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Interview for a Language School Job

Bojana Perović

Career coach & Talent Acquisition Specialist

Table of contents

If you're a linguist who sees themselves in language teaching, chances are you'll eventually try to find employment at a language school.

On that journey, you'll encounter your CVa trial lesson and a job interview, with the opportunity to ask important questions.

When I, nearing the end of my studies, after years of private tutoring, applied to language schools, I was mainly interested in hourly rates and the application process. Several years and several schools later, I realized that this is the basic information they tell you even when you don't ask.

On the other hand, job satisfaction depends on numerous other details that don't immediately come to mind.

My life would have been easier if I had asked these ten questions in every language school interview.

QUESTION 1: Where is the teaching conducted and how does it affect the hourly rate?

It's an unwritten rule that classes held off-site (for example, at a company) are usually paid higher than those conducted at the school premises. It takes more time and energy to travel to the location, carry materials, and it's logical to charge accordingly.

Fortunately, all language schools where I've worked initially offered significantly higher hourly rates for such classes.

However, collaborating with colleagues through the workshop "Monetize Language Skills" I've heard of different cases. Namely, if candidates, often students, weren't aware that off-site classes are paid more, schools typically wouldn't propose it.

To summarize...

...if you travel to a location to teach - it's customary for this to be paid more.

If the company is outside the city and you use your own car for classes, fuel costs should not come out of your pocket.

QUESTION 2: What options does the language school offer for learning and professional development?

One of the fondest memories of working in schools was the internal seminar organized by the school owner "Neven“.

The headmistress, herself a language teacher, arranged a full-day seminar for junior teachers at her own expense. We received a wealth of practical tips and activity examples, and I still keep the seminar script on my desk to this day.

Let's be clear...

Investing in employee development doesn't necessarily mean themed seminars or paid external courses.

It's perfectly acceptable to receive two weeks of observation if you lack experience, or training from more experienced colleagues. Most schools where I've worked offered discounts or even free spots in other language courses for their employees.

A great opportunity to improve your language skills, isn't it?

If the school you work for is also a certification center, ask to be certified as an examiner at their expense.

You can monetize this not only at that specific school but also at any similar certification center.

If you work with adults, take the opportunity to observe a professional language course. Such classes command higher fees, and you never know when you might need this skill.

job interview at a language school

QUESTION 3: What are the class schedules like, how many breaks are there, and how much downtime is there?

I'm not sure how it is in smaller cities, but in Belgrade, the scattered schedules are a disaster because you spend the whole day commuting. A schedule where you have classes at 10 AM, then at 1 PM, and again at 6 PM is exhausting and eats up time for potential private lessons.

I understood this best when I worked at a language school with fixed hours from 9 AM to 2 PM.

The hourly rate was slightly lower than in previous schools, but I had a rhythm and went home rested. I had time for classes and other tasks, so in the end, I earned more than in better-paid schools.

Looking back, I realized that even in previous schools, experienced teachers mostly chose similar, connected schedules. In the beginning, you might not be able to choose, but ask to see the general approach to scheduling.

QUESTION 4: Who designs the curriculum and selects the materials?

job interview at a language school

As a Russian language teacher, I was often the only one teaching Russian in language schools.

The course curriculum, material selection, lesson planning – it was all up to me. This takes up additional time, so I asked for (and usually got) a higher hourly rate compared to teachers who didn't have these responsibilities.

On the other hand, you have great freedom and the opportunity to shape the lessons just the way you want.

However, when I joined a Serbian language school for foreigners with a vast library of materials – it was a relief. Sometimes I created my own materials because I enjoy it, but it's a wonderful feeling to have a choice of about ten ready-made materials for each topic.

Whether you prefer creating materials independently or receiving them, it makes sense to ask this question in an interview.

Not only will you get a clearer picture of the workload, but you'll also demonstrate interest in the job itself.

QUESTION 5: Will I be working with children or adults?

I belong to the group of teachers who have chosen to work exclusively with adults. That's why I always asked whom I would be working with and avoided schools where I would teach both.

There's no one-size-fits-all option here – some prefer working only with children, some with adults, and some with both. However, it's good to know upfront if the job aligns with your preferences.

The advantage of working with different groups is that you'll get to know all the existing materials and also understand what you enjoy doing. The downside is that you'll need to keep more lesson plans and programs in mind and spend more time on preparation.

Additionally, working with children involves communicating with parents and in some schools, independently sourcing creative materials like collage paper. So,

...if you'll be working with children, be sure to ask about the communication with parents and who handles the procurement of art supplies.

job interview at a language school

QUESTION 6: What is the cancellation policy for (individual) lessons?

The first time I arrived for a lesson at 8 in the morning only to have the student cancel, I wanted to sit down and cry.

Luckily, the school had a policy where the student had to pay for a lesson they canceled late. Even more importantly, there was a rule that the teacher would still be paid for a canceled lesson if they had already come to the school.

If the school has a significant number of students for individual lessons, this is one of the key questions because cancellations will happen.

That's why it's important to know from the start what happens with your time and money in such cases. Don't overlook this during the interview and think it won't happen.

It will!

And when it happens five times a month and your budget is tighter by the cost of a quality pair of shoes, you'll regret it.

QUESTION 7: What is included in my job description at the language school?

Most of the unpleasant situations I've experienced in language schools occurred because owners assumed something was understood, but didn't communicate it.

Usually, these were trivial things.

For example, I was the last person in the school, tidied up my classroom, and checked the kitchen, but I didn't check the windows of another classroom. This detail isn't a problem, but I would have liked it to have been emphasized to me on time.

Depending on the number of employees, somewhere you'll be printing materials, tidying up classrooms, making coffee for students, and somewhere none of this.

job interview at a language school

Discuss these things at the beginning. This way, you won't find yourself doing something you don't want to do or being criticized for trivialities.

Assumptions are the mother of all misunderstandings.

P.S. If you live near the school and they offer you to take a duplicate key – the correct answer is NO.

Otherwise, you'll end up going to the school every time there's no one to open it, usually on weekends, early in the morning, or late at night.

Also, consider whether you REALLY want to write blog posts for the school for free, create social media posts, and similar tasks.

For a beginner, this could be a great experience and an opportunity to see if they enjoy it.

However, if you have experience and your work brings concrete benefits, you should charge for these services. The same applies to workshops, events, city tours, movie nights, etc.

QUESTION 8: How far in advance is the schedule provided?

I started working in language schools during my studies and it was important for me to plan my time. That's why I insisted on knowing the schedule in advance and that "filling in for colleagues" should be optional.

As a beginner, this might not seem important to you because you don't have many commitments yet, but it will over time. Family, extra jobs, training, personal obligations – everything will have to suffer if you agree to fill in at short notice.

Don't forget to mention your fixed commitments and inquire about the procedure for taking days off if you're working full-time.

Another important aspect regarding schedules is potential duty during tests and exams.

It's legitimate to know in advance when these will be and to expect to be paid for them.

QUESTION 9: What happens with students I bring to the school?

A good reputation travels far!

When word gets out that you're a good teacher, students will approach you who want to study with you. It's also possible that your students from previous schools will follow you to your new school.

For you, this is a compliment; for the school owner, it's revenue. Therefore, it's good to ask if you receive any bonus or a higher percentage from the students you bring in.

This question has proven to be an excellent filter! Schools that have issues with this are generally not fair in other aspects as well.

QUESTION 10: What's the situation with work during the summer?

During the period when I worked in language schools, I spent my summers attending professional development courses abroad. Therefore, it was important for me to have flexibility during the summer while maximizing my teaching hours during the semester.

It was out of the question for me to give up summer courses or internships for the sake of work, and I would ask about this upfront.

job interview at a language school

You should ask too, even if you're not traveling. During the summer, children are out of school, and many businesses have vacations. It's likely that there will be fewer classes and, consequently, less income. It's good to have an idea of how much less so you can plan your finances in advance.

You should ask too, even if you're not traveling. During the summer, children are out of school, and many businesses have vacations. It's likely that there will be fewer classes and, consequently, less income. It's good to have an idea of how much less so you can plan your finances in advance.

Instead of a conclusion

Some language schools have left me with fond memories, while others less so, but I've learned a lot from each one.

I've learned about the job, about myself, about people, about what I want and what I don't want, and what truly matters to me. I've realized that even within the same school, not all teachers receive the same pay or treatment.

I've come to understand how important it is to know yourself, to know what you want, and to be able to negotiate for it.

And when you're certain about planning to open your own school, try working in several larger educational centers beforehand. This way, you'll see examples of best practices, get to know the competition, and avoid beginner mistakes.

You can preempt negative experiences and misunderstandings by asking the right questions during the interview.

Don't be afraid that this will disqualify you as a candidate.

On the contrary, reasonable and fair-minded owners usually appreciate working with people who have principles and integrity. As for the others, you definitely want to steer clear of them.

Author:
Bojana Perović

I am Bojana and together with the Minuta do posla team, I have been researching careers and writing a blog about it for 8 years.

I am a certified NLB consultant, which means that, if you choose me as your mentor, with the help of a simple questionnaire I can peek into your mind, discover how you process information, make important decisions and behave in the workplace.

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