For many teachers in the job hunt, the first big decision is whether to try to find a job from home, or to move abroad and then start looking for work. This section will look at the differences between those two options.
Searching for a Job from Abroad
The best thing that placement agencies provide is security. This is especially appealing to people who haven’t traveled to Southeast Asia before, or who may not have the savings to comfortably live in Southeast Asia while looking for a job. In short, a placement agency has contacts with a wide range of different schools, so they can more easily find a school with an opening. Some schools or school systems have contracts with placement agencies so that they can get most or all of their teachers through the agency. (This makes recruitment a lot easier, especially for schools which may not have human resources staff with enough English skill or teaching experience to interview applicants.)
The agency takes care of finding you a school. Many agencies can also help with getting your teaching certification (though most agencies partner with TEFL organizations, rather than CELTA schools), and may be able to provide some assistance with finding housing and getting set up in your new country. The agency may also be able to provide some support if things don’t go according to plan at your school.
You’ll receive your pay through your agency, rather than your school, as the school will pay an inclusive fee to the agency. The agency charges the school a fee for placing you there, which is how agencies make their money.
On the other hand, not all placement agencies are alike. Some may not offer much support once you’re in the country. Some agencies can fall behind on paying teachers as well. It’s important to do your homework on placement agency before you decide to sign with them. One place to find more information is ESL Watch.
Internet Job Boards
If you’re planning to secure a job from abroad and you don’t plan to go through an agency, you’ll likely have some difficulty. Most of the jobs that are posted on job boards come through agencies anyway, but when an individual school posts a job opening it is usually only willing to consider applicants who are already in the country.
From the school’s perspective, there are a number of reasons why it doesn’t make sense to hire teachers from abroad. First of all, most people who apply from abroad will never actually show up in the country. A hiring manager can spend a lot of time setting up Skype interviews with applicants abroad, only to find that they’ve later decided not to move abroad, or have decided to delay their move, or have chosen a different country. In addition, hiring managers often have openings which they need to fill within 2-4 weeks (the standard 2-weeks-notice applies to teaching as well). It’s nearly impossible to interview someone who lives abroad, decide to give them a job offer, wait for them to accept it, and then organize their things and move abroad within 2-4 weeks. All of that trouble to arrange things with a teacher who you’ve never met and has never seen your school and possibly never lived in your country, which leads to the second reason.
Second of all, applicants who currently live abroad may have unrealistic expectations about many things, especially if they haven’t lived or worked abroad before. A school wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of asking someone to move to a new country when they can’t be sure the person will really fit in well with their school or will enjoy living in the country. It’s much easier to deal with people who already live in the country (and have decided they want to stay there) and who can come in to meet the staff and see the school before taking a job.
Searching for a Job In-Country
If you’ve got the savings and are comfortable living abroad on your own, searching for a job in the country where you want to work should be your best bet.
Internet Job Boards
You’ll have much better luck searching on job boards if you’re already in the country where you want to live. If you see a posting, then you know that a school in your city has an opening which they probably need to fill quickly, so if you’ve got the qualifications and personality that match what the school needs, you have a good chance on landing a job.
On the downside, some cities (and even some entire countries) don’t have a very developed online job-posting forum for English teaching work. Bangkok and Hanoi have some of the best-developed websites for this purpose, which means that they’ve become the “go-to” websites for hiring managers to post job openings when they need to find a teacher. However, other big cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Vientiane still don’t have one good website where you can go to find lots of recent job openings.
Another option is to just search online for all the language centers, private schools, universities and other institutions you can, and then send out your CV to all the schools you’re interested in. This can be a good idea as many hiring managers will keep interesting CVs on file even if they don’t have a job opening. (However, if it’s been a few months since you sent out a resume, then a hiring manager may assume you’ve already found a job and may be more likely to contact “fresh” applicants.)
Door to Door Search
A final option is the door-to-door search. Some schools don’t yet have websites, or may not yet have English-language websites. Local taxi drivers can sometimes help you find quite a few schools that you can’t track down on the internet. Schools without websites are not likely to be the highest-paying employers, but if you’re desperate for a job then these kinds of schools can be a fallback option.
Some job searchers have recommended putting on your best shirt, renting a tuk-tuk for the day, and asking the driver to take you to as many schools as he knows. Then just go inside and drop off your resume. If someone is available then you may even be able to get a quick interview. I’ve met a few interesting candidates this way, but their shirts were often soaked with sweat when we met and though I tried to ignore it, it wasn’t exactly the best first impression. In any case, as a winning smile and friendly personality can be quite important in teaching, this can be a good way to get an introduction to a hiring manager. If the manager isn’t around, then make a good impression on the customer service staff and they’ll be sure to hand over your resume.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend some time to make a well-formatted resume with a professional-looking picture. It’s hard to believe how many CVs I receive from recent college graduates who appear not to have put the slightest thought into the content or format of their CV.
Your CV is any hiring manager’s first impression of you. It’s unfortunate how many otherwise-worthwhile applications are spoiled by a thoughtless CV. If an applicant can’t be bothered to put a significant amount of thought and effort into a 1-2 page document which is meant to summarize their life’s accomplishments in work and study, then how can they be expected to put much effort into their work for a school? If there are typos on an applicant’s CV, there must surely be many more in any lessons they would write for students.
Further to that, many schools ask that applicants send a recent photo along with their application. Your application will be much stronger if you’ve had a photo taken in professional dress against a plain white background. I’ve seen photos from applicants wearing baseball caps and t-shirts. More often I see applicants who have put on a shirt and tie and sat down in front of their webcam to take a photo, so that I can see their laundry hanging up in the background. An applicant with a photo in professional attire gets my attention much more quickly than any other. I don’t want to hire teachers who will argue with me about having to wear a tie while they teach.