leadership/management Tyson Seburn  

ELT cover letters & CVs

I’ve been vetting a concentrated amount of teaching applicants lately. Cover letters and CVs emailed to me never cease to amaze–some are truly awful. I flip flop between sympathy and fury. I desperately want to reply with suggestions and other times I want to ask if they are delusional. Neither is appropriate. Instead, based on the types of teaching positions I’ve posted ads for and the types of applications I’ve received, maybe a couple tips below will help someone seeking an ELT job (or give you reason to commiserate).

Learn about the specific teaching position you are applying for. To you, the point may be to get any teaching position you can, but not for the employer. Learn about the organisation; read about their programs; connect the position in the ad to the info you found. That’s impressive on a cover letter. Employers (who aren’t pressed for time) can see if you have sent the same letter to 50 job ads, especially when the name of the employer isn’t changed in part of the cover letter from a previous email sent to another school.  Major faux pas! *slap* Beyond this though, it’s important to realise what the employer is looking for and tailor what you say in your cover letter to that. Not all ELT positions require the same skills. One more point along these lines:  know your ELT acronyms. That helps.

Moral of the story: A generic “I want any teaching position” cover letter isn’t going to work for you. It sounds like you don’t really care.

Sorry, anything is not possible.

Be realistic given your experience and qualifications. You are living in a dream world if you just finished your TESL training and are applying for an EAP teacher at a major university. In fact, when you suggest your 50 hours of practicum experience with beginners has equipped you with the skills needed to be successful in this position, you insult the experienced professionals who dedicate their time to this position already, not to mention the person to whom you are applying and their ability to distinguish experience from inexperience. The old adage ‘it never hurts to apply’ isn’t true. It does when you are wildly unqualified. Aim for positions that are equivalent to or only slightly beyond your experience and qualifications.

Moral of the story: You need to start where you should start. Everyone pays their dues for experience.

Clearly emphasise the relevance of your transferable skills. I read a cover letter recently that listed a number of solid years of ELT experience and qualifications, but at the end, she stated “the reason I am most suited for this position is because I have been a journalist, a yoga instructor and numerologist.”  OK, right there – you lost me and a chance at this position. Make sure it’s clear why you said this.

Moral of the story: If you can’t explain what you mean in something as important as a job application, it’s unlikely you can do so in something as important as the classroom.

Be brief and to the point in your cover letter. Rambling on and on isn’t good.  Save details about all the positions you’ve held for the resume itself. Reread what you’ve written and try to get it into a few paragraphs at most. Speak about the position you’re applying for, how your experience and qualifications meet the requirements exactly and why your teaching style/philosophy suits it.

Moral of the story: Clarity, brevity and conciseness are virtues.

Oh no! It’s horrible! It’s… It’s… Comic Sans!

Use one or two fonts on your resume. It’s OK to use one font/style and one regular for body consistently. More than that and it becomes very messy. Consider visual appeal, so it’s easy to find information.  It doesn’t have to be too fancy (in fact, that’s a turn-off also), just clean and polished.  Show what is contextually appropriate. And please, no Comic Sans or Rage Italic.  Ever.

Moral of the story: Show that you’re interesting and dynamic through your lessons, not your electronic first impression.

If you tailor your resume material for the position, make sure it makes sense. It’s expected that you’ll reword duties and titles a little to emphasise relevant experience, but make sure everything still makes sense (e.g. dates aren’t out of order, jobs don’t inexplicably overlap in time, your duties seem reasonable for that point in your career, etc.).  Nothing says CV-smudging like being a Head ESL Instructor as your first job while completing your undergrad in Ottawa while also traveling through Thailand.

Moral of the story: Proofread. It does every situation good. < As I say this, a bead of sweat forms on my brow, as I worry that my proofreading on this post fails me somewhere…

Proof proofreading is important, no?

Quite honestly, when you get 100 applications for the same position, you look for reasons to weed people out.  Simple things like typos in an email can be easy ways to lose out on that interview opportunity, even if you are actually a great teacher. I hope a few of these suggestions might help someone out there when applying for the teaching position they really want.  For more fun job tip reading (not directly related), click here.

Do you have any other tips?


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33 thoughts on “ELT cover letters & CVs

  1. Vicky Loras

    Oh dear, it hurts to even read these CVs sometimes….these are good tips (and unbelievable that some people don’t have them in mind). I would also add using clear language and not too many flashy expressions (once we got a CV from someone who said he would “smash our expectations”. Ahem.)

    Good stuff, Tyson!

    1. seburnt

      Hahaha, “smash our expectations”! My favourite most recently is “I strongly believe that working for your university as an EAP instructor would be a great start to my TESL career.” Hahaha. Are you for real?

  2. Vicky Loras

    Oh my dear…let me remeber more…oh oh listen to this one: “I have been an actor for many years, but think I can use a change”. Heh?!?!

    1. seburnt

      Awful, truly awful. It’s appalling what some people will put in cover letters (or say in interviews).

  3. funkyhighness

    HAHAHAHA!!!! Thanks for a good laugh! I used to hire at a bookstore. This brought back memories.
    Me: Tell me about some of your good qualities.
    Applicant: uh…..I don’t really have any.
    Me: OK….. Why should I hire you?
    Applicant: ………….(crickets chirping)……………

    1. seburnt

      Someone who clearly wants the job.

  4. phil wade

    Can you give us some good examples Tyson?

    I remember reading one that said ‘very familiar with Market Leader Intermediate’. Another that included bus driving, waitressing and being in the army as experience.

    In China there was a student revolution when someone got hold of a teacher’s CV and it said she had been a life guard. Well, where do they think EFL teachers come from? Very few have a first degree in teaching and not many of the top level ones want to go to Asia for low salaries. I had a friend there who recruited foreigners and he said “it’s almost impossible to find a good teacher who hasn’t crawled out from under a rock”. I think he meant that there were weird people applying who just switched jobs. One guy owned a building company then suddenly became a teacher. Lots of uni graduates too from different disciplines. It does raise the issue of ‘when is someone classed as a teacher?’. Just because they get a student doesn’t make them one in my book.

    I think now I should do a 1 page summary CV but many schools in France seem to want a FULL CV which is bonkers.

    So, if we want to come and work for you where should we send our…..

    1. seburnt

      Examples? There’s a mishmash of them in the post itself. I wouldn’t want someone who actually applied to see ridiculous quotes from their cover letters and be horrified beyond repair.

      Going to Asia on one of those private language schools contracts completely appeals to those either wild personalities or runaways from something at home. The private language schools I was employed at in Korea housed quite a few wacky types with interesting backstories. Few were career teachers, but many were trying to pay off debts from school. Most were young.

      So when do those who teach become ‘teachers’? I’m thinking when they show commitment to the industry and their students.

  5. Karl Pilkington aka phil wade

    Dear Mr Tyson,

    I am a big fan. I love your blog. I read it every day over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    I really want to work with you, please please please let me.

    I have worked in different fast food restaurants for 20 years so I have intricate knowledge of bad food and unhealthy people. Also of being fired.

    I want to become a fast food English teacher. I know you teach EAT so I would be perfect.

    Your bigest fan.

    Karl Pilkington

    1. seburnt

      Dear Mr. Pilkington,

      Thank you for your interest in the teaching position with our program and the kind words about my blog. However, we have completed hiring for this session. Though your skill set does not fit the advertised position, I am confident your experience in the fast food industry may be an asset for other programs.


      Tyson Seburn

      1. Chris Cattaneo

        Excellent – both of you! 🙂

  6. DaveDodgson

    One tip I would give is to constantly keep your CV updated even when not job hunting. I think a lot of the mess-ups on job applications occur because someone tries to simply put a resume together in half a morning over a cup of coffee. In that case, you’re not really going to give a true represenation of your professional self, are you?

    I’m constantly adding to and editing mine with details of conferences I’ve attended/presented at, new projects I’ve been involved in at work, etc. Oh, and of course culling those things that were previously there just to fill space like ‘involved in the process of selecting suitable course materials’ which resulted from someone saying ‘Dave, we’re thinking of using this book next year’ and me replying ‘ok’ :p

    1. seburnt

      Hahaha, Dave. Those definitely fall into last category suggestion up in the post! With a lot of those teacher duties, I often think to myself as I’m reading them, don’t all teachers do this? 😉 Give me something special.

      Valuable advice otherwise. I have to admit I rarely update my CV.

  7. Bruno Andrade

    I really liked your post (as usual).
    Every teacher has a couple of stories concerning job applications, I suppose. In Brazil is very common to see things like “I have a degree in Economics. I am a native speaker, therefore I am able to teach English”.

    Last time a dear colleague interviewed teachers he asked what was last book concerning teaching they read. The answers ranged from “I haven’t read anything concerning teaching since I left school” and “Books about teaching. I didn’t even know there was such thing”

    Thanks for reminding us how important our profession is and how vital it is to state that clearly when applying for a job!


    1. Bruno Andrade

      Sorry about iPad typos!

    2. seburnt

      Yes, unfortunately that type of attitude towards being able to teach exists most places, I think. Fortunately, I don’t usually get that on an application.

  8. Ellen Servinis

    It’s not surprising that you’re receiving so many wildly unqualified applications. How many job ads do you ever see looking for entry level ESL teachers in Toronto? If you don’t already know the industry somewhat, it would be hard to know where to start.

    From the perspective of the applicant, it doesn’t hurt to apply to any job ad they see. It hurts you (the hirer) maybe, since you have to wade through so many applications, but it doesn’t really hurt the applicant; worst-case scenario: you toss their application.

    Maybe TESL training schools should include more job search information in their training; I remember mine was not very practical.

    1. seburnt

      Maybe it doesn’t hurt the applicant too much, unless of course you get some bastard who will remember your name forever… /cough/ But for entry-level jobs, I guess I’d think it common sense to start at private language schools or volunteer first. I guess not. You’re right though: TESL training could be a lot more practical in terms of helping (though CCLCS had a job posting board on their walls, I remember).

      1. Ellen Servinis

        Another important question – even with a realistic and appropriate resume, do entry-level jobs exist for all — or even half — of those newbie teachers? Or are TESL training institutions (in Toronto at least) flooding the market with teachers who are essentially unemployable? Perhaps for another blog post…

        1. seburnt

          No, there aren’t enough jobs for the number of people coming out of training courses. Maybe that’s a product of the length of the training course. If they were longer and more strenuous, perhaps not as many people would do it (not that the cost shouldn’t already be somewhat of a deterrent). Then again, it’s not really the responsibility of the training program to encourage people not to try, is it? Does any other field suggest to its training applicants that they’d better reconsider their choice?

          1. Ellen Servinis

            No, I wouldn’t expect training institutions to self-regulate to that extent. But I think organizations like TESL Ontario and TESL Toronto — who represent teachers and not training schools — can play a role in promoting realistic career expectations.

          2. seburnt

            I think we’re being the voice of reasonable reason (?) with the membership through the Employment Evening and of course, your frank Q&A replies. 😉

          3. Tyson Seburn

            Actually, see this post (http://fourc.ca/eltjob/)… I mentioned this very issue.

  9. AnnLoseva

    You know how universities handle it here? They don’t announce any vacancies, anywhere, ever.
    A teacher will 99% be a former student, a relative, a friend, or a friend of a friend.

    1. seburnt

      Good strategy perhaps. I have to admit that it is often a who-you-know as much as a what-you-know sometimes here too. Networking does get you places.

  10. Carolyn

    Excellent post! And excellent comments! As a result of difficulty in finding full-time teaching that could financially support me, I returned to a previous role outside of teaching. I was lucky enough to find something part-time that fit into my schedule after that. There are many people like me that teach part-time, but take their work seriously. As for silly resume gaffes, you see them in every industry and role. I sympathize with your task of sifting though. Chin up! And i hope it turned out well.

    1. Tyson Seburn

      If you are any indication Carolyn, part-time teachers are just as dedicated as anyone. =) By the way, where’s that post of grammatical undoing and typos galore? 😉

      1. Carolyn

        On its way, my friend! And now i can link to this post as it’s related! Love it!

  11. Sue Swift

    My pet hate – cover letters which start “Dear Sir”.

    1. Tyson Seburn

      I bet, Sue! I’m also not a fan of “Dear Hiring Manager” (take some time to get a name!) or “Dear Mr. Tyson Seburn” (conventionally it’s Mr. Seburn).

  12. Yvonne

    I never research the company unless it is a really great job which is very rare in EFL.
    The first piece of advice just put me off the whole article. Basically telling teachers that they owe something to a private company that will exploit them. If you are sending your CV round for many jobs why would you write a new cover letter every time? How terrible it must be to have to receive application forms from all these teachers who just do not have a clue. Forgetting that your salary is paid for by the work of the teachers. My advice is if there are 100 applicants applying for one job, try private tuition, it has always worked for me. Companies and managers who think that teachers owe them something (this has got nothing to do with teaching ability) are not worth it, they have no respect for teachers and I have never worked well with people like that. They talk down to you and are often bullies.

    1. Tyson Seburn

      Interesting point of view, Yvonne. Being a teacher in the program people are applying for myself, I have to disagree with most of what you’ve said regarding their exploitation, not to mention where my salary comes from.

      I imagine that when that dream job in ELT does come around, if you want it badly enough, you’ll likely follow some of the ideas in this post. Hope your experience at job hunting improves.


  13. Mellyn Education » ELT Resume Tips

    […] To read a bit deeper on the subject, here’s a post I found interesting on ELT cover letters & CVs. […]

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