Sunday, November 7, 2010

Questions Over Tea (In-Person Interviews)

Last week I went to two in-person interviews at two completely different types of schools. From what I experienced I can see that the competition is fierce and schools have the upper hand.

The first interview was at a hagwon or private academy. I am not really looking to work at a hagwon since I have gotten use to not teaching kindy and I like the public school schedule. But I was sold by the ad and I knew the recruiter. He basically sold the school as one of the best. Indeed, as the interview developed,  I realized it really was a diamond amongst them all. The interview was on Thursday, after work, and I showed up on-time.

I was greeted by one of the head teachers and was told to take a seat, while she got me a cup of tea. Then she came back in along with another head teacher. I was told usually they conduct the interview with all the teachers and the director, but due to the timing that wasn't happening.

Their questions were really serious and a few took me by surprise. Although I was nervous I tried my best to answer honestly and to share points that I thought would show me as a good candidate. Here are some of the questions they asked:
  • What are your strengths? 
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What would you do if there was a bully in the class?
  • What would you do if there was a shy student in the class?
  • Are you comfortable teaching kindergarten? 
Then I met with the director who pointed out aspects of the contract and asked me a few similar questions. The other two left the meeting (I said thank you and shook their hands) and I was left with the director. He asked me if I had any questions about the contract and I just asked simple things like sick days.  Then he showed me around the school and I complimented him on how nice it looked, and lastly I was out the door.

Although I felt really positive and excited after the interview I found out today that they didn't pick me. There were 4 positions and the recruiter told me they interviewed 7 people. In a way I feel kind of left out of this "secret club" of well treated hagwon workers with amazing pay and an amazing house. But then I also feel relieved because it would have been a 40 hour work week (36 teaching) that included kindergarten kids. At this time, when I am thinking of upgrading to middle school kids, downgrading to kindy doesn't really make sense.

Then came Friday where I had an interview all the way up in Nowon, Seoul.
This was for a Private Elementary School, meaning it goes by the regular public school schedule and has within it all the usual benefits. But instead of using the national curriculum they give English teachers a subject to teach like Math, Science or Language Arts. One of the eye catching parts of this job was that you get to have your own classroom and own grade to teach. 

I was excited for this job but the hagwon left me excited to teach for them. However, I tried my best to show enthusiasm at the interview.

I had to leave work after lunch on Friday to get to the school in Nowon at 3:30. Indeed, it took me nearly two and a half hours to get there. I walked up a tree lined street with large apartments on all sides, which made me wonder where the teachers lived. Then I came to the school, which was like a public school but with a great make-over. The kids were running around wearing uniforms and matching little yellow backpacks.

I found the meeting room and was told to take a seat and the coordinator would be down soon. I waited for him over a cup of warm tea. When he came he looked tired and busy. In fact he told me that he has been having a lot of interviews and because of this has been busy. He told me he didn't really have the time to look over my details closely. I said "no problem" and that "he could ask me anything."

As he asked me questions and listened to me talk he looked over my resume and cover letter. Some of his questions were:
  • How do you feel about teaching Math?
  • Do you need the housing deposit? 
  • What grades do you like most?
  • Why do you like teaching?
  • What are your best characteristics?
  • Do you consider yourself a really organized person?
The "Math" question was due to that he noticed I have a degree in art and that he has gotten a lot of applicants with a degree in art. I told him honestly that I would never really imagine myself teaching math, but that doesn't mean I don't like it.  I expressed my happiness in the math classes I took in college. He was a bit surprised to hear I took math in college, so I explained to him that it was part of the basic requirements for getting the degree. Also I told him that in class there will likely to be students who don't like math so it will be up to the teacher's skills to make him interested. I was trying to make the point that a math major isn't necessary to teach math. He seemed impressed.

The "organized person" question was his way of indirectly asking me if I don't mind it when my manager asks me to do something at the last minute. In other words, how do I handle the Korean work environment? I first answered with the typical, "Yes, I am organized" and then switched into, "Yes I don't mind getting information at the last moment." Basically telling him that I have adjusted to the Korean work environment and understand it all. He smiled at this.

All I can gather from this interview is that the guy has a lot of candidates and so many number of positions. The school has 23 Native Teachers already teaching grades 1 - 6, so I suppose a bundle of those aren't staying on board. He told me he has to work out who fits where and will get back to me by the end of next week. On my way out there was already another guy ready for his interview. Oh, I forgot to mention that I brought with me a folder of my summer camp work to show him. He looked at it and seemed impressed.

I left feeling good about this interview, but at the same time unsure since the guy was a little out of it. I am excited for the school and it's program but not the location.

More opportunities come up every week on Dave's ESL job board and elsewhere. Plus I have a few recruiters on the job. But regular public schools are still too early to look for. In the end, I don't really want to move away from this area and feeling queezy about living in the cement-blockade that is Seoul. But I really want a good challenge next year and will apply to schools that I see could provide this.

Monday is coming ~ what opportunities are around the corner?


  1. From what I've heard from recruiters, this is actually the right time to start applying and getting your paperwork in for public schools (I still get the e-mails from Footprints).

    As for Nowon - it's a little north of the main action, but two subway lines close by can take you anywhere around the city :)

  2. One of the worst interview questions I've ever gotten (this was in the US) was "What would your harshest critic have to say about you?" - which they asked after already asking what my greatest weakness was (I'd prepared a BS answer for that one!) and I was completely at a loss as to what to say... especially since "bitch slept with my boyfriend" was the very first thing that popped into my mind and that was hardly appropriate!

  3. That's funny Jane. I couldn't imagine what I would do at that moment. Probably come up with something at least half-way decent. haha


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