Curt Crossley

The all important interview itself

How to perform well on the day

Now we move on to the most critical part of the hiring process - at least for most - the interview itself. Having already reminded people they should be dressed professionally and show up on time, I'll move right into the interview process itself.

Interviews in Thailand seem to range from a Thai person simply checking to see if you have the right "look," to more in-depth conversations between the candidate and one or two people responsible for hiring. I personally rarely spend less than an hour with a candidate for a job at my school, and often far longer. I figure an hour invested now, especially if the candidate doesn't impress me, is better than all the headaches that person might cause if I hired them blindly.

When meeting those who will be asking you questions, say hello and greet them warmly. Shake their hand firmly if it is appropriate. Be prepared to offer them a copy of your resume and other materials you may have forwarded by e-mail. It never hurts to be over-prepared and have your diploma and passport with you too.

The interview usually starts with a few questions from the interviewer. They range from why you came to Thailand, to how long you plan to be here, to why you decided to become a teacher. Try your best to answer these questions directly, and from the heart. Of course, if you came here because you had no degree, could not get a job in your country, and wanted an extended sex vacation, maybe a little fudging will be required. (Or maybe you should go home.) Most of us, though, can come up with some legitimate and respectable reasons for making the changes we made in our lives, and should be able to discern a reason or two we feel qualified to and interested in teaching.

The interviewer, if they are at all experienced, will also try to find "holes" in your resume and find out what happened during those unexplained periods of time. Be prepared to answer questions about long gaps in employment, changing jobs frequently, lapses in educational information, etc. All such questions are fair game.

Also, if you are expecting to avoid questions about your college/university experience, beware. At the most recent meeting of the newly created English Program Network of Thailand, which was founded by my school as a consortium of Thai schools who could work collaboratively on common issues, we spent a good amount of time discussing how to ferret out fake degrees. One easy way to do so is to ask about college experiences and see if the candidate has a reliable and confident recollection of his or her experiences. So don't be surprised to be asked about your favorite professor or class, or what kind of living arrangement you had at school, or anything else that will give the interviewer some clue as to the credibility of your candidacy.

By the way, a few folks seem to be personally concerned that my concerns about fake degrees stem from them. In fact, a couple of those employees were decent in the classroom, and I am not really concerned about their ability to occasionally dupe all too desperate employers. If someone wants to engage in hypocrisy and deceit about their own education when they are applying for a position that involves teaching children how to be responsible, educated and upstanding citizens, that's an issue for their own conscience. I am simply committed to making sure that during the interview the candidate's credentials are adequately vetted and the interviewer feels comfortable with the veracity of the resume or CV. Surely, folks without degrees will still slip through the cracks, but at least the entire responsibility for the fraud is left with the so-called "teacher" if the candidate is forced to answer legitimate and fair questions about their educational credentials.

Now back to the interview. When you are answering an employer's questions, be direct, clear and succinct. There is no need to ramble on for long periods of time. Clarify questions you don't understand so you don't miss the interviewers point entirely. And look the interviewer directly in the eyes when you speak. Nothing is more telling about a candidate than someone who furtively glances about the room while concocting contrived and useless responses to interview questions.

Also, don't be cocky. Sure you are a farang in Thailand - and work is relatively easy to find. Too much confidence, though, is just as damaging as a total lack thereof. Be humble, polite and sure of yourself - without overdoing it.

As the interview progresses, take notes mentally (or even on paper). Remembering what the interviewer is saying will help you towards the end of the interview, when you are asked if you have any questions. And, please, when asked if you have any questions, ask some! It is critical at that stage to demonstrate you have been listening and you care about the work environment you are interviewing to enter. Nothing is a bigger turn off to an interviewer than a candidate who sits like a stump on a log and cannot even think of two or three questions about what may be his future place of employment.

When asking questions, be reasonable! Don't ask if salary advances are available before you even have a job offer, for example. It kind of turns an employer off...kind of. Remember, too, that you are in Thailand, so don't ask ridiculous questions like, "Does the school allow students to make noise during lunch period while other classes are in session?" Or, even better, "are classes ever cancelled without notice?" (Two actual questions I have heard from unsuccessful candidates.) Remember where you are, or you end up shooting yourself in the foot quite effectively. Furthermore, make sure your questions don't inordinately focus on holidays, salary and benefits. Save those types of questions for the "acceptance conference," which I will write more about next time. Instead, at the interview, show an interest in the work, the resources, your future colleagues, and most importantly, the students you will possibly be teaching.

Towards the end of the interview, make sure you ask for a tour of the school if it was not offered already. Look at the classrooms, the other teachers there, the resources, and the working conditions. Do people, especially the teachers, look happy? Is the office well-lit and comfortable? These small clues will be some indication of what's to come if you are offered, and accept, a job there.

In Thailand, it seems to be the custom to make an offer at the end of the interview. I personally never do this, as I usually have several candidates to talk to and I believe in taking time to reflect on the interviews I conduct. If, however, you are offered a job - DON'T TAKE IT! (At least not immediately!) First of all, accepting immediately is a sign of desperation. Jobs are plentiful if you have your act together, so there is no hurry. If you believe the employer to be a good fit for you, simply express that and ask if you can have the afternoon to think it over, talk with some colleagues, etc. Tell the employer you will surely call them back within 24 hours, and do so - one way or the other. There is nothing unreasonable at all about taking a day to think a job offer over. In fact, it seems quite unreasonable not to!

Also, a forgotten art is the thank you note. No, I am not saying run down to the local Hallmark (are there any here?) and buy some fancy note cards. Just a quick e-mail thanking the interviewer for his or her time, and expressing continued interest if that is the case, will do. It can tip an unsure interview in your favor...and it takes 2 do it! (Just be careful not to send a thank you with lots of mistakes and typos, which could easily tip an unsure interview against you.)

Next time, we'll discuss the etiquette of accepting or declining an offer. Lots of "great" experiences in this country with people who say one thing, then do another. That's farangs who accept jobs and agree to start dates - not Thais! For now, happy interviewing!


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