How to Get Hired Teaching English Abroad

A reader recently asked: 

How do I increase the odds of getting hired for a position?

Most of the comments here are going to be related to Asia and Latin America, where the great majority of EFL teaching positions are located.

After the obvious points of meeting the minimum requirements for a position, there is a big issue hiding in most of these interviews.

Harmony in the workplace is a huge value in Asian culture and also in much of the non-Western world.  This is partly due to the lack of job mobility.  Many people work at the same job for much of their lives.  So it is important that we get along with each other.

In the Western world, we move around a lot more.  So – if I don’t like working with you, no big deal – either you or I will likely be working somewhere else by next year.

Language schools and universities - to a large extent – want to know first and foremost if you will get along well with them and their current staff/faculty.   That can be pretty subjective.

Probably the best thing you can do is communicate that you are (if you are!) flexible, friendly and willing to work as a team member.

A second issue is that there is always opportunity for cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication when working in a foreign country.

Employers want to get a sense of if you can handle those types of circumstances in a patient and diplomatic way or if you are going to get upset and self-destruct and bail out on short or no notice (some people do).

How do you convey those things?  I don’t think you can artificially communicate them.  Probably the very best way to approach it in an interview or any kind of communication is to be sincere and to answer questions truthfully.  Ask questions about anything that concerns you.

Be open, frank and honest about what you like, don’t like or even those things about which you will reserve opinion.

If you fit, you will likely know it and they will too.  There is no good reason that I can think of why  you would/should force your round-peg personality into their square-slot organization.  Better to let an interview or communication go where it goes.

Now . . . none of that means don’t give it a good go and present yourself favorably.  Merely asking thoughtful questions helps say you are probably a good candidate.  That kind of attitude is in your favor.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Be careful about Western over-assertiveness.  We’ve addressed the issue many times on this blog.  Learn to express your opinion or any disagreement in gentle terms.

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Experienced People Seeking Work as EFL Teachers

More GREAT questions from our readers . . .

It seems as though entry-level positions are easy enough to come by, and the path by which one applies for those jobs is rather straightforward, whereas something related to my specialty field will require job hunting just like we hunt jobs here in the US.

You are correct.  You will need to use those same skills.  The difference is that people are looking for you; you just have to find them.

It can take a bit of research if you want more than just the generic entry-level job.  And you should want more.  You have a degree and experience that is valuable to the right people.

Should I still look into TEFL certification?

Absolutely.  There are some special skills required for teaching EFL.  It’s not rocket science, you will grasp it quickly and easily, but it is a skill that needs to be practiced and you won’t be super good at it for a while.

Taking a course also demonstrates that you are interested enough in teaching that you took a course to pick up a few skills.  It helps overcome the idea that you just want to travel and well . . . you need a job and some money so . . . hmmm, why not teach?

 Should I send out my resume/CV to any college/university that has a special program in my area?

Absolutely!  Don’t wait for a school to advertise so that your resume/CV is lost in the flood.  Most schools hate to advertise and you do them a favor by sending them your details before they have to.

A bit of strategy here – based on what I have observed on the scene over the last 20 years.

Send your resume and details to the president of the university.  Include a nice photo (required in most countries) where you are dressed professionally and immaculately groomed.

The president may not even look at it, but will pass it to the department head , who may not care to look at it, but is worried that the president will ask about it next time they talk.  So – you are much more likely to get a reasonable review.

A professional photo is very good investment. 

Many cultures put a lot of emphasis on personal appearance.  It is not that you look nice; it is that you make an effort to present yourself as a professional.

That one simple thing will put you ahead of 80% of applicants, who either didn’t bother to submit a photo (they likely won’t be considered at all) or sent one kissing the boy/girlfriend, drunk at a party, hiking in the mountains . . . well, you see what I mean.

And, really, people do send those types of photos.  Some even with the former lovemate blacked out, but still obvious.

Let’s repeat part of the question:  Should I send out my resume/CV

Yes, but that is a pretty passive search.  Telephone calls are dirt cheap these days and Skype is even cheaper.  Follow up.  For people over 50 (like me), I recommend heading out and personally contacting schools – face to face.

 The age issue . . .

Many schools are concerned about health problems, so if they see you in person they can rest assured that you are healthy and ready to take on the job.

With us older folks they are also concerned about rigidity and argumentativeness.  Yeah, some older people are like that – but not me!  Anyway, so if they meet you face to face, that problem is solved too.

Should I take lessons in the local language?

That is a mixed bag.  The school wants you for your English skills, not for their local language.

Taking a language course does show some interest in the local culture, but some schools will worry that you will practice your new language with the students instead of helping the students practice English with you.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  People with some good work experience and education on their resume/CV can leverage that experience and education into better jobs and even university positions if they do a bit of research and look in the right places.

You don’t have to be 50+ to take this route.  There are a lot of people in their mid-late 20s with great work experience and good educations.

Don’t settle for an entry level position if you have the ability to start further up the food chain.

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Identity Theft and Teaching English Abroad

How to protect yourself from identity theft when seeking employment abroad

I have at numerous times in my life worked to help place people in jobs in Korea, Thailand and China.  As a result, I have also run across a fair number of people who express concern about submitting required documents, usually citing identity theft as the reason for their hesitance.

Requests for documents – usually a resume/CV, passport type photo and scan of the ID page of passport – often bring comments such as the following:

Send me a signed contract and I will send you a scan of my passport.

Give me a concrete job offer and I will send you the details you request.

Bear in mind that a documents request precedes an interview, how can a contract be on offer at this stage in the process?

Employers have legitimate reasons for their requests

Employers aren’t typically collecting data to sell onward.  They really just want to know to whom they are talking.  They have a very real concern about the large number of people who head abroad misrepresenting themselves and/or who might have criminal records and or an inappropriate interest in the children at their school.

As witness, notice the increasing numbers of countries now asking for criminal records checks and asking for an apostille on the copies of your documents.   Many countries also conduct “informal” records checks as well.   So – though you haven’t been asked for a criminal records check, that doesn’t mean a less stringent check was not conducted.

Anyone who has lived abroad for more than a few years is aware of the number of people working as teachers who have been arrested, either for inappropriate sexual behavior on the job or for crimes committed before they arrived.  It is a serious problem.

Let’s assume that “bad guy” isn’t you though and try to find a common ground between the employer and the teacher candidate.

 How to protect yourself from identity theft

Go ahead and black our your passport number or even the barcode on your passport.  That’s not a problem and people can still see your name and other useful data about you.  Understand though that if you are offered a job, you will probably need to provide an uncensored scan of that document to begin the visa process.

There is no need to provide any financial information, mother’s maiden name or any other non-relevant information.  Schools need to know who you are, but that is all they really need to know.

Simple enough.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Schools need to protect their students and are justified in asking you to provide some proof of your identity.  If your child was a student at that school, I am sure you would want the hiring authority to take some care in the hiring process.   It’s not just about you.  It’s about the students.

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Landing a University Job Teaching English in Korea

A reader with a graduate degree, currently at a university in the USA recently asked:

What’s the best way to get a university position in Korea?

The best way to land a good university/college job in Korea is more about method than a specific school (most are fine).

Find a good list of schools and apply to all of them. It is probably advantageous to apply via regular mail also as English departments at universities/colleges tend to regularly rotate the chairmanship among the faculty.

That way your package of information can just be addressed to the Chairman/Chairperson of the English Department rather than going to a specific individual’s email address who might even be on sabbatical or away from campus for an extended period.

If you are really serious . . .

To get your foot in the door it would be worth going in person to Korea and working a specific area or city.  If you are new to Korea, take a good look at some of the secondary cities. Due to the good public transportation system you are never really far from Seoul, Busan, Daegu or Daejon, so look for universities just outside those cities.

So many teachers want only to be in Seoul that the schools there tend to have their pick of people.   It is the secondary and tertiary cities that are your best bet for a first university position.

Landing that first university job in Korea can be difficult without an introduction or at least a face-to-face meeting.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just is easier in person or with connections.

Look around your current university for Koreans studying for advanced degrees.  You never know who might be able to connect you.  It really is a culture of personal contacts.

Informational Interviews

If you showed up in person doing “informational” type interviews right about March 1, you would have likely have luck somewhere.

The academic school year starts in early March – not September – so March is the best time to show up. There are always openings as some teachers fail to show up, others arrive and bail out and that  leaves schools looking for someone to put in place quickly.

Korea typically wants some prior tertiary level teaching experience, but if you are at the right place at the right time . . .

China as an option

A lot of people go to China to get their university experience then move on to places that pay more. That’s a good option too.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  University jobs are not difficult to land if you have a graduate degree.  An undergrad degree is fine for university positions in China.

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