1. Covering letter and CV
Email the recruiter or school representative a friendly, concise covering letter stating the title of the job you are applying for and emphasising your interest in the position, immediate availability and the fact that you have qualified as a TEFL teacher. Some recruiters ask for a scan of your TEFL certificate, a copy of your passport photo page (to prove your nationality and age) and sometimes a photograph. Make sure you have these ready.
Your CV needs to be edited accordingly. Highlight all relevant skills and experience including any exchange programs or ‘working holidays’ abroad you have been on. Buy a local language guide and state that you are beginning to learn the local language. In addition to your work experience and TEFL certificate, describe the personal qualities you have that might be relevant to the position. Perhaps you have trained or coached people in a particular skill in the past. Can you teach any sports or musical instruments? Why do you like other cultures? Make sure your Skype username is listed at the top.
2. Interview stage
Assuming the school is interested, the Director of Studies or HR department will contact you. This happens usually within a matter of days rather than weeks. Some schools will conduct the interview over the phone but if the school is on the other side of the world they are likely to want to speak to you using Skype. Make sure you have a Skype account and test your microphone and headset volume several times. Think what the background looks like. Tell any housemates and family that you need extra quiet for this interview. Be ready, seated, five minutes before the agreed time.
The questions you will be asked will be no different from the questions candidates are asked in any standard job interview. If you are especially unsure or nervous, buy a book on how to succeed at interviews. Imagine you were the recruiter. What kind of questions would you ask yourself? What would you look for in a new member of your team? You may be asked to explain how you would teach a grammar point. Therefore it is not a bad idea to look over your TEFL course notes the evening before the interview.
Also, what kind of questions will you ask about the school and culture in that particular country? Is there a good network of TEFL teachers in the city? Discuss contract details. Will you be expected to work some weekends? Can you open a local bank account? How easy is it to find accommodation? What is the public transport like? What help will be given as you settle in? Will your return airfare be covered? Who will come to meet you at the airport?
Make sure you ask for the email address or Skype ID of a current teacher at the school so you can find out what it is really like working there! If they are not happy to supply you with a contact then tread very carefully indeed as there is probably a reason why they don’t want you contacting other teachers!
3. The Contract
Assuming all goes well for both parties you can expect to receive a digital version of your contract via email in the next few days. It should state the number of working hours per week, number of days of annual leave, overtime pay, airfare pay, when you will be paid and whether in cash or directly into a local account, accommodation allowance (if applicable) and length of the probationary period (often 3 months). The standard contract lasts for 12 months and is usually renewable afterwards should you wish to stay on for a second year. Check all of this very, very carefully and think how much money you will need to survive until your first payday. You will often agree to the contractual terms by email and sign the actual contract itself in person when you arrive.
If anything is not entirely clear make sure you check with the Director of Studies. He or she ought to be very helpful and understanding when responding to your queries. If this isn’t the case, you might want to ask yourself whether it is a good idea to sign up for a year of working with this person. If you have any doubts, do not sign the contract. Look again at the jobs websites until you find another suitable opportunity. There are always plenty out there and it will not be long before you find the right one for you.
Other ways to find work:
In some parts of the world, especially in Latin America, schools rarely advertise TEFL positions online. They rely on people walking in, smartly dressed, with a copy of their CV and TEFL certificate and a willingness to do a demo lesson there and then. There are some advantages to this method. It is normally straightforward to ask other TEFL teachers in the same city about their opinions of the various language centres. If you don’t meet any in person, have a look for relevant Facebook groups. You may bump into someone at the right place and right time who knows of an excellent vacancy that has not been widely advertised. The disadvantages are that many of the benefits you may have got as an ‘overseas hire’ – such as paid return airfare – will probably not be offered to you. You may also never actually see a contract, let alone sign one!
Whilst it is of course quite possible that you will not find a suitable job in the city you have chosen, if you do sufficient research and networking prior to your move, and are confident that jobs are available, you should not have any major problems. A remarkably exciting new chapter of your life will just be beginning! Savour it!