Using a recruiter to find teaching jobs is a divisive topic and you've likely already read some pretty passionate accounts from teachers of how it was the worst decision of their ESL career or how it really helped.
I fall into the latter camp and cannot say enough good things about the recruiters I have used in both Korea and China. Even if you're an experienced teacher, I really think there are some benefits to using one for your next job search.
What Is a Recruiter?
You can think of an ESL recruiter like your agent - they are responsible for finding you jobs that match your requirements, setting up the interviews, and facilitating the hiring process once you receive an offer.
They are paid by the school and therefore it's in their best interest to make sure you are happy and committed to the job because anything less could not only affect their pay but also their future interactions with that school.
Why Should You Use a Recruiter?
I used a recruiter during both my stints as in ESL teacher, first as a teacher in Korea and later when I made the move to teach in China. While there is no shortage of horror stories when it comes to teaching abroad, in my experience using a recruiter helped make the process much easier to manage.
They Act as a Filter
I've always found job hunting to be overwhelming but the ESL industry takes it to a whole different level. More than once I've found myself mislead when applying to jobs on my own, either because the location is wrong (no, 30 minutes outside of the city is not the same as working downtown) or because the contract doesn't match the job description. Using a recruiter allowed me to provide a set of requirement (pay, location, workload, etc) and only see jobs that were a match.
They Are on Your Side
I've had a few discussions with employers where I believed what was being asked of me fell outside of my contract. When we were unable to come to an agreement, I went to my recruiter and asked for backup - and they delivered. While they might get paid by the school, they only make money when the teacher is happy and working, thereby making them your biggest ally (unless you're in the wrong, obviously).
They Make the Transition Easier
In both of my stints abroad it was my recruiter that not only ran point during the visa process, but also picked me from the airport when I arrived. The truth is a lot of schools are stretched thin and I've seen a few of my friends have their arrival delayed due to a mistake the school made with paperwork. Schools might only hire two teachers a year, but recruiters are doing this nearly every day and therefore can anticipate any problems before they arise and work to make the process as easy as possible for the teacher.
How Can You Find a Good Recruiter?
Unfortunately, not all recruiters are created equal and there are plenty of scams out there that lead to horror stories. In order to find a good one you need to treat it as if you were looking for a new job - do your research, check references, and trust your gut. While I have only worked with two recruiters in my life, I have spoken to at least a dozen. The difference comes in because some have no idea what they are doing, some have no reputation or references, and some just give out a weird vibe.
To increase your chances of finding a good one, consider doing the following:
Ask to speak to other teachers with whom they've worked - you should already be planning on doing this with your potential school, but doing it with your recruiter will give you a better idea of how they operate.
Ask them questions - if you don't understand something in your contract or need more information about the school, a recruiter should be more than willing to help. If not, that should be a red flag and you should look elsewhere.
Trust your gut - if a recruiter is asking you to arrive on a tourist visa, lie about your background check, or anything else that seems suspicious, it's time to make a change.
Recruiters aren't for everyone but they can play an invaluable part in your next ESL job search. No matter if this is your first time teaching abroad or you're just looking to simplify the job search, consider speaking to a few of them to see how they can help - most of them are just trying to make the process as easy as possible.
Quincy is a former teacher and founder of ESL Authority, a site dedicated to bringing first hand advice and guides to those looking to get involved in ESL teaching. Currently located in China, he will work for strong coffee and IPAs.
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