Here’s something you never thought you would read about the CELTA interview: it will be one of the nicest interviews you will ever have.
In order to understand why, we first need to understand the purpose of the CELTA interview. The interview is usually the last stage of the CELTA candidate screening process, coming after both an application form and a pre-interview task have been submitted to the training center. This is, therefore, the final opportunity for both the candidate and the center to get enough information about each other to make that ever so momentous decision: to start the CELTA journey in earnest with each other or not.
Wherefore Art Thou, Interview?
Given this context, here are, succinctly, the goals of the CELTA interview:
For the center to present the CELTA course in general, and the way they in particular run their course;
For the candidate to understand fully and clearly what he or she is getting into;
For both the candidate and the center to use this information to make sure that this is the right time for the candidate to take the course.
It’s this last point which is crucial. Indeed, if the center and the candidate have reached this final stage of the screening process, both parties are clearly serious about each other: the center wants the candidate’s business, and the candidate wants to take the CELTA course. The real, deep, secret purpose of the CELTA interview is to make sure that neither of the two parties is making a mistake.
All on the Same Side
The consequences of a mistake would be serious for everyone involved. A candidate who takes the course at a stage of their life where they are not ready will be making a huge investment in time, money, and energy, only to have his or her dreams brutally dashed by a negative result.
Conversely, a center that makes a mistake at the interview stage will have to invest more time and energy on supporting this candidate during the course, unbalance that candidate’s TP group, with less support going to the other candidates, and face possible heat from the Cambridge assessor for accepting a candidate that shouldn’t have been accepted onto a CELTA course; in addition, a center that has to fail a candidate, or numerous candidates, will eventually suffer from negative word of mouth.
Finally, there is the human cost for everyone involved: weak candidates will face a dire stressful situation, and the trainers will feel that same pain vicariously, in addition to the guilt of having put this person in this situation—whereas a much easier solution would have been to advise the candidate to take the course at a later date.
And that is why the CELTA interview itself, in spite of the high stakes, is usually a lovely, enjoyable experience: everyone wants to avoid a mistake. Everyone is on the same side!
Teacher, Trainer, Interviewer, Friend
The same can be said, of course, of any interview with a small business owner, in which the interviewer and the interviewee will be working closely together in the future.
The difference is that the interviewer on a CELTA course—or, in any case, on English for Africa’s CELTA course—is also a teacher trainer. It is their job, quite literally, to know how to give feedback clearly, including negative feedback, in a detailed, complete, and easy-to-understand way, where the focus is on the candidate’s professional development. They are trained to be supportive and have lots of practice doing so—in particular when giving post-lesson feedback. It’s their goal to help people develop, and that includes interviewees at the CELTA interview.
Top Tip 1: Be Honest
So, quite unequivocally, the best way to succeed at a CELTA interview is to be honest—because success doesn’t mean being accepted onto the course, it means understanding whether this is the right time to take the course or not.
Just knowing this should make the interview experience much less stressful. However, your interviewer isn’t only interested in knowing more about you, they will also be evaluating you, in particular your language level, and your ability to communicate effectively.
Of course, we all know that stress levels have a big impact on our ability to communicate. So how do you reduce stress levels when going into the interview? By knowing what will happen in advance.
Top Tip 2: Knowing What is Going to Happen Next
Just as a student in a listening lesson will listen better if they know the format of what they are listening to (thus lowering the affective filter), the interviewee will feel less stressed and have an easier time if they know the format of the interview. So here is how we at English for Africa run our interviews (and how most other centers organize theirs as well):
A timed writing task: At the beginning of the interview (or, if it takes place online, before the interview) you will be given a writing task that you must complete within a given lapse of time (usually 10 to 15 minutes). The timed writing task is a Cambridge requirement, and is a compulsory part of the application process for all centers.
A presentation of the course: Each center organizes its course in a different way. This is the part of the interview where the interviewee can start to get a feel for the center and, if the interviewer is also going to be a trainer on the course, also get a better understanding of their future trainer.
An interview task: This is where the trainer will present you with an oral task, the purpose of which is almost never to check the depth or breadth of your pedagogical knowledge—after all, the CELTA course is an initiation to teaching course, which requires no prior specialist knowledge. The real purpose of this phase of the interview is to see how well you communicate in impromptu circumstances.
A discussion of your application documents: The trainer might review your pre-interview or your timed writing task with you, looking in particular at mistakes you made or language errors. Here, the trainer is looking out for three things: your ability to self-correct, to learn quickly when the trainer explains the mistake to you, and to take feedback, all of which are crucial skills to have once you actually start your course.
An explanation of the workload and the type of commitment the course will require of you.
At the end of the interview, or shortly thereafter, the result is communicated to the candidate. Regardless of the result, for the trainer, the focus is always going to be the candidate’s professional development.
Top Tip 3: Focus on your Professional Development
Perhaps the most important takeaway from the CELTA course, for any candidate, is the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness for one’s professional development. This is the key to succeeding on the course, but also the key to succeeding at the interview.
The trainer who interviews you is focused on your professional development, and will accept you onto the course if this is what they deem to be the best option for your professional development. If you, the potential candidate, are also focused on your professional development, regardless of whether you are accepted or not, you will accept the result and use the interview to guide you on your road to becoming a better teacher.
If you are accepted onto the CELTA course, that road is very clear. However, if you are not accepted onto the course, don’t forget to ask your interviewer why, and also, crucially, what you should do in order to get ready to take the course at another time.
If your interviewer is a trainer worth their salt, they will have some solid advice for you, based on what they’ve seen of your application materials, as well as your performance during the interview. They will want you to come back to take the course with them later, and more importantly, as teacher trainers, they will have an intrinsic desire to see you develop as a teacher. If they don’t give you some solid pointers, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t be taking the course with them anyway.
Listen to your interviewer closely at this stage, and take notes. And get ready to come back again. Self-development is what the CELTA is about, but the CELTA is only one part of developing as a teacher. Self-development is an attitude and a goal. If you remain focused on your professional development, have no doubt, one day, the CELTA certificate will be yours.