Searching for a job teaching English abroad? Chances are you don't just want any job you want a good job. But how do you know what's a good job in a foreign land doing something you probably haven't done yet?
Well, this detailed post is going to take you step by step through the process. There are a lot of jobs out there and this post is going to show you how to find not just any job, but a good job teaching English in Korea, Taiwan, China and Japan or wherever. And that also means that it will help you avoid the horror stories you may have heard in such and such country.
But first what is a good job?
A good job isn't necessarily a higher paying job. Although a higher salary or wage is nice. It's not what I am referring to with this article. A good job is working at a school:
- you can trust
- that will pay you on time
- that has adequate resources/materials
- that you can communicate with
- that cares about education
- that cares about its teachers
I am not necessarily talking about working at a high end or more prestigious school either such as in some university or international school. I think that finding a good job is possible for just about anyone even if you don't have experience.
I know you want an easy job or rather a job that's easy to find, because you're human and humans are lazy and will take the easy way when they can. I have been there, but finding a good job is going to take a little initiative on your part. You can take what comes your way, but you're rolling the dice and taking a chance.
It doesn't have to be that way.
So where do you start? Well chances are you are either in your home country or already abroad. For most people finding a job starts with looking online and that's a good way for most, but it's actually not the only way. The other way is to go there and look and that will actually open up a few more options. So your options for finding a job are:
- Search online (from home or wherever)
- Go there and look
1. Search online for a job
This is the most common way to find a job. I have found teaching jobs in Korea, China and Taiwan by this method. So here are some of the best sites for finding a job in Asia.
- In China - Use Echinacities or ESLcafe
- In Japan - Use Ohayosensei or this
- In Korea - Use ESLcafe
- In Taiwan - Use Tealit
So you can find a job online from home in your country, but you may soon see that all schools are not willing to hire from abroad. Hiring from abroad is possible, but many schools prefer teachers already there. Why? Because it costs them money and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Many schools in Korea and China will hire teachers from abroad. Lesser so in Japan and very few in Taiwan will do that.
The good thing about getting a job from home is that it can be cheaper since they can pay for your airfare. That is common in Korea.
2. Go there and look for a job
You'll have more options if you go there and look and you will have the advantage over someone who isn't there. As you can see in the image above some schools prefer teachers who are already there. Here are 2 ways to find a job if you are there:
- Go door to door from school to school with your resume. I know it sounds old school and tiring, but I found my first few jobs in Taiwan this way. Also if you want a job in a very desirable place then this is often the way to do it. For example, if you want to teach on the beautiful east coast of Taiwan you'll have to do this because jobs there are only rarely advertised on websites.
- Talk to other foreign teachers. Go to local expat bars or places where foreigners congregate and ask around.
"I would say don't go looking for a job online first. Research some cities first. Come to China as a tourist and go to some schools and talk to some teachers. Go to a local expat bar at night and talk to people there and find out about the different schools and just go from there.
Cause there are so many instances of people getting rolled by schools - bad horror stories. Definitely check it out in person." - Danielle's advice
I think her advice is pretty good and sounds similar to this article I found on finding a job. It points out the importance of communicating which I'll later go into.
Going there to look by means of networking or going door to door points out that all available jobs are not advertised.
Narrowing down your options for finding a teaching job
They are a few different ways of finding jobs:
- You can find a job directly through the school that's hiring
- You can find a job through a recruiter
- You can find a job through a company
- You can find a job through a program
1. You can find a job directly through the school that's hiring
If you go door to door or respond to an ad posted by a school then that is dealing directly with the school. In my opinion that's better than dealing with some sort of middleman. It's no guarantee, but the thing is you can at least check it out in person.
2. You can find a job through a recruiter
Recruiters post ads on sites. They sometimes may just advertise one job, but more often than not they will advertise many. They are middlemen and work independently. And they are more common in some places than in others. In Korea they dominate the market for advertised jobs.
That means that chances are if you are looking for a job in Korea online then it's probably through a recruiter. But you don't have to find a job through them. Some people have fine experiences with them and some don't.
Recruiters add another layer of communication between you and the job. And that can often lead to miscommunication and other problems. In this video I'll show you how to find jobs that aren't through recruiters using the popular site ESLcafe and Koreabridge.
Dealing directly with the school usually makes communication easier and better. It also simplifies your search. Another reason why you should try to find a job direct - at least in Korea, is that the better schools tend to advertise themselves rather than outsourcing the job to a recruiter. They tend to care more about their teachers and don't keep them at arms length.
"Be adaptable. Research your school. Research what you're getting into. Don't always believe your recruiter. Talk to the school. Talk to foreigners in the school yourself. Make sure it's a reputable school. " - John's advice
But that is not a rule that is set in stone. All schools that hire direct are not necessarily good and all jobs through recruiters are not necessarily bad. It depends and soon I will tell you some tricks on how to get a good job teaching ESL regardless if it is through a recruiter or not.
3. You can find a job through a company
Big companies also will recruit teachers to work in their schools. These companies have many branches of language schools throughout Asia sort of like McDonald's, Starbucks or KFC in the USA. Some have hiring fairs and others post ads on sites.
They can post directly as an individual school, yet often they make you fill out an application online and then if you are selected they will place you where they want in whatever branch they want.
4. You can find a job through a program
Programs like JET in Japan or EPIK in Korea place teachers in public schools throughout Japan and Korea. You apply through their program online and if accepted will place you where they want. Despite the fact that these two programs get relatively good reviews you don't have much control.
The advantage of finding a job direct is quite simply that you know what you are getting and dealing with. You'll soon learn more about how to do that. If you go through a large company or program you have less control over where you are placed and your circumstances. That's the downside.
Horror stories and potential risks
Chances are you are hoping to find a good job, but just like a job in your country they are not all good. There is a diversity of jobs and schools out there that are good, bad and in-between. If you didn't know already some people have had bad experiences teaching English abroad. Some of these experiences can relate to cultural stuff and some of them may relate directly to their job.
Just so you are aware here are some schools/recruiters may:
- cheat teachers out of money. For example, in Korea a few teachers have been fired on the 11th month so that the school does not have to pay severance or for airfare home. A recruiter in Korea temporarily withheld my check and said that I owed him.
- not follow the contract. For example, some schools may try to skip out on your vacation days or add more hours.
- not care much about education. There are schools out there that are poorly run by purely profit seeking individuals without any educational background. ESL is a big business with many people trying to make money on it.
- have poor materials or not have any. Later I'll tell you why this is important.
- cultural or communication problems with their teachers. They may see their foreign teachers as a necessary evil and keep them at arms length.
- be shady and sneaky. I had an employer in Taiwan who was deducting tax money and not paying into my refund. He was putting it into his pocket. I was unaware of this, but fortunately come refund season my new employer helped me get it (around $500) back.
So how can you trust that you're not going to end up working for a crappy employer? What it really comes down to is asking questions. And...getting answers. Not asking questions and getting answers from your potential ESL employer will likely result in a heads or tails scenario. It's a gamble. But it doesn't have to be a gamble. You can weed out the not so good ones just by asking questions.
Most poor schools and experiences can be avoided fairly easily. I know because I have worked for a number of different schools and employers and I have had different experiences: good, decent and bad. The worst experience I had was with a public school in Korea and a recruiter. I could have avoided it if I had not been desperate for a job and if I had asked the questions that are in this video.
Communication is the key to finding a good job
In this video you will learn the most important questions to ask an ESL employer when you interview with them for a position at their school or institution. You need a job and the school needs a teacher. Remember that you are not there to just answer their questions and fulfill their needs. They are there to answer yours as well.
The 4 best questions to ask a prospective ESL school/employer
I am going to save the best for last here, so the following questions go from least to most important. They are all important, but if you could ask only one ask the last one.
1. What materials do you use?
What?! Why is this important? Because if you don't have adequate materials to work with your job is going to be that much more work. If you don't have suitable books you are going to have to create or find materials to work with and that is going to take time.
So you need to find out what kind of books they use. Some schools lack materials or even decent materials and just expect the teacher to make them. A solution to this is to buy one book and make photocopies for the students. Remember good materials will save you time and make your job easier.
2. How many foreign teachers are on their second or third contract?
Why ask this? Because happy teachers tend to stick around. If they like their job then they'll stick with it and if they don't they will leave. Specify foreign and native English speaking teachers.
3. Can I see photos of the housing?
This will only apply if arranging a job from home like in Korea, but if you are there you can still tell them that you want to see it. Why? Because some teachers have found themselves in conditions that they don't find suitable. Signing a contract for a year is a long time especially if you don't like where you live.
4. Can I speak with the teachers there in the school?
You want to talk to the foreign teachers in the school not the native Chinese, Korea, Thai or whoever teachers. Get their phone numbers and emails. If you have been offered a job tell them you are interested, but you want to talk to the teachers there. Talk to at least 2 teachers that have worked there for at least 6 months or so. And it's also a good idea to talk to a teacher that used to work there. Why?
Actually a teacher who used to work there is often a better reference than the current. That's because they finished the contract and they completed the year. This is especially important in Korea since one of the dangers is that they could fire you on the 11th month so that they don't have to pay severance or your ticket.
You want to find out if they were paid on time. Ask if they were treated fine and if they had any problems. And you can ask them any other questions you have. This is the most important piece of information in this article. If you only ask one question ask this one as you can potentially get all the answers to your questions through other teachers. If they don't want to give you any information about their teachers then you probably want to move on.
If it's a school that only has one foreign teacher - potentially you, then ask for the email or phone number of the previous teacher. If they don't give that then move on or take your chances, but it's on you.
"You really have to talk to the teachers who work in the school. If an employer doesn't want to give you that then completely disregard that employer right away. There is a reason why. I always give email addresses and phone numbers to anyone who is applying for a position in my school. Even to teachers who worked here in the past.
Anybody who doesn't do that right away is not a good school. They obviously have some problems with their staff. It could be cultural or many different problems." - Troy Jodoin, hagwon owner in Korea
Your attitude is important too. If they have expressed an interest so far as to offer you a job then that probably means they like you and likability is a key part to whom gets the job.
Should I search blacklists?
You can, but I think it's a waste of time. You could search for the school on blacklists, but there are so many schools out there it's really not efficient. The other thing is that schools change hands or management so what was good one year may be bad the next. And just because a school is not on a blacklist or not mentioned in Google doesn't mean much.
You're best bet is to talk to the school and follow my advice above.
Doing your part
For starters you can work on your resume. If you expect a good job then chances are the school will expect a good teacher. So I would put some effort into your work, prepare for classes and/or possibly do some training.