What do recruiting headteachers look for?

Relevant qualifications

The UK curriculum is different to other countries’, particularly with regard to planning, and so are teaching qualifications. You may want to have your teaching qualifications assessed by the relevant country assessor before you apply to move country. Experience in the international baccalaureate is becoming highly desirable in international schools although many run a version of the UK school curriculum including GCSEs and A-Levels. Research the relevant curriculum for your subject well ahead of interview.

“The IB is becoming a gold standard and is a passport to a job in many international schools.”

High levels of adaptability

Successful teachers have a high tolerance for uncertainty and change, particularly if they are destined for a politically volatile or economically developing part of the world. Simple things that you take for granted, such as favourite products on the supermarket shelves and programmes on the television are not available.

“We’re looking for individuals who can adjust well and won’t carry too much cultural baggage.”

An international outlook

An international perspective is vital and while experience travelling will help, it will not be taken as a guarantee of your suitability. Questions you need to reflect on and express include: What have you gained from your travels? Have you worked alongside overseas teachers? Remember, your love of travel should not be the main theme of your application – headteachers want to know that first and foremost that you want to settle at and contribute to their school.

“Travelling around the world in five star hotels is no indicator of your resilience.”

Exceptional verbal communication

Many interviews are conducted by Skype nowadays, but low bandwidth in some countries may mean that the video is quickly switched off, once they’ve seen your face. This means that the interview relies on verbal communication more than the normal face-to-face interview where sympathetic body language will count more. Practise using the STAR technique - situation, task, action result - when explaining how you have dealt or learn from a particular experience. Keep answers short and succinct, no more than 1.5 minutes per answer.

“When the interview is voice-only, on the telephone, your verbal communication must be outstanding.”

Extra evidence

Because teachers are rarely interviewed face-to-face on the school campus, you may need to provide more evidence to support your written application in the form of a portfolio. Evidence that may strengthen your application includes proof of your ability to handle parents, such as demonstrated in school surveys or written testimonials. A sample of an outstanding lesson plan and student work may also help your case.

“Find out whether the school would be interested in receiving evidence before sending and be highly selective in what you send or it could count against you.”

“What frustrates you most in school?”

It’s a question that some schools may well ask you as your answer is a good indicator of your tolerance levels. If your reply is a low-level factor, such as pupils giving in homework late, this may be a warning signal to the recruiter – and you – that overseas teaching is not for you. Of course it depends on the destination country. Acclimatisation will not be such a big deal in a Western European country.

“In certain parts of the world a power outage may be a daily occurrence and there may be a difficult and daily commute.”

Extra-curricular oomph

This is almost as important as being a subject specialist, particularly in overseas, ex-pat communities where international schools can become the focal point. The teacher who packs up their bags at 3pm will not be looked upon kindly. However if you have lots of energy plus enthusiasm, hobbies and expertise outside your subject area, this will all work in your favour.

“The life of the school continues in excursions, clubs, concerts and socials well after the classroom bell rings and your will be needed for chaperoning and coaching.”


Teachers travelling and working abroad must have the maturity to deal with parents who may have different cultural values. Parent of students in international schools may be pushier than in the UK, especially if they are fee-paying. And you won’t just have to deal with them at parents’ evenings. An international school is a focal point for the ex-pat community and you can expect parents to be present - and vocal - in many extra-curricular activities you are involved in.

“Teachers may be dealing with the parent who constantly wants to helicopter in calls for a degree of patience and resilience.”

Marital status

Most schools look for a balance in the age, genders and marital status of their teaching staff. So it’s not necessary to be young and single - although adventurous always helps. A school may like the stability that a married candidate and his or her family bring to the school life. Similarly, schools usually wish to recruit a range of nationals onto their teaching staff to reflect their international ethos.

“It’s worth asking about the current balance of the teaching staff to get an idea of how you would fit in. “

The quotes come from: David  Hunter, principal of International School, Cape Town, Jeremy Lewis, head teacher, ACS Egham, Elaine Melton, human resources, ACS International Schools andPenny Kontopyrghou, manager of international recruitment, Hays Education


Where to go for more information on what heads look for

Read TheoGriff’s advice to jobseekers on what employers look for

Get more information on the International Baccalaureate

Read the conversations on the TES teaching overseas forum


Check the organisations of international schools

Council of International Schools (CIS)

European Council of International Schools

Headmasters’ and Headmistresses Conference – Overseas member

Latin American Heads’ Conference

British Schools n the Middle East

Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools

Federation of British International Schools of South East Asia and East Asia

East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools (EARCOS)

Association of China and Mongolian International Schools

Mediterranean Association of International Schools

Japanese Council of International Schools (JCIS)

Swiss Group of International Schools

National Association of International Schools in Spain

Association of International Schools in Africa


Check the school groups

Some of the most prestigious international schools in the world are part of groups including:

United World Colleges

English Schools Foundation

GEMS Education

Dulwich College Management International

World Class Learning Group

Educational Services Overseas Limited

Yew Chung Education Foundation


Finding a teaching job overseas

We list hundreds of international teaching on the TES website every week, here are some of the most popular job searches:

Take a look at all the international teaching and lecturing jobs currently advertised on TES

Check out all the headship jobs in international schools

View all the classroom teacher jobs overseas

Find all the overseas head of department roles

Find all the Director/principal jobs overseas

Find all the deputy headteacher jobs overseas


International jobs by workplace

Overseas teaching jobs in secondary education

Overseas teaching jobs in primary education

Overseas teaching jobs in nursery education

Overseas teaching jobs in further education

Overseas teaching jobs in special education


Overseas jobs by regions

Overseas teaching jobs in North America

Overseas teaching jobs in South America

International teaching jobs in Africa

International teaching jobs in Europe

Overseas teaching jobs in Asia

International teaching jobs in Oceania