Bangkok Phil

The art of teacher recruitment

Take it seriously - or find someone else to manage the hiring.

"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!


"attracting quality teachers from an ever-diminishing pool" Just to go off topic a little... sorry. Is this really the case in Thailand? Are there really so many teaching job vacancies that recruiters simply can't fill? Thanks.

By Dave , UK (30th April 2017)

Ha ha! Lighten up Jack. It's a parody on TEFL Thailand. Have a sense of humor. It's a bit of fun.

Best bit of advice I ever got was from a Welsh guy who was CEO of an insurance company here in Bangkok. He said "Have fun in Thailand. Enjoy yourself but remember never to take yourself too seriously. We're all farangs here. From CEO to a backpacker, simply enjoy your time. Once you start taking yourself too seriously, you'll burn out hard"

Sound advice. Enjoy yourself.

By Robert, Bangkok (29th March 2017)

An interesting take, but I suspect recruiting teachers is similiar to any other type of recruiting although the cross-cultural and moving internationally aspect might increase the complications.

From my study and expereince, recruiting is usually about finding the person who is the best fit for the organization and position as opposed to finding the most qualified individual.

Athough I am not sure what part of the article inspired Robert's unrelated rant on the profession. If anything written about ESL leads to getting so worked up, I think it is probably time to seek other types of employment.

By Jack, At my computer (16th March 2017)

Now this is a job I would hate. But like the commenter said before, it's all a big circus. Here's what a truthful TEFL job ad in Thailand would be:

"Looking for a young and handsome white teacher to teach English. Native-speaker preferred but the parents won't really know so it's not that important.

You'll be paid a small salary that hasn't increased in 10 years and get 0 benefits. We pay for the work permit but you pay for the trip to Laos, etc. We expect you to take the job seriously, but we won't take you seriously. Contract is 10 months, but we will tell you 12 months and think of a reason why it's not 12 months anymore at the end of February. We'll probably just say the school don't want you and then we'll call you the 1st school day of May saying the school like you and want you back. Can you be here in 10 mins? The kids miss you.

We will try our hardest not to tell you pertinent information so you look stupid. We might tell you last minute, but don't be mad because that's negative, and poor relaying of information is part of our culture (apparently) Being shy is a perfectly valid excuse for adult office workers not to do their jobs. We will give you a rough overview of your responsibilities but change the goal posts all the time. Again, never complain as it shows a negative attitude towards our lazy and poorly trained staff. Your fault not theirs.

We are never in the wrong. We reserve the right to make stuff up at will and never question that. We need positive teachers who are submissive and self loathing. Our made up culture card always trumps what's right or real. So, if you're a sucker for banging your head against walls, we want you.

P.s - Don't email any questions to us. You won't get a reply. Just come to the interview and say yes. Look handsome"

By Robert, Bangkok (13th March 2017)

Excellent article and some very valid points. In my opinion if it looks like you run a circus then you're going to get a bunch of clowns apply. Makes sense really.

By Tony , Bangkok (13th March 2017)

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