Setting up an online school - Part 12: Hiring process - interviews

In this blog I will continue on the hiring process concentrating on the interview process.

Ok, last time Setting up an online school – Part 11, I covered some aspects of hiring people and this time I want to talk about sifting through applications and the interview process. Now, in my experience, you will get unsolicited job applications all the time and it is up to you whether you include them in your search. I generally did. In fact, I kept all the promising ones on file and contacted them first before advertising. I found it a successful way of getting candidates the easy way. For me this worked, but you do need to reply to all promising candidates all the time in order for them to consider you when you are actually hiring. It is time consuming to do so but I opted to because I wanted to have some names on hand if work suddenly came in.

Your minimum requirements

Irrespective of whether you are hiring for teaching on a course by course basis or full time employment, you need to consider what are your minimum requirements and qualifications. For ELT, my specialty, then a recognized certificate from a properly accredited body is necessary, I feel, as students feel reassured by that. Unless you are going for the bottom end of the market, then cheapness may be the factor and any English native may do. I don’t recommend this, though. Unless you are willing to train teachers a lot, I would look for experience as well.

If preparing an ad, I would say put down: An ELT cert, experience, to be comfortable with technology, to be flexible, and be willing to work odd hours. I would add that a creative mind is a great asset in online teaching as it is a new field and people may figure out better ways to do things. Not to be stymied by physical classroom constraints but go forth into the brave new world of tech.

Dealing with applications

Ok, you have got lots of applications. Now what? Eliminate any that don’t meet your requirements as you are wasting your time if you don’t. I always kept every one on file as you never know what your requirements will be in the future but that does necessitate you replying nicely to all candidates to keep them sweet. Go through the rest and select those that closely match your needs. I had as a rule of thumb that I would interview five people for every one needed. Also I would try to make sure to interview only candidates that I believed would work out. I never believed in taking a gamble that someone would work out if they were missing in some vital area. So, If I could only identify 3 or 4 candidates then that is all I would interview.


You will get a lot of newbies applying and they are in Catch22. They can’t get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job. However, I feel that there are always schools that will hire newbies on the cheap and unless you have strong reason to believe they will turn out to be a good teacher (e.g. you know who trained them and they have recommended them) I would say it’s not worth the risk. You need to build your reputation and need to try and select only sure things as teachers at the start.

Conducting the interview

Anyway, how to conduct an interview? There are lots of tips out there and I would suggest you read as much as possible before you start. But I will give you my tips having conducted thousands of interviews in my life.

Take responsibility for the process. Say to yourself my priority is to select the best candidate not necessarily the one who does the best interview. Try and get them to relax by being nice and friendly, and having some small talk at the start. Go through their CV and cover letter with them, lingering on any areas you feel you’d like to talk about. Find out their reaction to teaching online and not going into a workplace with all the camaraderie that implies. And how they are with technology. Also please don’t eliminate technophobes as I explained in previous posts Online teaching for the technophobe, as they may turn out to be the most loyal as they won’t want to learn another system once they get used to yours.

A good teacher is more important to you than their comfort with technology. You will have to put more effort into training them but they will be more likely to stay and put up with some inconveniences as long as online teaching suits their needs.

The Interview process

You need to explain your exact needs, times, and where you see the company going. I would suggest you write down all the questions you need to ask and if possible, keep them out of sight of the interviewee as it can make them nervous if they see a (big)list of questions. After a while you will have them in your head and can concentrate on the interview and just occasionally glance at them. Make an effort to listen to the answers as your own nervousness may make you lack concentration. Interviewing is a constant learning process so always be prepared to learn and use that learning for future interviews. Always permit them to ask questions. Normally at the end but it doesn’t have to be. I always allowed questions at any stage. Show your positivity, and don’t get involved in any negativity. If you are excited about your business that will show.

Never make up your mind before the end of the process as that is unfair to all candidates. And try to make the process the same for all as again it is unfair otherwise. I have been offered the job in the course of interviews and been surprised. They decided they would not get anyone better but I always felt that they should have waited. A period of reflection is always important as you may have found yourself swayed by a good interviewee rather than the best candidate.

And that leads me onto my next blog. The post interview process.

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Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
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