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Successful ESL Interviewing

November 10, 2005

I recently gave some tips about interviewing ESL teaching applicants in my ESL Expert newsletter. I am posting them here for people who may not receive the newsletter. You can sign up for it from this page!

Hello again.

It is crucial to give careful thought to your interviewing technique before you meet the candidates. The recruitment process is costly and time-consuming and you want to ensure that the interview, which is the most important stage of all, is structured to produce the best results.

You will need to think about pre-interview activities, the layout and seating arrangements of the interview room, the questions you wish to ask and the post-interview assessment.
It will be helpful for the interviewees to meet the DOS and other teachers as the need for new recruits to fit smoothly into the team is important. This could be part of the pre-interview stage with the DOS showing the interviewees around the school and perhaps meeting teachers in the staffroom afterwards.

Make sure the interview room is welcoming and that the seating arrangements will make candidates feel at ease and not intimidated. The interview panel needs careful selection too. The Principal and DOS are obvious choices but do you need somebody from administration who can explain some of the technicalities of working with the school and should you have a teachers’ representative?

Plan questions that will give the candidates an opportunity to speak freely. If you ask closed questions such as “do you feel confident about teaching adults?” you limit their response. Instead ask, “what makes you confident that you could teach adults?” List “why”, “what”, “how” and “when” questions as these are the types that probe. You should find out about motives for wishing to teach with you, past experience, attitudes to such issues as classroom discipline, plans for the future and any additional skills, hobbies and qualities the candidates have that can benefit the school. Also ask very precise questions on points of teaching to satisfy yourself that this person can handle key classroom situations.

Have clear strategies for moving the interview on—if the candidate goes off at a tangent, bring the interview back on track. An interview is not an excuse for a general chat. And make a note of that tendency too. A candidate who tries to move out of the interview groove may not be able to focus closely on the issues at hand. Translate that to the classroom and you have a bad teaching habit. Listen carefully for answers that sound rehearsed. If you think a candidate is merely reeling off a pat answer, probe more deeply, asking them to elaborate, to explain in more detail.
Have a checklist for each interviewee so that you can make notes, otherwise you might forget details that would help you choose between people. After the interview, gather the views of the other teachers and staff members who have met each candidate. It is important that the successful applicant fits in to the team. I vividly remember a situation in which a confident, well qualified teacher impressed the interview panel but was actively disliked by the teachers. The candidate gained the post despite the teachers’ views but the appointment was not a success and a great deal of disruption occurred.

Until my next entry,

Patricia Dean

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