The classic tête-à-tête. The first formal meeting between employer and potential employee. They are a fundamental part of the recruitment process for any EFL teacher and can also be quite nerve-racking. Especially when the job is in a place you really want to go. Through my experiences of doing interviews for positions in Spain, Italy, Malta and England I hope to put together some questions that you should definitely ask during the interview. And I’ve had it all, from why are you asking so many questions, to why aren’t you asking enough, to even… I don’t want to answer that. Well, with some decorum and respect you can ask these questions below and, hopefully, it will help you get a better picture of what you are stepping into and, like the once bitten twice shy teacher that I am, you can avoid the trap of working for the kings of this pyramid scheme we call EFL. (a term from a comment on a previous blog I wrote that still makes me chuckle).
Some of these are obvious, I KNOW, but they are nonetheless important and worth a little explanation too.
Replacement- Am I replacing another teacher and why? (phrased in a more polite way, obviously)
When applying for a job in the darkest depths of winter. I always cast an eye of suspicion on any advert I see. The reason for this is that most of the time you are replacing someone and I think it is reasonable to want to know why. Now, prying into some poor teacher’s reasons for leaving is of course not on ,but you have to ask yourself why they left and in my experience they did so because they weren’t happy with/at the school. A school with a high turnover is something to be wary of and a school that loses teachers after 3 months is also a worry. However, there are multiple reasons for why one might leave, so asking this question might get you an honest answer or more than likely a cryptic answer, filled with buzzwords, that only cause alarm bells to ring out even more.
Should you simply not accept any position in January? No, of course not, but it is important to have as much information at your disposal before you make a decision and from the behaviour of the interviewer, in response to your question, you can get a good gauge of the situation and the type of person you are dealing with. When I ask this question I find out a lot. A lot from what is said and even more from how they handle the question and what they don’t say. A case in point: I once applied for a job in January and it turned out that I was replacing a man who had quit due to stress and another woman had been fired because they didn’t like her. If I’d asked them during the interview this question perhaps they wouldn’t have told me anything and lied or perhaps I would have found out just enough to not accept the job and in turn leave 4 months later. If you don’t ask; you don’t get.
How many teachers are there and how many schools?
I always ask this question in any interview. Knowing the size and number of teachers can give you a great idea of what kind of school you will find yourself in and what kind of school you like. The hustle and bustle of a large school can be a new teacher’s nightmare and a lot of the large chain schools in Spain have a somewhat questionable relationship between teachers and bosses. On the other hand, you may absolutely hate a small school where you are all on top of each other or you might love the cosy “family-like” environment. Either way it is a good question to ask and can really help you make a choice between a big school in a big city or a big school in a small town or etc etc.
Where will I be put?
A follow up question would be, If you have more than one school, where will I be put? I worked for an academy with three schools and was told I would move from one to the other every three months. A great proposition, however, I ended up in the smallest school in a small village which required me to get a 55-minute bus every day and I was never moved I just stayed there, in this tiny village, for 5 hrs every day. So perhaps the question should be where are your schools and how will I get to them? So many interviewers say “we are based in this city” but actually you will end up working far far away from there. Don’t fall for this one.
Pay, accommodation, hours in contract (a tricky one as British people don’t like to talk about pay…but ask about it anyway!)
A real no-brainer this one and one that everyone asks anyway but I cannot stress the importance of it. Even if it looks like a good deal, always reference it against the price of a flat in that area. I applied for a job in a wealthy town in northern Spain and couldn’t accept the position as the pay wasn’t enough for me to cover my rent or bills. The haters will say “well you should go with your own money to set yourself up,” which I agree with, but eventually if the pay doesn’t cover the costs then you will have to leave. All in all no one gets paid that much anyway but this “no-brainer” of a question is a serious deal-breaker. For example 1000 Euros in Madrid doesn’t go as far as 1000 Euros in a smaller city. Always ask and always check the local prices for flats, if the numbers don’t add up then don’t take the job.
Also make sure you double check your hours, a lot of the time the hours can be “flexible”. One week you can be working 25 and then another you can suddenly be working 30. You can’t guarantee this won’t happen during the interview but you need a clear idea of what you will be doing so that if they screw you over you know what you agreed on when you first spoke. Furthermore are the hours morning, afternoon or evening. You would be surprised how many people don’t ask this and suddenly realise that they are driving to business at 8 in the morning and not finishing until 10 in the evening.
What Methodology do you use?
You need to know how they work and operate before you can do your job successfully, it is as simple as that. Some academies are hands-off some are hands-on and some follow strict methods that are inflexible and, quite frankly, don’t suit everyone. Every school does things differently and you need to know this before you start. It is always good to know whether you will be observed and how many times this will take place, also what support they offer to teachers who need help following the methodology in place. People in Spain either quit or lose their jobs because they didn’t/don’t follow a methodology they were offered no help on in the first place.
What age ranges will I be working with?
This is usually specified in the job description but what you need to know is how often you will be working with certain age ranges… and ask yourself; is the advert being cryptic about who exactly you will be working with? A lot of academies say YL (young learners) and then stick you with 4 year olds all week. It is not for everyone, trust me. Always ask how the hours break down and what a typical week for a teacher looks like. The bulk of Spanish work in academies comes from kids from 3 upwards and of course a lot of teenagers so don’t expect to be working with competent, well-behaved adults all week.
Do your research before the interview
This is not a question to ask but, make sure you scour the Internet for reviews of the academy. There are even blacklists out there to help you. Check out their Facebook and ask on forums for any help you can get. Don’t be afraid to investigate and ask around and do your research on the town or city you might go to. Try to find out the things that they won’t tell you in an interview so when you do go into the interview you are prepared and don’t just lap up whatever they say.
But let’s face it, during the interview they may well bend the truth, to get you there, or sugar coat it or maybe that is how they actually see it but by asking the questions above and of course some of your own, then you might just find a place you want to go back to and you might just cut through some of the bullshit that comes out of some of these peoples’ mouths.
This is not a definitive guide to what you should and shouldn’t do in an interview but it does contain some questions that I have learnt I NEED to ask in order to get the maximum information I can about an academy.