward. Within five years, I would like to become the very best _____ your company has. In fact, my personal career mission statement is to become a world-class _____ in the _____ industry. I will work toward becoming the expert that others rely upon. And in doing so, I feel I will be fully prepared to take on any greater responsibilities that might be presented in the long term.

    How has your education prepared you for your career?
    As you will note on my resume, I've taken not only the required core classes in the _____ field, I've also gone above and beyond. I've taken every class the college has to offer in the field and also completed an independent study project specifically in this area. But it's not just taking the classes to gain academic knowledge--I've taken each class, both inside and outside of my major, with this profession in mind. So when we're studying _____ in _____, I've viewed it from the perspective of _____. In addition, I've always tried to keep a practical view of how the information would apply to my job. Not just theory, but how it would actually apply. My capstone course project in my final semester involved developing a real-world model of _____, which is very similar to what might be used within your company. Let me tell you more about it . . .

    Are you a team player?
    Very much so. In fact, I've had opportunities in both athletics and academics to develop my skills as a team player. I was involved in _____ at the intramural level, including leading my team in assists during the past year--I always try to help others achieve their best. In academics, I've worked on several team projects, serving as both a member and team leader. I've seen the value of working together as a team to achieve a greater goal than any one of us could have achieved individually. As an example . . .

    Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or professor? How was it resolved?

    Yes, I have had conflicts in the past. Never major ones, but certainly there have been situations where there was a disagreement that needed to be resolved. I've found that when conflict occurs, it's because of a failure to see both sides of the situation. Therefore, I ask the other person to give me their perspective and at the same time ask that they allow me to fully explain my perspective. At that point, I would work with the person to find out if a compromise could be reached. If not, I would submit to their decision because they are my superior. In the end, you have to be willing to submit yourself to the directives of your superior, whether you're in full agreement or not. An example of this was when . . .

    What is your greatest weakness?

    I would say my greatest weakness has been my lack of proper planning in the past. I would overcommit myself with too many variant tasks, then not be able to fully accomplish each as I would like. However, since I've come to recognize that weakness, I've taken steps to correct it. For example, I now carry a planning calendar in my pocket so that I can plan all of my appointments and "to do" items. Here, let me show you how I have this week planned out . . .

    If I were to ask your professors to describe you, what would they say?
    I believe they would say I'm a very energetic person, that I put my mind to the task at hand and see to it that it's accomplished. They would say that if they ever had something that needed to be done, I was the person who they could always depend on to see that it was accomplished. They would say that I always took a keen interest in the subjects I was studying and always sought ways to apply the knowledge in real world settings. Am I just guessing that they would say these things? No, in fact, I'm quite certain they would say those things because I have with me several letters of recommendation from my professors, and those are their very words. Let me show you . . .

    What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?
    The key quality should be leadership--the ability to be the visionary for the people who are working under them. The person who can set the course and direction for subordinates. A manager should also be a positive role model for others to follow. The highest calling of a true leader is inspiring others to reach the highest of their abilities. I'd like to tell you about a person who I consider to be a true leader . . .

    If you had to live your life over again, what would you change?
    That's a good question. I realize that it can be very easy to continually look back and wish that things had been different in the past. But I also realize that things in the past cannot be changed, that only things in the future can be changed. That's why I continually strive to improve myself each and every day and that's why I'm working hard to continually increase my knowledge in the _____ field. That's also the reason why I want to become the very best _____ your company has ever had. To make positive change. And all of that is still in the future. So in answer to your question, there isn't anything in my past that I would change. I look only to the future to make changes in my life.
    In reviewing the above responses, please remember that these are sample answers. Please do not rehearse them verbatim or adopt them as your own. They are meant to stir your creative juices and get you thinking about how to properly answer the broader range of questions that you will face.

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