I want to talk to you about what interviewers are looking for when they want to hire an Online Teacher. I would qualify that statement by saying that I am specifically referring to Online ESL teachers but there is certainly a crossover between teaching ESL online and tutoring or even university lecturing.
I have run hundreds of interviews with applicants all over the world, from the USA to the UK, to South African and Japan. There are a few key attributes that all successful online teacher applicants have had, regardless of the online teaching company they were applying for. I believe anyone can emulate these attributes if they know what they are and why employers are looking for them.
When I interview applicants I am thinking about two separate but equally important requirements that must be fulfilled, namely, requirements for being a good employee and requirements for being a successful teacher. They are not one of the same but you need both to have a truly successful interview and even more so to have a happy career in online teaching. At times these requirements are contradictory to one another and so the point that I would really want to drive home is that you must balance these attributes to become a truly indispensable online teacher.
Enthusiasm. It is possibly the most important quality that can endear an interviewer to you because the interviewer knows that you can hold a captive audience with your students. Talking about enthusiasm during job interviews and on cover letters has become an overused phrase to the point that it has almost lost its meaning. You never need to discuss enthusiasm. It is a quality that, by its definition, means it will not go unnoticed. Before I continue I want to explain that enthusiasm does not mean talking a lot, it means sounding interested (and interesting) when you do talk. In the online ESL world, it is such an important quality because we look for it to close a literal gap. We are so far removed from our students physically and geographically that for some of us we need to go above and beyond our normal level of extroversion to captivate our student’s attention and hold it for an online class.
I would like to explain here that enthusiasm, like ice cream, has flavors and even though everyone like ice cream, not everyone likes the same flavor. Young online learners love Strawberry. Strawberry is youthful, exaggerative and even boisterous at times. Older learners, like those who are learning business English or maybe learning an online professional course, love Chocolate. Chocolate is expressive and professional; it is altogether a far more refined enthusiasm than strawberry. If you add a bit of vanilla to this mixture (to carry on our analogy) you have a Neapolitan, which is ultimately the best kind of ice-cream/online teacher. Neapolitan teachers temper their enthusiasm with responsibility and, this means coming to classes prepared, knowing when to turn your charm off and control your classroom and never missing or being late for class. For the best possible interview figure out the flavour they are looking for and express it. As long as you are not over-talking in your interview you have just won half of the battle. We know this is seemingly obvious but at least half of all candidates I have interviewed do not show nearly enough of these qualities and only 1 in 10 candidates truly satisfy this requirement.
Responsibility. As equally an overused phrase as enthusiasm and no less important to your students and your company. Unlike enthusiasm, I would mention this by name in an interview.
One of the biggest concerns that online teaching companies and schools have is that teachers will miss lessons, be late for lessons or simply quit at a moment’s notice. This concern is borne out of the same place as the need for enthusiastic teachers. We are not in the same place as our employees. Sometimes we don’t know if you will show up to work until you have already missed it. We can’t tell if you are satisfied with your job. Your potential employer needs to feel like he is not taking a risk by hiring you, I will highlight some examples for you of things you can say or show that will eliminate the perceived potential for risk in an interview.
Tell the interviewer that you know the problems that companies experience with online teachers. If an interviewee were to say this to me I would be massively impressed, not only because it shows that this online teacher has knowledge of the problems in the industry but also because it shows that he has read my article. In all seriousness, being honest and directly addressing the elephant in the room immediately gets the interviewer to start thinking about you as a member of the same team who understands his/her trials and tribulations.
Explain your lifestyle as one that is homogeneous with online teaching. Online teaching attracts people for a lot of reasons. Some applicants are stay-at-home parents, others are traveling the world and are subsidizing their income and some are teachers who just want to supplement their income from the comfort of home. Whatever your motivation, online companies will want to know. They want to know if your lifestyle is that of a person who is at home often, or has home-based responsibilities that will ensure that you will not take a non-flexible job anytime soon that will interfere with your teaching commitments. It is worthwhile explaining why your life style is so perfectly suited to online teaching.
Talk about your previous responsibilities and why they are similar. If you can find a parallel between online teaching and any job you have done in the past and put that connection into context with an example you will be sure to increase the interviewer’s confidence in you. I love when prospective online teachers do this in an interview. It shows me immediately that they are responsible and that they want to prove it, which is equally important.
If you can do all of the above while still being mostly yourself then you are a truly Neapolitan flavored online teacher. Not only will you get your online teaching job, but if you can continue on this way you will be highly valued… and rewarded.