I am finishing up the interview process. I learned a lot. Currently, China is 12 hours ahead of the US East Coast. Therefore, my interviews with China are typically scheduled for 9 or 10 am China time, which is 9 or 10 pm my time the night before. So as my day is winding down, I have to keep reminding myself on a Sunday or Wednesday night: “Don’t forget your interview. Don’t forget your interview…”
Most of the advice you get online says to smile, be confident, speak slowly, and dress professionally. I would add: Don’t get flustered or defensive even when some questions feel strange, use short sentences and simple vocabulary, stay away from metaphors and comparisons, and try to put the interviewer at ease (even though their English is usually good, they are probably afraid of embarrassing themselves by making mistakes.) Since Chinese is a tonal language, there is little room for “melody” in spoken Chinese. Therefore, when Chinese people speak English, it often sounds a little harsh and monotone – the way we would speak if we were expressing criticism or discontent through our intonation without actually saying anything – that passive-aggressive, “I’m great. Life is good. Don’t worry about me…” that means you are anything but okay… I had to tell my ears and my brain repeatedly to listen to the words, not the “sound” and the “feel” of what was said.
Here are impressions from my latest interview (after we tried Skype and WeChat without success due to internet issues, the interviewer called me on the phone):
Interviewer: Hello, can you hear me?
Me: Yes, I can hear you well.
Interviewer: Then let’s start the interview. Why do you want to come to China to teach English?
Me (a little taken aback): I have always been interested in China. I even studied Chinese and Chinese culture in college a long time ago.
Interviewer: You have a Masters degree?
Me: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: It is in counseling.
Me: Yes, it is.
Interviewer: What school did you go to?
Me: I went to a small school North of Boston called Gordon-Conwell.
Interviewer: Is it a real college? I looked it up. It said seminary.
Me: Yes, it has a school of theology and it also has a school of counseling.
Interviewer: So, you have a real degree?
Me (feeling a little defensive and trying not to react): Yes, it is an accredited school and the degree is recognized everywhere in the US.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Then we talked a little bit about the job itself. I would be an “oral English teacher”. The students have a Chinese teacher who teaches English grammar and vocabulary. They can typically read and write English, but they don’t speak much.
Me: So my job is to make the students feel comfortable speaking English, correct?
Interviewer: Yes. How would you do that?
Me: It often helps to find out how the students might use English in their lives. Will some of them need English for their jobs? Or to study abroad?
Interviewer (hesitant): Not really. They study English because the government says to study English. How would you teach those students?
Me (again, slightly taken aback): We would find topics they are interested in. It is often difficult for students to speak because they are afraid of making mistakes. We would find ways to make it as comfortable as possible for the students to experiment with language and not be as afraid of making mistakes.
She seemed happy enough with my answer and we then talked about the details of the job, including the benefits and the pay.
A few hours later (I’m in bed now, it’s 11:30 pm my time), I receive a text asking if I was interested in teaching finance, accounting, or economics. Well, I did study those in college, but that was 20 years ago. I don’t think I’m qualified. So I graciously declined – via text.
After the interview, the interviewer has to talk to their supervisor, the person who makes the actual decision about whom to hire. And then someone usually gets back with you within a week via Skype, WeChat, or email to let you know if the school wants to offer you a job or not. Let’s see what happens.