If you’re considering teaching English abroad, trying to find the right position can be a daunting process.
In some ways, just making the decision to go and figuring out where in the world you want to spend the next semester, or year, of your life is the hardest part of the process. But it may end up feeling like the easy part once you start applying to schools, negotiating contracts and filling out documents to get your work visa.
For a helping hand through the sometimes complicated process, there is an alternative to dealing directly with schools overseas. A third-party recruitment company based in North America can provide much-needed support, which may include everything from negotiating your contract to offering discounts on insurance.
If it’s your first time in the job market, there are some important benefits to working with a recruitment company. Ben Glickman, co-founder of Vancouver-based Footprints Recruiting, a Vancouver-based company that places teachers in 11 countries, notes that some schools may offer conditions that violate their own country’s labour laws—or they may offer something they can’t deliver—in order to attract new teachers, which a recruitment company can help you avoid.
Not all recruitment companies are able to offer the same services, especially if they work with smaller schools or institutions in less affluent locations.
There can also be a lot of misinformation and verbal miscommunication about contract details and the application process between teachers and schools, according to Shane Finnie, director of Canadian Connection, a consulting service that connects individuals with teaching jobs in Korea. A company like Canadian Connection can act as a mediator and ensure that miscommunication, about simple things like what kind of paperwork you need to submit or how much vacation time you get, is avoided.
While a recruitment company may help you avoid the pitfalls and risks involved in finding the right teaching position, sadly, not all recruitment companies are made equal. Some will charge you for things that should be free, and others just don’t do their research properly. So before you sign anything, keep these questions in mind:
Does the company offer teaching positions that suit your needs and goals?
Where do you want to teach, who do you want to teach, and for how long? Before you contact anyone, you need to find out what each company offers by reading their websites, or talking with someone directly if you can’t find what you’re looking for online. Many companies specialize in one particular area and others may only offer one-year contracts, so do your research!
If you can’t find a recruitment company that works in your preferred country or region, you may have to go it alone by contacting a school directly. That being said, there are many companies that operate nearly everywhere there is a demand for English teachers – from Georgia to Saudi Arabia.
Are you qualified?
Make sure you can fulfil the company’s requirements before you apply. Most ask for basic qualifications that apply to any overseas teaching job—usually a Bachelor’s degree, criminal record check, health check, fluency in English and a valid passport. Some may need further qualifications like TEFL certification, and many will also require a resume, cover letter, references and an interview.
Remember that finding a job teaching English abroad is just like finding a job in any other market: it can be very competitive, so the more qualifications you have, like TEFL certification, a Bachelor of Education and teaching experience, the better off you will be. According to Christina Derwee, North American recruiting manager for HESS Education Organization, a language school in Taiwan, the market is very competitive at the moment thanks to the economic slump. At the very least, she recommends prospective teachers have a contract in hand before going overseas.
What do they offer?
Not all recruitment companies are able to offer the same services, especially if they work with smaller schools or institutions in less affluent locations. Some basic services that all companies should offer, however, include assistance finding a position and negotiating your contract, pre-departure information, and ongoing support before and during your teaching position. In some cases, you may also get discounts on insurance, free or discounted TEFL training and orientation packages.
Do they charge a fee for their services?
Schools pay recruitment companies to find English teachers for them, which means that the companies should never require payment just for helping you find a teaching position. Beware of companies that charge extra fees for full-time housing. Since most teaching contracts already include housing as part of your compensation, there is no reason to pay a recruitment company for something you’re already getting.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. A company may offer TEFL certification as part of your contract, which may account for the fee you’re paying. Of course, then you’ll need to find out about the type of TEFL training you’re paying for.* So before you hand over any money, just make sure there isn’t another company offering the same services for free—and make sure you’re not paying for something that is already part of your teaching contract.
Is this a company you can trust?
One way to check out a prospective recruiter is to check online forums, but you should be wary of negative feedback fuelled by someone’s personal vendetta. A better way is to ask the company to put you in touch with current or former employees, who can recommend other teachers you can speak with.
Regardless of how you go about finding the right recruitment company, and the right teaching contract, though, don’t let the process faze you. The right company can really help to take the guesswork out of finding the right job, which is priceless. Your hard work will be well worth the effort once it’s time for the real work to start!
Comparing TEFL certifications? Read, “Choosing a TEFL Course.”