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Top Ten Tips for Landing an International School Position

By Chris Beingessner and Lauren Mehrbach
Top Ten Tips for Landing an International School Position

With international school hiring season just around the corner, many teachers are dusting off their resumes and shining their webcams to prepare for securing their next adventure. There are some things that you can do to stand out among other candidates (and, maybe more importantly, some things you should NOT do in order to avoid disappointment). Below are our top ten tips for landing your dream international school job.

Getting the Interview
1. The resume.
Save it as a PDF, do not send a Word doc! Sending a PDF will make sure that your painstakingly completed formatting stays and your edits don’t show. You don’t want the interviewer to be able to go back and see that you changed your ideal position sought to match a school’s opening. Name your resume something other than “Resume,” preferably with your last name evident. Seriously, there are 16 downloads on my desktop with file names like “resume2017.” Don’t go over two pages; prioritize what is most important and recent. Include your references’ contact information in the resume. Making the recruiter hunt down phone numbers and emails later is adding a hurdle to your candidacy. If you don’t share your references from the start, the recruiter can create all sorts of stories about why they are missing. Is she sneakily applying for jobs and her current employer doesn’t know? Did he break contract and doesn’t want me to know?

2. The cover letter.
Include a brief introduction with some highlights from your resume. Share how you stay current and contribute to the profession through professional development, research, blogs, conference presentations, professional journal writing, or involvement with professional organizations. You want recruiters to see that you’re committed to continuing to learn and grow as an educator. Have friends or colleagues proofread your cover letter. You don’t want a grammatical error or spelling mistake to give the recruiter a reason to discount you.

3. Be selective.
Only apply for jobs you’re truly interested in and mostly qualified for. A reasonable “step up” application is great, but don’t waste people’s time with a resume that isn’t even close to a good match. And think about it: would you want to work at a school that would hire people that aren’t qualified with recent, relevant experience? We’ve had people with no math education experience apply for math jobs—a waste of everybody’s time that leaves a sour taste in the recruiter’s mouth if you ever do want to apply for a position that is a better fit.

Nailing the interview

4. Know what you believe in. Be clear about your educational guiding principles, what you use to inform the moves you make in your classroom and guide conversations with kids and interactions with colleagues and parents. If your philosophy and the school’s aren’t a good match, better to let that be known up-front and not get the job than to fake it and be miserable once you arrive in your new country.

5. Prepare. Anyone can regurgitate theory, or, conversely, talk about what they did that was cool. But recruiters are looking for someone who can take theory and turn it into action! Give specific examples of the amazing work you do in your classroom and tie it back to the theory that informs it.

6. Prepare more. You can’t anticipate specific questions, but you can anticipate themes. Find five or six examples from your experience that you think highlight your skills in a variety of areas such as differentiation, establishing relationships, assessment, etc. Know the details of those examples and what they say about theory and your approach to teaching. Practice! If you have a few things you really want the interviewer to know, make sure you’ve said those phrases out loud a few times so you aren’t stumbling for words when you are nervous.

7. The one-way video interview. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s awkward. And more schools are using it, so get used to the idea. You’ll get an email prompting you to record your responses to a handful of questions. We use it to sift a candidate pool from a dozen who seem to be a good fit to a final few who will get an in-person interview. Honesty really plays well in these settings; if you feel awkward, mention it! Calling it out will actually calm you down. If you’re given two minutes for an answer, be sure your answer isn’t less than one. If you can’t talk about something educational for the time allowed, it will appear you don’t have the depth of experience and knowledge to draw from. You’ll have a bit of time to plan for each answer, so make quick notes and refer to them. Be sure you are answering the question asked. Don’t leave anything on the table or unsaid, as the video may be your only opportunity to impress.

8. Skype: The new job fair. Since a lot of international school interviews no longer take place in the calm, common confines of a hotel room, a new variable has been added: setting. Choose the location for your Skype carefully. You don’t want anything in the background to distract the recruiter from what you’re saying or to raise any questions unrelated to you as an educator. Elevate the laptop so it’s at eye level. You don’t want the recruiter to look up your nose the entire time. Be sure the background is clear and not distracting. We’ve seen it all in the background: dirty clothes, half-finished renovation projects, naked dressmaking mannequins, distracting artwork. If you talk with your hands, be sure to keep them down (the elevated laptop will help with this) or they will appear to be massive if they pop up between you and the laptop. Center yourself on the laptop. Adjust the lighting, adding a lamp if you are hiding out in your dark basement. And make sure that your house is quiet… while your kids are adorable, having them run into the interview in their pajamas won’t help you focus on the task at hand. If it happens, acknowledge it and try to refocus. Establish ahead of time what you’ll do if the internet (yours or the recruiter’s) isn’t working properly. Send your phone number to the recruiter just in case. Also, be ready five minutes early, and don’t lose your mind if the recruiter is five minutes late. School administrators have unpredictable days, and you don’t know what might have popped up to delay them. Sending multiple Skype text messages while an administrator is trying to get a distraught teen out of their office won’t make them get to you any faster.

9. Do your homework. Read as much as you can about the school in advance, including checking out their social media presence. Make relevant references to things you learned and themes you noticed from your research during the interview. Be specific if you want to compliment the school’s reputation or programs, as generalities can come off as manipulatively insincere. The interviewers likely know about their school’s strengths and shortcomings and are looking to hire you to help them get better. Highlight those skills you bring that you think they might need.

10. Ask good questions. Having no questions for the recruiter is a red flag. Prepare a few questions that aren’t about salary or benefits. Maybe focus on the school culture, how new teachers are brought into the fold, or challenges the school is facing. Don’t get too far into the weeds; you can always seek out more specifics if you’re offered a position. Having the recruiter explain the structure of the timetable may be interesting to you but isn’t relevant if you’re not going to be offered the job. You can dig into specifics more with a current teacher or administrator after you have your contract in front of you. Good luck with your search, and have fun in the process!

Chris Beingessner serves as a Middle School Deputy Principal at Singapore American School. Prior to SAS, Chris worked in Canada and Cambodia.

Lauren Mehrbach serves as the Middle School Principal at Singapore American School. Prior to SAS, Lauren worked in Tunisia, Venezuela, and the US. Some summers she co-trains for the PTC.

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12/30/2019 - Micky
Thanks. Excellent advice.
11/13/2019 - Karen Compton
I am so glad to have found this article! Great tips for getting ready for a stressful situation.
Thank you!