"Dear Teacher, can you come work in (insert name of town in the middle of nowhere) I have very nice job for you. Please let me know if you are interesting"
It's that time of year - the busy hiring season - when I genuinely feel sorry for many Thai admin or management staff who are coerced into having to recruit foreign teachers to work at far-flung institutes for very average salaries. Place a job ad on the internet, sit back, cross your fingers - and hope for the best.
As if attracting quality teachers from an ever-diminishing pool wasn't difficult enough already, very often these recruiters simply aren't up to the task and really do need serious guidance.
Take it seriously
In what seems like a lifetime ago now, I was handed the responsibility of recruiting fifty native-English speaking teachers for positions in Kuwait. The salary and benefits package on offer was decent but nothing spectacular for that part of the world.
I quickly learned that whether you are looking for five teachers or fifty, recruitment becomes a full-time job. You have to take it seriously. It's not something you just slot into your tea-breaks.
First off, teachers always have lots of questions. And that's perfectly understandable when they are making such a huge life-changing decision to move to a new school in perhaps a new city or new country.
How long is the contract? Will I get paid for school holidays and down time? How large are the classes? Will the school pay work permit and visa costs? The list of potential questions is endless.
But that's just the tip of the recruitment iceberg. You have to schedule interview appointments and let teachers know where and when that interview will take place, You need to provide clear directions on how to get there. Sometimes you have to re-schedule those appointments when last-minute problems arise.
There are documents to be checked, resumes to be picked over, references to be called and finally, suitability to be ascertained.
Applicants who are rejected need to be told politely and professionally why they didn't meet the requirements. For those teachers who successfully attend interviews, the recruiter needs to keep track of them in that crucial period between a teacher accepting a position and actually starting work. It's during this period that a teacher's plans can change. As a recruiter, you don't want to be left with a no show on the first day of term.
Communication is key
Of course, all of the above are just a few reasons why many schools have handed recruitment over to teacher agencies but disappointingly I've found that when it comes to communication during the hiring process, agencies are often no better. And it's all about communication.
When a Thai recruiter e-mails me for advice and I can instantly see their written English is suspect, I often suggest they enlist the help of one of their foreign teaching staff. Someone to help with drafting job ads that give enough information to at least make the vacancy seem relatively attractive. Someone to answer an applicant's questions and keep on top of the whole process. And why not pay them extra for doing that job? It seems like a no-brainer to me.
Unfortunately, my advice goes by and large ignored and the Thai recruiter just struggles on. I wonder if by asking for help it's that Asian loss of face rearing its head once more?
This is a true story. I know one recruiter who checks her e-mail once a week between the hour of 9.00 am and 10.00 am. And that's it! If you contact her at five minutes past ten, you'll wait seven days for a reply. That's the way she does things and I guarantee she will never change. It just isn't good enough is it?
The Chinese way
A number of years ago, I partnered with a well-known chain of schools in China to recruit teachers from Thailand. The company in China knew that Thailand was a potential hotbed of teaching talent perhaps looking for a change of scenery and the opportunity to make more money. In reality, the package they were offering was only 20%-30% more than a teacher would earn in Thailand. I knew from the start I had my work cut out.
However, I fulfilled my side of the obligations. I interviewed a number of teachers over an eight-week period. I tracked that recruitment process every step of the way and kept meticulous records on excel spreadsheets. I was upfront about the downsides of the job and answered all questions honestly. In fact, I ‘discouraged' any teacher from taking the job if I felt they wouldn't last the distance - for their sake as much as mine.
When I'd completed my part of the hiring process, I then handed over all the information to the company in China and put the ball in their court. And it was at this stage that things would all fall apart. The company took an age - far, far too long - to get back to the teacher in Thailand and keep the momentum going. Quality teachers became impatient and disgruntled, eventually getting back to me and saying "sorry Phil, I'm going to look elsewhere. I just lack confidence in this company to look after its teachers" - and I didn't blame them for making that decision.
After a frustrating couple of months as a recruitment partner, I said enough was enough and walked away. I couldn't keep letting teachers down.
And every person involved at the Chinese end - every person that was supposed to work with me to make the hiring process go as smoothly as possible - was a Westerner.
Recruitment. You are dealing with people's dreams and ambitions. If you are not going to take it seriously or you are not up to the task of doing it professionally, then get the hell out!