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Red Light, Green Light

GUEST WRITER: Mark Webber, an expert in international education and teacher recruitment, shares his top tips on resume/CV-writing for teachers looking for new job opportunities in international education. When you have read hundreds to thousands of CVs or resumés you start to get a feel for the people behind the document. Mark Webber personally feels that each one has its own personality and tells him more about the candidate than what is on the page.

However, it does happen where someone that you thought was a good candidate slips by you and turns out to be a problematic educator and also visa-versa, where a good candidate who does not properly represent herself or himself, looks like a bad candidate but really is a diamond in the rough who doesn’t know how to properly brand themselves on their CV/resumé.

In this article, Mark Webber will explore some of the key things that Human Resource officers and Administrators look for on teachers’ resumés and CVs that either cause them to put your CV in the burn pile or on the short list. Hopefully, this will help you not only in the writing of your CV but also in how you represent yourself in an interview.


My most important piece of advice, if I was going to leave you with just one thing and nothing else is that, you must know your “core competencies.”  These are the special things that you bring to the table or the answers to the “Why should I hire YOU?” question that frequently gets asked in interviews. After all, it IS what an administrator is looking for that will give her or him the green light to move forward with your candidacy.



Having said that, the #1 golden rule is never lie on your resume. Someone, somewhere, will find you out at the worst possible moment and you will be exposed. Whether they admit it or not, recruiters keep “blacklists” on candidates like this. You might think the world is a big place, and you are not wrong. However, the international teaching circuit is a very tight-knit community and lots of people know each other. It is one of my favorite things about international education, but I pity the people who have ruined their reputation and suffer to get a decent job because of it.


The first three things that we all check on your CV/resume to make sure we want to read the rest are: 

1) your degree matches the area in which you are teaching or is at least related 

2) that you have a proper teacher certification to teach in areas for which you are applying, in and Early Childhood through 12th grade setting, from your country or state or province and 

3) successful experience teaching in the area for which you are currently applying. 

Sometimes you can get by without the degree being an exact match as long as you have the other two areas down solid with good references. So having said that, and assuming you have the three things listed above, here are some other “red flags” that we look for on your resume when scanning it the first or second time.

Please make sure all three of these things are on the top of your resume or somewhere near the top so that we can identify them easily and move on to the rest of your resume that is going to get you the job or not. 


The first red light, we look for gaps in your employment. Where were you during that time? Were you studying? Were you not able to find a job? Were you in jail? You need to account for every year even if it is because you were getting a degree or you left teaching for a couple of years, make a note of that in the space where you would have put your teaching job. I don’t need to know all the details of what you were doing the year you took off to bartend at Bob’s Bistro, but I do need to know that is what you were doing.

Secondly, we look for how long you were at your previous posts. We get a considerable number of applications where the candidate has been at a different school every year for the past 3, 4, 5 or up to 7 years, as  I have seen before. We call those candidates “tourists” and they are very hard to find jobs for no matter their qualifications. We understand, “Papa was a rolling stone!” and traveling the world is amazing and doing it as an international teacher is even more exciting. However, this is the exact situation where to get something you have to give something and usually no high-quality international school is going to hire you with 1-year stints all over your resume unless they just need a long-term sub or someone to fill a sabbatical. Hey, but everyone gets into international teaching for different reasons, so I am not judging you. I’m just saying this is a red light in most cases. You can take it for what it’s worth.

A third thing that we take into consideration are your references. Long gone are the days where a pre-written reference letter carries any weight, and for good reason. Schools these days want confidential reference checks, usually facilitated by the recruiters themselves, from previous Administrators or Supervisors, without the candidate being able to see the responses. The reason for that is because they want the “referee” to feel that they can speak honestly and openly about any shortcomings of the candidate without the feeling of being put on the spot. Now the reason I bring this up is because sometimes it is very difficult to drag Administrative or Supervisory referee contacts out of candidates. Frequently we get candidates that give us colleagues that they worked side by side with them as their referees and this usually throws up an atmosphere of suspicion. What most schools are wanting is three administrators or supervisors that were in regular contact with you, throughout your work experience, at previous and most recent schools. Frequently they also want that to include either your division Principal or your Head of School. I don’t necessarily agree with the Head of School referee all the time because there are many situations where the Head of School does not really know the candidate on a day to day basis and I would say that is not necessarily a fair reference BUT if that is what the school wants, we have to give it to them. It is also a red light to administrators when you don’t list a current school administrator in your references.

I would add one caveat to the confidential reference situation. Sometimes candidates are looking for a job, unbeknownst to their administration or supervisor. This is not always a negative or a deceitful act as some administrators have been known to fire candidates on the spot or to immediately cancel the candidates contract for the following year when they find out that a candidate is looking for another job, even if they are NOT breaking contract. I think that is quite unfair and I feel that most recruiters and hopefully receiving schools can be sympathetic to a candidates’ request to withhold a certain reference check from their current school until the interviewing process gets serious. I have heard some people in the international community, that I really respect, argue the opposite of this, but I call BS on that because there are some administrators out there who are vindictive and not everything is always the teacher’s fault. So be careful and make sure to address this with the receiving Human Resources officer, the receiving Administrators or your recruiter if you are in this position. My company does NOT request references until we have the ok from the candidate.

Finally, I just want to add one more thing to my list of red flags even though this one should just be common sense. Poorly written, misspelled, hastily organized CVs are a major red light. If you are not going to take the time to do it properly then don’t even apply for the job. Our feeling is, if you are this lackadaisical about your resume, what is your work going to be like on a day to day basis? Especially in the field of education, bad spelling or bad grammar can, and rightfully should, sink you. We can all understand and usually are able to spot a typo and even some people count those, but I think most people understand a simple mistake versus sloppy or poor spelling and grammar. At the end of the day we have to remember that there are human beings at all ends of the channels that make recruitment and placement work. We must always strive to keep the “human” in Human Resources but there is no place for poor work when it comes to spelling, grammar or the simple organization of a CV.

Now let’s turn our attention to some of the green lights for resumés/ CVs because while they may not exactly get you the job, they can get you the interview which is the opportunity that you are hoping for.


For me, one of the things that makes my day is to see a really well written professional objective or better yet, a super strong candidate with all kinds of amazing qualifications neatly and succinctly organized into a well written resumé/CV of one or two pages. I guess it’s the former teacher in me that gets so excited about this, but I usually reach out to these candidates because I can tell they are going to be stars for the schools in which I place them. Guess what, I am usually right about those people.



So besides a well-written, well-organized CV another green light for me is when I can identify the three main aspects of a candidate’s CV, as I mentioned above,  just by looking at the top of the page; Degree – check!, Certification – check!, Experience – check! Let’s go! When I see those things right away it changes my whole demeanor. Instead of looking for reasons to exclude that candidate, I am now looking for further support to include that candidate and move them forward to the next stage with my client schools. So the first green light tip is to make it easy for whoever is going to read your CV to find those three things and to move forward. It’s like when I used to teach IB Theatre and my students had to turn in the portfolio for external moderation, they would ask me how creative should they be? I would tell them to imagine the worst-case scenario. Imagine a grader who has one hundred portfolios in front of them to grade and they are on their second bottle of wine. Do you want to be super creative or do you want them to be able to easily find your information? PT Barnum was right about one thing, “Give the people what they want!”



Another green light for me is when candidates have a brief and succinct list of their professional development listed with dates on their CV so that we can see not only what type of professional development have they taken but how current they are with their professional development, was it quality professional development and is it consistent with what they are teaching. I am usually more impressed by this than someone who has an advanced degree from a less-than-rigorous Master’s program.



The other green light that I like to see, and I admit some bias here, as a former Theatre, Debate and Public Speaking teacher and coach is significant participation in leading and coaching extra-curricular activities. While I am aware that extra-curricular activities are required for teachers in some schools, on a CV they usually indicate to me someone who is willing to go beyond the school day for the students as well as someone who understands how important it is to form positive and healthy relationships with the students. They are an excellent means of professional development whether required or not. I am not saying that cannot happen inside the classroom but in my experience, what happens outside when working with students on extra-curricular activities and taking trips with the students is magic.



The final green light for me,  I do appreciate when candidates list a few personal interests. Remember that schools are not only looking to see if you are going to be a good teacher for their students but if you are going to be a good fit into the culture of the school. I think that is impossible to tell without knowing a little bit of the personal side of a person. Listing your personal interests not only gives us some of that information it can be a great conversation starter for an interview, or it can show that you have similar interests to other candidates who work at the school or what the region in the school has to offer. You like to scuba dive? Guess what, we have a scuba diving club at the school. You like horses, we just happen to have an equestrian center attached to our school. So it is not a filler for empty space. It is an opportunity for an aware administrator to get to know you better. After all, administrators are humans too!

So those are some major red light, green light things for me, suffice it to say I did not hardly cover all the issues that can and should be covered but I am trying to give you an idea about how to modify your CV/resumé to give yourself the best opportunities possible. Remember that your CV should tell a story. It should tell your story and it should be easy and enjoyable to read. If its not, then you have some work to do. If it is, then I wish you all the best of luck this hiring season or whenever you go looking for new employment in the future.




Mark Webber is the Owner/Operator of Webber’s Ed –  Teacher Talent, a boutique recruitment and placement agency that serves international schools in Latin America. He was a Director of Performing and Fine Arts, IB Theatre, Acting, Stagecraft, Debate and Public Speaking teacher for 23 years but now his passion is to spread academic debate around the world. He is currently living on the coast of Colombia with his partner Mary-Jo, who is a Head of School, and their 3 dogs and not sure how many cats at the moment. 


Is there anything in this guest writer’s article that resonates with you?

Anything you’d like to add?

Let us know in the comments below.