Teaching abroad in an International school can be an incredible personal and professional experience. However, it’s not for everyone. If you’re preparing to find your next teaching job, here are some of the qualities that an international school will be looking for when they consider hiring you. These are the soft skills (your personality, attitude, resilience) that a school will need to ensure that you possess. These are important so that school and you are happy and successful in filling the vacancy. Of course, you also need to be able to teach or lead the subjects in the job posting!

Check that you can answer these questions.

Will you enjoy living abroad?

Living and working abroad are very different experiences to simply holidaying. You are cut off from your normal friends, family, and familiar surroundings.

For schools hiring a new teacher into an international position, there are significant upfront costs to pay (flights, relocation, visas, accommodation). Therefore the school needs a high level of confidence that the teacher will complete their initial (probably two-year) contract.

If you are interviewing for an international school job you can demonstrate your suitability by highlighting:

  • extended periods you have spent abroad (even if only during a gap year, if you haven’t yet taught abroad)
  • adaptability to challenge. (When have you faced personal challenges that you had to overcome?)
  • access to a support network. (Do you have friends in the city you are hoping to move to?)

Read more about the challenges of working abroad (vs a simple holiday).

What do you know about this country?

It is important for candidates to demonstrate that they know something about the city or country that they hope to move to. Recognise the strengths of the location (perhaps access to great travel destinations, a vibrant local culture, incredible food) but also show that you understand some of the challenges:

  • religious differences
  • dress codes
  • inhospitable weather for some of the year
  • available of spacious accommodation (e.g. apartments in Hong Kong may be smaller than you’d be used to. e.g. one-fifth the size of houses in Australia).

As always in interviews, think of examples of a time when you have had to address some of these issues – and why, of course, they are not a big problem for you.

Can you handle cultural differences?

If you’re living abroad you need to be sensitive to differences in local customs and traditions. For me, this means not only recognising the differences, but also accepting and adapting to them.

For example, in many western countries if you want to beckon someone over, you wave to them with an open hand held upright and pull the fingers towards you. In Thailand this act is aggressive (it says, “Do you want a fight?”). The correct action in Thailand is the hand pointing downwards and the fingers moving towards you (imagine squeezing a small mouse from above!)

In the middle east, approaches to dress codes, alcohol, or public displays of affection may be very different from what you are used to.

Are you able to recognise and adapt to these differences? (How do you know?)

Do you know how to teach English as a second language?

You don’t necessarily need to be trained with a TEFL/TESOL qualification. However, it can be useful to demonstrate that you have an appreciation of how to engage, teach, and support students if English is not their first language.

In a large international school it is likely that a very high proportion of students have English as their second (or even third) language. Some studies suggest that native English speakers are in the minority in International Schools. As Peter Howe, co-creator the International Baccalaureate observes, rather than simply being a challenge, it also represents “real opportunities for students to learn from one another.”

During your interviews consider how you can demonstrate your appreciation of the challenges faced by EAL students and your ability to support them.

Are you eligible to work in this country?

Each country will have different requirements for eligibility.

Typically these include:

Searchality.com makes it easy for schools to clearly specify all of this information for each job. It is therefore likely that as a candidate you will only be matched for jobs if you ‘pass’ the relevant checks. When you receive your notification of each new job match, you can also review to ensure it’s right for you. This is one way that Searchality helps to save schools and candidates time. (Discover why Searchality was created).

Do you already have experience teaching overseas?

Of course, if you have already taught in an international school abroad you have (probably!) demonstrated the skills and qualities above.

However, even if you are looking for your first teaching job abroad, you can definitely impress a school by thinking through the issues above. It’s also true that the need for international school teachers continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. In the next decade schools will need to recruit almost half a million extra teachers. If you’re an experienced teacher with a great, open attitude, you can secure a wonderful international school job!

If you’ve already secured your next job, find out how to make the most of your international opportunities.


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