How To Write An ESL Resumé That Will Get Noticed

This article was written for my Teach Abroad series, which is hosted here on My Several Worlds.

One of the biggest mistakes that ESL teachers make when they’re putting together an resumé is to use a standard CV template.  Applying for a job internationally requires more than just your average CV, however.

Your CV should highlight relevant skill sets and your experience as a teacher, whether it’s in a professional or voluntary capacity. International employers look for specific information in your CV. If your CV doesn’t include this information, at best you’ll be contacted or asked to update your application. On the other hand, it could result in your resume being completely overlooked.

The competition for teaching positions abroad is fierce, and while there are plenty of schools out there that are hiring, there are just as many, if not more, teachers that are leaving home to explore the world or earn a better living elsewhere.

Why not give yourself an edge and stand out from the crowd?

A word of advice: Don’t overreach for positions.

Remember that schools and placement agencies review hundreds of resumes every day. Don’t apply for positions that you’re not qualified for. You don’t want to risk outright rejection.

Furthermore, applying for positions that you’re not qualified to work in might be an indication that you haven’t reviewed the advertisement properly. Or you might simply be viewed as a time waster or as someone who isn’t serious about their job search. In any case, you don’t want to leave a bad impression, especially if it’s a school or an organization that you really want to work with. Stick with positions that have requirements you can meet.

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Here are some quick tips for how to write an ESL resumé that will get noticed:

  1. List your education at the top of your CV.  Many countries require teachers to have a full University degree. If you’re in the midst of your degree program or your graduation date is pending, make sure you include this information. It’s also best to include the year that you graduated.
  2. Include your TEFL certification. TEFL certifications are secondary in importance to education. More and more schools around the world are making a TEFL certification a hard requirement, so make sure you list the number of hours on your course and whether it was an online course or an in class teaching practicum. If it’s a mixed course with 100 hours online and 20 hours in class, be sure to highlight that information. Visit my TEFL Courses article if you are interested in learning more about getting TEFL certified.
  3. List your teaching qualifications. Whether you have actual teaching experience or you were a volunteer coach or math tutor, make sure to highlight any experience that you have that puts you in a teaching capacity or that allowed you to work with children.
  4. Write a clear title and summary for your CV. Make sure that your title and summary objective are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
  5. Use keywords on your CV.  Recruiting software these days allows recruiters and schools to look for specific keywords on your resume. Put together a keyword cloud that highlights your skills set. If you have experience in curriculum design, for example, make sure you use ‘curriculum design’ in your Additional Skills tag cloud.
  6. Include your birthdate. Most schools will want to know your age, as they can generally only arrange work permits for teachers within a certain age range. The local government determines the age up to which you can apply, and these regulations vary from country to country.
  7. Add a photo, preferably a headshot. Adding your photo to an overseas teaching job application is pretty much a hard requirement. Save yourself the hassle of having to respond to an email requesting a photo and birthdate, and make sure you include it.  It’s a proven fact that resumes that have a personal image attached receive three times the number of views.
  8. Have you lived or studied abroad?  Include this information in your skills section. Experience abroad shows that you are adaptable, independent and like challenges.
  9. Don’t use buzzwords or buzz phrases. Adding a sentence that says something along the lines of “Experienced teacher and accomplished team player with excellent communication skills” is about as run-of-the-mill as you can get. Thousands of people use these kinds of sentences on their resumes. Why waste the space? Come up with an interesting way to showcase your skills, qualifications, and experience.
  10. Keep your experience up to date. No one is interested in knowing that you worked at Dairy Queen fifteen years ago. In fact, most employers aren’t interested in reading about every job you’ve ever had. As a general rule, don’t go back further than ten years unless you’ve made yourself a career in education. Leave off jobs that were less than six-month contracts, and make sure you build on experience that is relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you don’t have formal teaching experience, for example, you can include things like volunteer teaching, summer camp experience, coaching or tutoring experience.
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Finally, here are some things that you should avoid doing at all costs when submitting your TEFL resume for a job overseas.

  • Don’t have someone else, like a family member, do your correspondence for you.
  • Don’t tell your interviewer that you don’t really enjoy being around kids.
  • Don’t miss your interview time. If you must miss your interview time, give your interviewer 24 hours notice at the very least.
  • Don’t focus on how much money you want to make. Schools are looking for people who want to teach, not make money.

Follow these ten tips for building your ESL resume and you should be getting plenty of job offers soon enough. Do you have any tips for writing an ESL resume? I’d love to hear from you!


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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at

3 thoughts on “How To Write An ESL Resumé That Will Get Noticed


    (October 14, 2013 - 7:27 am)

    Very descriptive article Carrie, thanks for the good suggestions. I think that #8 is one that is often overlooked, but having prior experience abroad can be very important and useful.


      (October 19, 2013 - 4:30 am)

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s amazing how many people leave prior experience living or working abroad off their resumes. Even travel experience should be listed, in my opinion. Anything that demonstrates to a new employer that you’ve had experience with other cultures is worth mentioning.


    (March 19, 2015 - 5:33 pm)

    Hi, I’m from Texas and a world traveler as well as international volunteer. I have taught a few years in Europe before returning back to the States. I am new to Taiwan late 2014 and currently studying Chinese at Shida, I live in Daan district. Found your blog interesting and wanted to see if you had any advice for me regarding sub teaching work while I’m here studying in Taipei. I have ASS degree + TEFL certification. Look forward to hearing from you.

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