The Ultimate Interview Guide for Online ESL Teaching

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who, what, when, how and why
Author: Emily Shea Published on: Feb. 21, 2019 Expected Reading Time: 5 mins

So, you want to get into online ESL teaching, but don’t know where to start? This is the blog for you! I have worked with four different online companies primarily targeting English language learners from China. The English language market has tapped into native English speakers based around the world with their online education platforms. Most of the students are younger learners- anywhere from 2 to 16 years old. However, there are companies that target adult learners - I once taught a 76-year-old man who located in Hong Kong!

Getting the contact

Social media groups are a great place to get caught up on the latest policies, salaries and other nuances of online ESL teaching, and help you decide which company in which to apply. Facebook contains numerous groups that provide support and advice to new and seasoned teachers. Personal referrals or recruitment firms can help you fast track the hiring process. My last recruiter contacted me a few times in the beginning months providing just that little extra support that I didn’t realize I needed!

The main differences that I have experienced between the four companies are the policies and communication. Policies can change rapidly. Last year the Chinese government required a teaching credential that online ESL companies based in China had to comply. Many of my colleagues were stuck over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday searching for an ESL course.

Communication with management can be challenging due to the time zone and language differences. Most communication is through Skype, Dingtalk, or WeChat, often in Chinese and English. Scheduling requirements, salary payments, and fines are key factors in your contract but they can change without a clear message. Some online ESL companies can deduct your pay when you make a mistake - such as entering into the class late or requesting time off with short notice.

Providing the Required Documents

Your resume or CV should highlight your face-to-face and online teaching experiences. As previously mentioned you will need a teaching credential. It doesn’t seem like most companies are picky about which certificate you should have but a TEFL increases your options and pay. Most companies require a bachelor's degree or an English speaking country passport. A background check from your country of residence may be required. You should state your nationality and have a photo on your CV or resume depending on which country the company is based. Countries have different customs and laws with regards to private information.


Prepare for your interview by setting up your teaching space. Select a quiet, very well lit corner or desk. Behind your chair hang a map and perhaps some English expressions or an alphabet. I prefer the space to be clutter free and simple. Before or during the interview you may be instructed to do a speed test for your internet connection. Generally, a minimum speed of 1 Mbps for upload and download or higher is required. Wear a professional top, look neat and presentable. I wear bright lipstick to show a contrast in the video chat. Professional looks do matter, but most of all prepare to smile and be bubbly in the interview.

The Interview

My experience with the interviews has always been with really friendly, young people with very good English. Questions about your teaching experience, nationality (as in passport), ages of learners that you have taught or interacted with are asked. Not a difficult conversation. It seems like the interviewer probably has a script and a checklist. Often they may be in a busy office with lots of background noise and action. Interviews may be scheduled during normal business hours in the local time zone. Once I had an interview at 2:30 am!

Teaching Demo

Most likely during the interview process, you will need to do a teaching demo. The interviewer may act as the English language learner and you will teach a designated lesson. The lesson will be available prior to the interview. Prepare by designing an active, engaging lesson plan. Check your lighting, ensure that it is very bright and that shadows are not going to fall across the video screen, due to the position of the lights. Always greet your student by name. Chinese names can be hard to pronounce. It is common for the learner to have an English name. One colleague of mine said her student’s parent asked her to determine her students’ English name!

While teaching use lots of Total Physical Response (TPR). Common gestures in ESL are to bring your fingers to your mouth to highlight pronunciation and point to your ear when you would like the learner to repeat. Time management can be tricky in the short demos (and in the real lessons). Ensure that you are able to complete the lesson or demonstrate that you can manage time. Provide enough time, in the end, to say goodbye to your student with lots of waves and praise.

The Job Offer

Upon receiving an offer of employment you will need to determine your schedule. Some companies require a minimum number of hours per week, or that you must work on Saturday or Sunday (Beijing Time Zone). Peak hours are times when they need lots of teachers. Try to design a schedule that you will be able to commit to on a consistent basis as many companies are strict about requesting leave or changing your hours. This can result in fines or loss of bonuses. The rate of pay that you are offered is often a base wage that can be increased through professional add-on wages. Bonuses could also be contingent on high ratings from your students.

Banking and Payment Information

Online ESL companies may pay in the local currency or in U.S. dollars. Be aware that the exchange rates vary and change. For one company I worked for two years ago, the value of the hourly rate declined by $4 U.S. until now - solely by the fluctuating rates between the two currencies. Moreover, some banks will charge you for an international transaction. Check with your bank on the fees, and calculate that into your expected salary. Payment is often possible through PayPal or WeChat but often a small percentage is charged for those transactions.  

TwoSigmas are currently hiring online ESL teachers. Want to apply with an established and reputable company that can support you through the entire hiring process? You can apply by visiting the following link:

Emily is an online English teacher herself and can be contacted on LinkedIn here:

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