The perfect CV and cover letter for a TEFL teacher

Summary: Tips for a CV for teaching general English to adults

Getting an English teaching job abroad is becoming easier all the time, even if you don\'t have the university degree and 4 week certificate in TEFL that have always long been the minimum requirements. At the same time, though, getting a good teaching job in a good school is becoming increasingly difficult as the number of TEFL teachers with 10, 20 or even 30 years experience is increasing. This article aims to give you some hints to mean you don\'t have to wait until you have 30 years experience to get your CV noticed by the director of a good school, and to make sure when you do have 30 years experience it is much more impressive than the experience that all the other teachers in the same position at that time.


As someone who in a previous had to sift through hundreds of CVs in the first week of September every year to choose the 8 or 9 people we would give an interview to, I\'ve gained a very good idea of what makes an English teaching CV stand out- experience that I\'ve managed to use to make my own CV noticed for several jobs I was theoretically underqualified for. Some of the tips below are just things you can make sure you don\'t miss out of your CV, while others are things you will need to think about throughout your career to make sure you build up the experience and qualifications you will need to make your CV really stand out. Perfect CVs for teachers of children and Business and ESP students will be dealt with in other articles.


Education and Qualifications

For me, the perfect teaching CV qualifications section would consist of a good undergraduate degree in English (2:1 or above, foreign languages a second best to English), Cambridge CELTA or similarly well known 4 week certificate (preferably a B or above, even better if from a well known course provider like International House in London), DELTA or similar Diploma level practical teaching qualification and then an MA in ELT (preferably with a well known professor or two teaching you). For those of us who haven\'t managed to put all of these together, other things you might want to mention are:

1.        The things necessary to pass your teaching qualification, e.g. number of observed teaching hours, grammar tests and other graded written work, number of hours in input sessions, different levels of students taught, materials used, any positive comments from your trainers about your teaching

2.        Other qualifications in English, e.g. English Literature A Level, and how it could be useful and relevant to teaching someone English as a second language.

3.        Any qualifications in foreign languages and what you learnt about language teaching from that experience

4.        Any other teaching qualifications you have, e.g. a Postgraduate Certificate in Education in primary school teaching, with descriptions of how that could be relevant to teaching English to foreign adults, e.g. any children you taught who had English as a second language or having to correct the grammar and spelling of your students


One thing to bear in mind is that the person reading your CV might not understand much about the education system of the country you are from and/ or the qualifications available for TEFL teachers, so some brackets after each qualification telling them what it means might be useful, e.g. Trinity CTEFLA (the second most popular teaching qualification for English teachers in the UK, connected to Trinity College London), A Level in English Language Grade A (top 10% mark in the standard university entrance level exam in the UK), or BSc in Physics from Birmingham (recently named the 10th best university in Britain in a Newsweek report).


Work Experience

Here are some of the factors that can make different kinds of TEFL work experience stand out from just a pure number of years in the classroom and that you will want to make clear in your CV if possible:

1.        Have you taught the same kind of classes and the same kind of students as you will need to in the job you are applying for?

2.        How many years of your total classroom experience have you taught since your most recent teaching qualification(s) (e.g. post-Diploma experience)?

3.        What class sizes have you taught (including large classes and 1 to 1)?

4.        What levels have you taught?

5.        Have you taught intensive courses?

6.        What difficult classes and situations have you had to deal with, e.g. students who can\'t read and write in English, mixed level classes, blind and deaf students, students with learning problems, minimal resources, or classrooms where people can\'t move around?

7.        What technology relevant to teaching have you used both inside and outside the classroom, e.g. OHP, PowerPoint presentations, language lab?

8.        What did you do while you were teaching to make sure your level of skill was increased, e.g. having and giving observations, attending and giving teaching workshops, reading teaching books and magazines, feedback and grading from your students?

9.        Have you taught exam classes such as TOEIC or TOEFL? If so, were you involved in writing and marking mock exams?

10.    Did you volunteer for or were you given any additional responsibilities, e.g. making up supplementary files for a textbook you were using, or organizing the staff and/ or student social programme?

11.    Have you used any particularly up to date and/ or popular textbook series?

12.    Have you given any special interest courses, e.g. "How to take a job interview in English" or "Learning English through songs"?

13.    Did you manage to make any particular improvements in your last school, e.g. introducing a new system for sharing lesson ideas, or testing and recommending a new range of textbooks?

14.    Have you worked for schools that are well known and respected, e.g. the British Council, schools which have a branch in the UK which are certified by the British Council, schools which have contracts with important local organisations such as providing language training to the local government, schools that provide training for teaching qualifications such as the DELTA?

15.    Have you been involved in level checking and setting progress check etc. tests?


For people whose TEFL teaching experience doesn\'t fill up the page yet (or are worried about leaving a gap in their job history in case someone thinks they have been locked away for a while!), other relevant work experience can include:

1.        Any other teaching experience, including tutoring

2.        Any other work with people, e.g. care work, customer service

3.        Any other work that involves standing up in front of other people and talking, e.g. sales

4.        Any work that involved travelling or living abroad, or that involved dealing with people who don\'t speak English well

5.        Any work that involved the English language, e.g. proofreading or editing

6.        Any work that involved explaining things to non-experts

7.        Any other work that involves lots of preparation in your free time

8.        Any other full time jobs at all, to prove you can get up in the morning and get through to the end of the week


Jobs you might want to downgrade or leave out include:

1.        Any jobs you quit

2.        Any jobs that involved just you and a computer and no human contact

3.        Any jobs that were very high status or very high paid, because they might wonder if you can cope with being "just an English teacher"



It might well be worth finding out if the person who will be reading your CV will be British or American, or what a CV usually looks like in the country you are applying to, because the amount of space you can give to hobbies varies a lot. Relevant hobbies on any kind of CV for a TEFL teacher include:

1.        Language learning

2.        Involvement in drama at school or university, or other experience of standing up and speaking in front of a group of people such as giving presentations or being in a debating club

3.        Writing

4.        Travel (but don\'t make it sound like you are a permanent backpacker who will be gone after 3 months)

5.        Any other hobbies that could show why you want to work in the area where the job and so will be likely to stay, e.g. art galleries in Madrid, diving in Thailand, marshal arts in Japan


Other information to include

Other things that could be a selling point include:

1.        Being an examiner for IELTS, FCE, BULATS etc.

2.        Having published articles etc. in (preferably well-known) TEFL magazines and websites

3.        Having been involved in teacher training, even if that just means that people on a CELTA course observed one of your classes or that you did peer observations in your last school

4.        Your level in the language of the place you want to work

5.        Any experience you have of being in the country you are applying to work in or similar countries, or any experience teaching and/ or mixing with people from that  country

6.        Already having a work visa or spouse visa or other necessary paperwork sorted out

7.        Already having local accommodation sorted out


Other hints

In many countries, having a copy of your CV or at least the cover letter translated into the local language can help. Making sure this fits the local format etc. for CVs can also help you make your English language CV more fitting for local conditions.


The points above are a mix of things you will want to include in your CV and things you will want to include in your cover letter. In theory, your CV should be something you could send out to any employer (although in reality you might want to polish it up a little to give more prominence to things that are particularly relevant for the job you are applying for), so it should not mention anything about a particular kind of teaching job or particular country unless you want it to be assumed that you are only applying for those kinds of jobs. Your cover letter should include a very brief summary of your CV (some Directors of Studies only look at the CV if it seems worthwhile from the cover letter, while others only look at the cover letter if the CV looks good) as well as information specific to the job you are applying for, such as why you especially want it and why you are especially suitable for it, as well as information relevant to the country or area the job is in.



As well as showing you what relevant information to include on your CV to get a good job, hopefully the list of things you need on a CV has also shown you how to judge what a good job is- it is one that will give you exactly the kinds of experience that is mentioned above, allowing you to improve your CV and step up to a job that allows you to gain even more of that experience and so on...

Copyright © 2008

Written by Alex Case for

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