What do you need to know in a needs analysis interview?

Every student has a history with language learning. A mistake I’ve seen teachers (and institutions) make  is “ignore” that history while conducting needs analysis interviews.

Not deliberately, of course. When a school or teacher interviews a prospective student (PS) to solely assess their language level and talk about administrative aspects, I’m sure they don’t mean to bypass their entire language learning experience. I understand the need to work smarter and more efficiently, but we must remember that your needs analysis is your postcard.

A first interview may actually be the only contact you have with a PS. Whether it’s because their plans took a turn within a few days or they didn’t feel that spark of “that’s exactly what I’m looking for” during your conversation. Regardless, you as a professional can still benefit greatly from that interaction.

The way I see it, a needs analysis interview should meet 8 major requirements:

  1. establish a rapport with your PS
  2. understand their language learning history
  3. know their starting point
  4. set learning goals and rank them according to relevance
  5. show how competent, organized, and trustworthy you are
  6. collect information on their topics of interest
  7. access what has and hasn’t worked for them in previous learning settings
  8. collect references (pages, profiles, channels, sites…) they may want to share


The whole of these items serve the purpose of helping both you to hone your practice and your PS to trust your professional decisions. Incorporating references, learning about new trends, understanding innefective practices… these are all invaluable data of which you may take great advantage.

Besides “occupation”, “objectives” etc., here are a few questions you may ask on a needs analysis interview if you’d like to better understand your PS:

  • How have you been studying English recently?
  • How long has it been since you last had formal language instruction?
  • What are some reasons you had to put your studies on hold in the past?
  • What’s something another professional did that really worked for you? What’s something that didn’t work at all?
  • What do you like listening to, reading, watching when you have some time to spare?
  • When with your friends, what topics do you usually talk about that make you lose track of time?
  • What conversation topics make you lose interest almost immediately?
  • Do you have any level of low vision, hearing, color-blindness or anything that I may need to pay special attention to while planning our lessons?

The more you ask and listen, the more connected a PS will feel to you. This may even help you establish a more transparent relation in which both parties feel comfortable to share if something is not working.

Last but not least: have a record of everything your PS says in a needs analysis. This may help you keep track of achievements and also benefit other professionals in case they need to be otherwise assisted.

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Arthur Damião Médici

Arthur Médici has been in ELT since 2009, working as an independent teacher since 2013. With a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Psychology, he has a keen interest in English for Academic Purposes and professionalism for independent teachers.

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