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How to Nail Your International School Job Interview

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Tips to help you prepare (and nail!) your teaching job interview with one of China’s most prominent international schools

International school jobs in China, the highest paid teaching destinations in the world, are among the most sought-after teaching positions in the country. It’s the job every teacher who dreams of living and working abroad wants. Simply being invited to interview for such a highly coveted teaching job is a win, yet one that causes angst among even the most experienced and confident teachers.

Found your dream teaching job with one of China’s most prominent international schools? You get one shot at making a fantastic first impression and nailing your interview.

Here’s how not to stuff that up!

How to prepare for your international school teaching job interview

They say preparation is half the battle won, which is undoubtedly true when nailing your teaching job interview with an international school. While we’ll detail many questions to ask and key phrases to use during the interview later in this guide, your priority should be preparing for the interview.

What you do before the interview is as important as what you do during it.

Here are some prep tips to keep in mind:

1. Research the school thoroughly

The first thing to do is become intimately familiar with the school for which you’re interviewing. What are the school’s mission statement, values, curriculum, and preferred teaching methods? Understand their specific requirements and expectations for teachers. This knowledge will help you tailor your answers to align with the school’s philosophy and make you sound like you are already teaching there.

Don’t be afraid to throw in a few choice sentences, like “While researching your website, I noticed that…” It may sound obvious and a little cheesy but it signals to the interviewer that you have taken the interview seriously and dedicated time to researching the school’s website.

For the best and most scrupulous schools, however, this is a bare minimum. Perhaps you could elaborate on how your teaching philosophy aligns with theirs. If a school’s core value is ‘community collaboration’, for example, mention how you may have volunteered within your community, participated in your school community by coaching an extracurricular activity. You can state that your core values match, but you’ll earn extra kudo points if you show that they do

2. Gather examples and anecdotes to showcase your teaching prowess & experience.

China may not be a place for shrinking violets. However, there’s a delicate balance between being boastful and confidently (but humbly) showcasing your skills and experience. Find that sweet spot with your tone and word choice. You must somehow emphasize your most relevant teaching experiences, especially if it involves working with diverse student populations, international curricula, or teaching English as a second language (ESL). Prepare specific examples that highlight your teaching successes, any challenges you’ve overcome, and innovative teaching strategies you’ve employed.

Use anecdotes to illustrate your teaching philosophy, classroom management techniques, and your ability to build positive relationships with students and their parents. In China, parents pay an absolute bomb to send their children to an international school and yes, this is why you would be paid so much. Expectations can run through the roof – even unreasonably so. It is imperative you build a strong relationship with parents and absolutely pivotal to show you understand that in your job interview.  

3. Focus on any experience you might have withing a multicultural environment

International schools the world over are multi-cultural ecosystems in their own right. In many ways, only those who have experience with them will truly understand what that means. It is quite imperative that in a job interview with an international school in China, you highlight your ability to work cross-culturally. Many schools don’t have the time/resources/inclinations to hold teachers’ hands while they learn the ropes. If you can show you have experience and understanding of working with people from all walks of life and cultures, you’ll rise above the crowd. You will likely be working closely with a local Chinese teacher – as a co-teacher, EAL teacher or teaching assistant – the school will want to feel that you can work cohesively with them.

4. Have your answers ready and well-practised

There’s a pretty reliable stock-standard list of questions that you are likely to field during a job interview with an international school. We detail the most common below. Prepare detailed answers and practice saying them out loud while maintaining direct eye contact – even if it’s with yourself, in the mirror. Not only will you be familiar with the answers, but it will also help build your confidence if you suffer from any interview-related anxiety. No matter how nervous you are before a test, you will likely be much more confident if you know the answers, right? So…know and practice your answers!

5. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask during the interview.

Be engaged, interested and keen: this is how you nail your international school job interview. The best way to do that? Have an array of considered questions ready to ask your interviewer, showing your interest in the teaching position that (hopefully) goes above and beyond the pay rate. It also shows your willingness to contribute to the school’s community and overall development and success. We dedicate a section below to this specific task. Don’t forget to pay attention during the interview so that if anything comes up that you’d like explained further, you can add it to your list of questions.

6. Don’t discuss your pay at the interview

It might be common to discuss your pay rate in a job interview back home. It isn’t in China. It’s actually considered quite rude. To be honest, this isn’t so illogical. You should be nailing down your salary range and included benefits before you commit to an interview anyhow. Once there, why waste time talking about money when there are so many other things to discuss? If the stars align and mutual love blossoms, there’ll be plenty of time for negotiations later. And PS. Any decent recruiter should be able to give an outline of the renumeration with a particular schools based on your qualifications and experience. If it doesn’t rock your boat, don’t waste your time – and the schools – with an interview.

Woman doing job interview online

7.  Practice your spiel

Keywords are super helpful in getting the right message across in a teaching job interview. Good words to always weave into your spiel are collaboration, teamwork, student centred, listening to children’s voices, communicating with parents, and support where appropriate. There’s also an array of buzzwords specific to the TEFL/TESOL teaching world. One of the hottest buzzwords in teaching is kinaesthetic strategies, whereby you employ physical movement with theoretical education.

If ANY of the words mentioned above are foreign to you, now’s the time to get familiar with them!

Dressing smart and being well-groomed for the interview is a given, especially in such a ‘formal’ country as China. Granted, international schools should definitely be focusing more on your qualifications rather than your appearance, yet you’ll likely not impress anyone if you show up unshaven and unkempt. But that’s a pretty global standard, right? You can go all out with a nice business suit, yet collared shirt and smart skirt/trousers will do the trick just fine.

8.    Prepare your wardrobe.

Dressing smart and being well-groomed for the interview is a given, especially in such a ‘formal’ country as China. Granted, international schools should definitely be focusing more on your qualifications rather than your appearance, yet you’ll likely not impress anyone if you show up unshaven and unkempt. But that’s a pretty global standard, right? You can go all out with a nice business suit, yet collared shirt and smart skirt/trousers will do the trick just fine.

9.     Perfect your interview behaviour.

There are many ways of doing everything wrong in your interview before you even open your mouth – etiquette matters! Aside from dressing appropriately, ensure you arrive with time to spare (punctuality is crucial, as it demonstrates respect and professionalism). Greet your interviewer(s) using formal language, addressing them by their appropriate titles and last names. Maintain good body language by sitting upright and make eye contact to convey attentiveness and interest. When answering questions, be thoughtful and concise without excessive self-promotion. Emphasize teamwork and humility rather than individual achievements.

Finally, note that it’s considered polite in China to send a thank-you note or email to express gratitude and show enthusiasm for the position after the interview.

What questions will I likely be asked during a teaching job interview with an international school in China?

International school teaching jobs are notoriously hard to get. The recruiting process is as challenging as the workload once you’re employed.

Here are a few of the most common types of questions you will be asked:

Scenarios type questions

This might involve how you would nurture and support children with special needs and challenging behavioural issues or even timid kids who prefer to go unnoticed. Draw on your experience and showcase examples of how you can (and did) support children needing extra help. Scenarios can also be broader and might include how you’d deal with a child who wants to continue playing, but it’s time to move on to another task.

Questions related to your past teaching experience and future desires

You’ll no doubt be asked why you are leaving your current teaching position. Always respond positively (no matter how adverse the truth might be), as it shows you respect your previous employer. Respect and keeping face are a huge deal in China – slag off a past employer, and a potential future employer will be weary. Naturally, you’ll be asked about specific experiences and skills outlined in your CV and personal preferences on the age groups you’d like to teach. Be honest. No teacher wants to get stuck with an age group they don’t enjoy teaching.

When it comes to your future desires and why you want to teach in their school, talk about the school’s stellar reputation, ideal location, career prospects and overall alignment with your core values.

Question on how well you relate to colleagues and parents

As mentioned above – if you think that recruiters from international schools in China are rigorous and demanding, wait until you meet your students’ parents. How well and efficiently you relate with parents, cooperate with colleagues and relate to the school principal are of prime importance. Draw on your experience to create scenarios where you have collaborated (with whomever) for the students’ greater good.

The ‘Why China?’ type questions

If you’ve taught abroad, you’ll be familiar with these questions. Why do you want to teach and live in China? Note that ‘because the pay is awesome’ might not be the first thing they want to hear! Check out our article, The Pros and Cons of Teaching and Living in China, to gather ideas on China’s cultural, travel and personal development opportunities.

Behavioural type questions

Most international school recruiters want to know how well you react in times of adversity. Because every teacher knows how to sail through easy waters, but the best teachers set themselves apart when times get tough. How have you dealt with conflict at the workplace, be it due to a disagreement on teaching style or having to find a diplomatic way to stand up for your beliefs? What is your general process for dealing with challenges? What do you do when you realize you’ve made a professional mistake, and have you ever been responsible for solving a workplace conflict? These are the most important questions you will field in your interview.

 

Woman posing at Palace in Beijing

What questions should I ask during a teaching job interview with an international school in China?

Just like the start of any relationship, initiating a new collab with an international school in China means showing keen interest in what they do. Asking questions about the school’s methodology, opportunities, resources, and engagement shows that you are interested in more than showing up to class and collecting your pay-cheque at the end of the month.

Naturally, you’ll want to tailor your questions to the specific international school you are interviewing for.

Here are some thoughtful questions you might want to ask your interviewer:

  • What is the school’s approach to cultural diversity and inclusion? How do you support students from different cultural backgrounds?
  • What professional development opportunities are available to teachers? How does the school support ongoing professional growth?
  • How does the school integrate technology into the classroom? What resources and support are provided to teachers for incorporating technology effectively?
  • Can you tell me about the parent-school communication and involvement? How does the school foster strong relationships with parents?
  • What extracurricular activities or clubs are available to students? How can teachers contribute to the school’s extracurricular programs?
  • How does the school support English language learners or students with limited English proficiency? Are there specific resources or programs in place?
  • What are the school’s student evaluation methods? How are student progress and achievements measured and communicated?
  • What is the student-teacher ratio in the classroom?
  • How does the school promote individualized attention and support for students?
  • Are there opportunities for collaboration and team teaching among faculty members? How does the school foster a collaborative environment among teachers?
  • How does the school involve the local community and engage in community service initiatives? How can teachers contribute to these efforts?

Rather than machine-gun these questions to your interview, be attentive and ask follow-up questions based on their responses. This will show your interest and engagement in the conversation.

 

Teaching in an international school in China is an enriching experience with its fair share of challenges and unique opportunities. Our guide to International School Jobs in China details what to expect in terms of schedule, lifestyle and pay. If you’re unsure whether teaching in an international school is for you – or don’t yet know how an international school differs from all others – then our International Schools in China – Get the Gist guide will help shed light.

Further reading you might find helpful:

11 skills you need on your CV to impress international schools in China

 

At China by Teaching, we help foreign teachers find excellent positions in some of China’s most prestigious international schools, including Yew Chung International School (YCIS), Dulwich College International, ISA Guangzhou, Nord Anglia International School, HD (Hurtwood House) School, Beanstalk International Bilingual School, and many more.

Securing a position in one of the best Chinese international schools may be challenging. Still, the rewards far outweigh the hard work involved. We hope this guide to nailing your job interview will help set your teaching career in China off to a flying start.

Contact us to learn more about international teaching school jobs in China.

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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