Interviewing for teaching positions in the Gulf: the unscripted truth
When you register with a recruitment agency, you will have to fill out a heap of documents. Have your CV open on Microsoft Word and get ready to copy & paste! In addition to that, you will need scanned colour copies of all of your qualifications, your passport page and teaching license (SACE certificate). Upon reviewing those documents, the recruiter will then decide whether you are a good fit and whether they can help you find a job. This could take 2-3 days. After that point, what normally happens is that your recruiter will call you for a pre-screening interview. This will be scheduled at your leisure. Depending on the agency, the call may last anything between 10-30 minutes. They call to check on your accent and to go over the details of what you really want. This is a good time to be honest with your recruiter about your dependants, your professional needs and what you hope to gain from your experience abroad. For example, if you are qualified to teach in the high schools but want to move to kindergarten, ask your recruiter if this is possible. They will verify personal information, outline what options they could offer you and possibly offer you some tips for upcoming interviews.
The recruiter will distribute your CV to all of the schools that meet your criteria (and the ones whose criteria you meet) and will contact you when a school shows interest. Sometimes the school will be upfront with you before they ask for an interview. For example, I was asked if I would like to interview with a school in Oman. However the school told the recruiter to inform me that the location was rural and that the accommodation would be shared. From there, I could decide whether or not I wanted to go through with the interview. That is one scenario.
However, more often than not, the recruiter emails you with an interview time and day, at best, the website of the school, no mention of the salary package and you need to be ready IN CASE it’s an offer you could consider. The interview time is always fixed and you need to fit your life around it. When the recruiter says to be ready an hour before and an hour after the appointed time, they mean it. There seems to be little emphasis placed on keeping to time because almost every interview I had was late! From 20 minutes to 6 hours late, I felt like I was always on call! Sometimes you can be ready, prepared and waiting in front of your laptop only to find that no one calls. Then 5 hours later, when you are lazing around in front of the TV you get a call on your cell and it’s the interviewer ready to begin the interview! You have to be prepared for all eventualities in this process.
Once you have had the pre-screening interview I suggest you start researching about teaching in the Middle East and all sorts of possible interview questions. I started researching and studying the kind of questions I would be asked from information I found online (very scant info I might add). I compiled my own list of possible questions which I will include a link to here. I could’ve probably skipped all of the prep and answered the questions off the cuff because any qualified teacher with a bit of experience could answer them with ease. However I wasn’t sure what to expect and never wanted to fall short due to unpreparedness.
Before I started interviewing I wondered if I would be able to decipher the accents of the people interviewing me (I am terrible with accents!) however I had nothing to worry about. Most of the time the people interviewing me were British, American or Australian. I did have a male interviewer who was probably an Arab but I found him to be very articulate and easy to comprehend. They usually start off by asking basic questions about your citizenship (South African), highest qualification (Master of Education) and marital status (married). Then they will casually begin the questions and 90% of the time it will be ALL THE QUESTIONS YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR.
They aren’t trying to trick you and they want to hire you as much as you want to be hired!
Once I realised that and let it sink in, I was able to sail through all of my interviews confidently. The questions usually led on from each other for example, “Tell us how you would ensure that learners with low English proficiency remain engaged in the lesson …” which led on to “How would you deal with a learner that became disruptive in the classroom because they were not engaged with the subject material?” It sounds a bit daunting but if you have spent any time in a classroom, you should be ok. Each interview lasted around 8 questions (to which I provided lengthy answers) and they always gave me a chance to ask them questions. This is always the worst bit of an interview for me because I usually spend so much of time preparing my answers to their questions that I don’t ever think of questions to ask them. Here are some of the questions I asked at interviews:
- What kind of resources will I have access to in my classroom?
- Are there restrictions on what topics I can teach in the classroom and how will I know what topics to avoid?
- How many native English teachers are there at this school and is there a chance I would be the only one?
- What is the average number of learners in a class?
The average interview time is between 20-30 minutes depending on how many questions you ask!
The schools will usually present you with an offer within 2-3 days after the interview if they want you. They will send you a contract through your recruiter and you can read it over and accept or decline. Yes you can decline and yes your recruiter will help you find other opportunities should you reject an offer.
My tip for anyone going through this process is to do your research and arm yourself with 1st hand experiences from your own classroom. The interviewers are not looking for critical theories on education or general facts about your career; they want to see that you have dealt with poor discipline, what strategies you use for combatting low student engagement and an example of your best lesson. This is why they are looking for fully qualified and licensed educators because most ESL teachers lack this kind of specific experience. I know when I taught in South Korea there was no way I would’ve known how to deal with discipline issues because my kids there were so well-behaved!
One more thing I have to highlight even though it isn’t very pleasant, is that South Africans are not too high on the teaching totem pole. Schools in the Middle East usually want Americans or teachers from the UK because most international schools in the Gulf are either American curriculum or British curriculum based. With that being said, all hope is not lost, just make sure your CV highlights ALL of your teaching related achievements and market yourself as willing to learn and adapt to a new curriculum when being interviewed.
Share your job hunting and interviewing experiences in the comment below!