A Recruiter’s Guide to Getting Your Dream Teaching Job

TESOL job recruitment advice on cover letter, resume, and interviewCongratulations! You got your TESOL certification and now you’re ready to apply for TESOL jobs. But what is the best way to organize your resume, cover letter and mock class preparation? As a job coach, recruiter and English teacher, I’ll tell you the best practices and examples you can follow to maximize your chances of getting an interview with an English teaching company and securing the job.

No matter what someone’s background is, the process of getting the TESOL job you want is the same:

  • Learn about the company, their mission and values
  • Tailor your resume and cover letter to the job requirements
  • Show your personality

This may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many applications I have seen that are generic and I can tell in a second that it is the same application they send to every other company. Do not make this mistake!

About the Author: Melissa Chungfat is a VIPKID teacher and recruiter. You can apply for online teaching jobs through Melissa through our VIPKID profile page

Step 1: Research the Company

It’s easy to get into the numbers game and send the same application to every company that is hiring an English teacher. More applications, more chances right? Wrong.

Focus more on writing quality applications and take the time to learn about the company, their mission and values. I’ll use VIPKID as an example throughout this guide to walk you through the job application process you can use for any company. How much time does this really mean?

When I applied for jobs in the past, I would never apply to more than three jobs a day because it took me hours to research the organization and customize my applications.

Remember many companies will go through hundreds of applications. You can already stand out among most people by showing you took the time to understand and learn more about the company.

Imagine you are the employer and your entire company culture is based on passion for educating the next generation and giving them the skills they need to succeed in a competitive world. And then you get a cover letter that opens with, “Hi, my name is ________ and I am interested in applying to be a teacher. I just got my certification and available for full-time work.”

But what about us? Did you read the website and what we look for in teachers? Even if you are the greatest teacher in the world, it’s not showing on paper and for all I know, this application can be sent to every company. And it probably has.

Think like the employer before you write a single world on your application and ask yourself, “What personality, experience and attitude would I want to see from a candidate?”

When I first applied to VIPKID, I learned that “VIPKID’s mission is to provide the international elementary school experience to Chinese children.” Then I read more articles about the company from other websites to have a solid understanding about them.

Read: How to Get Started as an Online ESL Teacher

Step 2: Customize Your Cover Letter

You know your application is tailored enough when your cover letter can’t be sent to another company. Most people waste precious space on the first paragraph of the cover letter with phrases like “I am applying in response to your ad . . . “ or “I am very interested in becoming a VIPKID teacher” and so on. Don’t tell the employer what they already know.

Just this week I got an application with a cover letter that started like this, “I would like, with this letter, to apply for a part-time position during the school year and a full-time summer position. I am an energetic, enthusiastic and bilingual youth with a strong work ethic. I am responsible and can be counted on to complete a task on time.”

All this tells me is, “You are looking for any job to gain experience and did not take the time to learn more about my company.” No pile. Next.

The opening cover letter paragraph should connect to the company’s mission or values and introduce your key experience. This paragraph is just two or three sentences but it is often the hardest to write because it will show your genuine interest in the organization and whether or not you researched the company.

If I had to write a cover letter to VIPKID, I would open with something like:

“The two years I spent working and traveling around Asia enhanced my love for empowering students to learn English so they could access more job opportunities. I would love the opportunity to apply my 12 years of teaching and communication experience to provide an international school experience to VIPKID students.”

I integrated VIPKID’s mission right in the paragraph. Can I send this letter to any other company? No. So that means the application is tailored enough to VIPKID.

Here is a general format of a cover letter:

  • First paragraph: Connect to the company’s mission and your key experience (2-3 sentences)
  • Second paragraph: One relevant experience talking about what you did, your teaching approach and what results you got. Did parents give you great feedback? Did your students get great scores with your help?
  • Third paragraph: One more relevant teaching experience or transferable skills if your teaching experience is limited
  • Closing paragraph: One or two sentences that can connect again with the company mission and mention your most relevant skills.

VIPKID doesn’t require cover letters from applicants but here is what my cover letter would have looked like to give you an example:

[Date]

Re: Online English Teacher

Dear Hiring Manager,

“The two years I spent working and traveling around Asia enhanced my love for empowering students to learn English so they could access more job opportunities. I would love the opportunity to apply my 12 years of teaching and communication experience to provide an international school experience to VIPKID students.”

I worked as an English Teacher and Program Leader for Western volunteers in Cambodia. As a teacher, I taught lessons to 60 students between 8 and 18 years old in rural areas of the country. Their English improved after we did interactive games, repetition, acted out ideas and used pictures in lessons. I continuously got feedback from students to ensure they understood the concepts. As a Program Leader, I taught volunteers how to be respectful in Cambodia, how to teach Cambodian students and helped them with their transition into a new culture. I received the highest evaluation in the history of the volunteer program in Cambodia.

I worked as an Online Course Facilitator for two communication courses for the program Settlement Online Pre-Arrival in Canada. I taught newcomers from different countries who were going to move to Canada using the program platform. I provided constructive feedback on live their video presentations, assignments and their LinkedIn profiles. Whenever it was possible, I connected them with professional contacts. All of my clients gave me excellent ratings for the courses.

I love teaching people new skills and seeing them succeed. I look forward to helping VIPKID students get great results as I have done with my past students and clients.

Sincerely,

Melissa Chungfat

Let’s break down this cover letter.

The first paragraph connects with VIPKID’s goal of giving their students a quality education.

The second paragraph talks about the only experience I have teaching young students and what engaging teaching methods I used that would be transferable to VIPKID’s learning approach. Focus on results, results, results.

Before I joined VIPKID, I had limited experience teaching young students. The third paragraph shows more of my transferable skills using online platforms and giving feedback to people even though my clients were adults for this role.

The final paragraph talks about my passion for teaching and summarizes what I have done for the people I have worked with.

Step 3: Customizing Your Resume

Most employers spend less than 10 seconds skimming a resume because they have so many applicants to get through.

Make it easy for the reader to see your most relevant experience and personality by organizing your layout in a way that is easy to skim. Don’t make the reader do the work because they will often just move on, which I have done myself when I needed to hire.

You can create a clean layout by:

  • Using specific headers like “Teaching Experience”
  • Bold keywords
  • Have a skills section or a profile on the top third of your page
  • Having white space around the main sections of your resume

If I apply to a job that relates more to teaching, I will put a header called “Teaching Experience” rather than “Work Experience.” Work experience is too generic because it could be anything from being an entry level job to a senior manager. If I applied for a job that related more to marketing, I would simply put “Marketing Experience.” Make your headings specific.

Even though you will likely be sending the same resume to most companies, check every bullet to make sure it is related to the job you are applying for. I always reorder my experiences depending on the job I am applying for.

Other resume guidelines to consider:

  • Keep your resume to two pages max. If you can summarize all of your relevant experience in a clear way in a page, then do a one-page resume. I got an interview with VIPKID with a one-page resume and you can see it at the end of this post.
  • Have a summary of skills section or a profile introduction on the first third of your page where most employers will look at first.
  • Only include relevant or transferable skills on your resume. People don’t need to know your entire work history.

On an additional note, I keep a Word document detailing every single project or job I have done so I don’t forget my part work. Then when I apply for a job, the resume is always one or two pages filled with only the most relevant experience.

Here is a copy of the resume that got me an interview with VIPKID. In 2016, I needed to upload a resume with the company, but now you don’t need a resume to apply. To make my visual resume, I used a free website online so you don’t have to know design. I recommend this to really stand out.

4- Preparing for the Interview and Mock Class 

Congratulations! You landed the interview.

I have unfortunately come across many applicants in the recruitment process who often don’t pass the interviews because of their egos. One teacher literally said to me, “Before I thought ‘I am a Native speaker, it shouldn’t be that hard to teach kids.’” I had another applicant who thought they could just look at the lesson an hour before the mock class and “wing it.” Needless to say, he did not pass because he was making unnecessary mistakes and it was very obvious that he did not take time to practice.

Having a TESOL certification or being a Native English speaker alone isn’t enough to get you the job, especially with companies that set a high standard for teachers.

For VIPKID, I had a first round interview where I taught a 10-minute lesson. Once I passed, I prepared for a full 25-minute VIPKID class with an evaluator. I practiced for hours for this lesson. Most of the preparation wasn’t about getting familiar with the content, it was how to adapt to the high-energy VIPKID style of teaching.

I recorded myself on my computer and watched the videos to see how I looked and sounded. That way, I could hear when I was not so energetic or speaking too fast. How we actually look is very different than how we think we are coming across.

I also watched many videos made by experienced VIPKID teachers and worked on my teaching style more than anything. Fortunately, my preparation paid off and I passed on the first mock class. Over 95% of teachers don’t pass the first mock class and need to do two before they get hired.

Don’t underestimate the amount of preparation you need to do for your interview.

Summary

If you follow approach when you apply for jobs, you will maximize your chances of getting an interview. The more effort you put into each application, the better results you will get. Don’t play the numbers game and send generic applications to as many companies as you can.

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