We wanted to chat to an actual job-hunter in Thailand to find out how things really are on the front-line during the busy recruitment season. How many jobs have you applied for? Is applying by e-mail the way to go? Are you usually required to do a demo? So many questions to ask. Perhaps teacher Frank can supply us with some answers.
Hi Frank. Welcome to the Ajarn hot seat. Basically, you are a teacher currently looking for work in Thailand. Perhaps you could start with a bit of personal background?
My name is Frank Coulson and I am originally from London. I'm about to turn 30 years old and I have been teaching English for six years. I started my TEFL career in Thailand and I taught at a government school in Bangkok for two years. From there I moved to work in China and stayed there for four years. Now I am back in Thailand to give things another try you might say.
What about your qualifications apart from the obvious six years of experience?
I have a degree in economics from Manchester University and I also did the CELTA course at a training centre in London about 7-8 years ago. I have not taken any teacher training courses since I got my CELTA certificate, apart from the odd one or two-day workshop.
So how long have you been looking for a teaching job in Thailand and how many positions have you applied for?
I've been searching for about two months and probably applied for about a dozen or so positions in that time.
What are you looking for in terms of salary and are you open to working either in Bangkok or out in the provinces?
I've always been something of a big city person. I have experience of working in Bangkok and feel like I know the city reasonably well. In China, I was in Shanghai, which of course is another very large city. I enjoy the faster pace of life that cities offer and the fact there's so much more to do, but if the right job came up in a small town in Thailand, I would definitely consider it.
In terms of salary, I won't work for less than 60,000 in Bangkok. That's the absolute minimum I think a single person needs in order to have a comfortable standard of living. And I think even 60,000 is nothing special nowadays. A lot of expats have commented on how much more expensive Bangkok has gotten in recent years and I've noticed that too.
To work out in the provinces, I would probably be looking for 40,000 at least. I can't see the point of teaching anywhere in the world for less than that.
So how much were you making in China?
At my last school I was earning the equivalent of 80,000 baht a month plus I got a small apartment as part of the package. It was a pokey place in a fairly run-down building but of course, it meant I spent nothing on rent. I only taught about 18 contact hours a week as well so it was a pretty sweet deal.
Let's talk about your actual job applications. It's often said that contacting schools about jobs via e-mail is very hit and miss. Is that your experience?
For sure. Sometimes you get an instant reply and sometimes you get no reply at all so you re-submit the e-mail but with the same result. At least if your face doesn't fit the job requirements, it would be nice to get some sort of acknowledgment that you've been short-listed or rejected completely, but I know Thai recruiters find that sort of communication difficult.
The worst recruiters are the ones that take over a week to respond and say "yes we are interested, when can you come for an interview?" And so you give them a convenient date or time period, and their next response takes a further five days.
Straight away that sets off alarm bells with me because you just sense a complete lack of organisation. How are they going to be with other aspects of employment such as applying for the work permit, etc?
It's also said that one of the best job-hunting tactics is to just turn up at a school uninvited and knock on doors in the hope of getting an interview. Are you a fan of this approach?
Actually, I'm not. And you see quite a number of job ads nowadays from the better and more organised employers that state 'strictly no walk-ins'.
I have tried this approach in the past but it's easier said than done. Once you target a school, firstly you often have to get past security and explain why you are there. Then if security allow you to proceed any further, they need to fetch the person in charge of hiring foreign teachers and from experience, that person is not always available.
Meanwhile, you're sweating your nuts off in the midday sun and really in no fit state to start shaking hands and discussing teacher vacancies.
I guess you might have more success at a smaller school in the provinces where there is little or no security and usually there is one Thai teacher who seems as if they are in charge of everything.
OK, how about calling on the telephone?
Again, communication on the telephone can be very hit and miss unless either you are an extremely competent Thai speaker (which I'm not) or the person on the other end speaks excellent telephone English.
I've found that on too many occasions, the person you are speaking too might have decent English skills but they are poor listeners and it becomes a very one-sided and frustrating conversation.
"I'm calling about the job vacancy for an English teacher"
"Yes, when can you start?"
"Actually, could I ask some questions and get more information about the position from you?"
"Do you have a degree?"
This is a classic example of a conversation where the other person has zero interest in what you are saying and represents a school that is simply desperate for a teacher - and any teacher will do. I don't want to work at a place like that.
Have you been asked to do many demo lessons?
A few schools have asked me to. I actually welcome the chance to do a demo lesson and I think it shows that the school cares about the quality of the teachers they are hiring (but not always)
If schools know that I am coming at such and such a time to perform a demo lesson, I'm always interested to see how organised they are. Have they set up a room for me and do I have the right cross-section of students? Or have they totally forgotten I was coming and then there is chaos as they try to find an empty room with six desks - and half a dozen willing students!
When you go to a school for an interview, is it useful to chat to other foreign teachers who have worked there a while?
I think you have to be careful who you speak to. There are two types of teacher who I make an effort to avoid because although they might be nice people, I'm not that interested in their opinion.
First would be the teacher who hasn't been at the school that long or even been in Thailand that long. It's often a young teacher on a gap year or two. With only a few months of teaching under their belts, everything in the garden is still rosy. If the school has any major downsides, this kind of teacher will still be unaffected by them.
The flip side of the coin is the guy who's been there too long and has become seriously jaded. The moment he recognizes you as a potential hire wanting a chat, he sees it as a chance to unload his burden upon you. He'll tell you everything that's wrong with the school plus everything that's wrong with the country.
That said, you will usually get to meet teachers who can give you an honest appraisal of what goes on.
You first looked for teaching jobs in Thailand five years ago. What are the differences between job-hunting back then and how things are now?
Five years ago, the teacher recruitment industry seemed to be dominated by agencies, many of them very small-time with an office, a desk and a phone and maybe just one or two client schools. The teacher placement agencies are still around but they are much larger in scale and the same three or four names seem to have cornered the market. The small-time agencies have by and large disappeared and I think in many cases, the schools have gone back to recruiting directly. They gave the teacher agencies a chance but for many reasons it just didn't work.
We know a TEFL certificate is not a legal requirement to teach in Thailand, but do most schools insist you have one?
I find it often depends on whether the interviewer is Thai or a foreigner. A Thai interviewer will always insist on the degree first and foremost. Without that you're not going to get off at first base, in fact, you probably shouldn't be at the interview anyway.
Foreign interviewers like to know that you can teach so they like to see some kind of teacher training course certificate.
I'm probably generalizing a little, but foreign interviewers just seem to be more focused on the training aspect, which is no bad thing.
I'm sure with your qualifications and experience, you've been offered jobs on the spot?
Oh, I've had job interviews where almost the second question has been 'can you start tomorrow, the first class will be at 9.00? Even if I clearly like the feel of the school, I need time to weigh things up before giving the employer a final yes. I would never accept a job there and then.
Give us five interview questions you always ask without fail.
1) When will you make a final decision as to who you will hire? (it's amazing how long employers can drag their feet and leave you waiting for an answer)
2) Will I be paid for holidays? (I don't do those 10 or 11-month contracts and I don't see why any teacher should)
3) Are there any penalties for breaking a contract? (not because you're a quitter but you never know when a family emergency is going to crop up right?)
4) What do you provide in the way of ongoing teacher development? (blank looks and hesitancy should set alarm bells ringing)
5) How long will it take the school to furnish me a work permit? (because I'm not starting work without one if I can help it)