Monday, September 13, 2010

The Changed Job Market for Public School Seekers

As I consider my future job hunt here in Korea I am starting to recognize how much things have changed. First let me just say this is only in regards to public schools, since that is my target. Also keep in mind this is for those looking for a public school in Gyeonggi-do and not going the way of the GEPIK application. Meaning finding a school that searches for their own teacher instead of having one randomly placed there. One could still apply to GEPIK and find themselves placed at a school randomly but only for the Fall or Spring start.

Now that I got that out of the air let's look at how things have changed for those seeking a public school outside the application process.

Last year I was looking for a job around this time. I was in Korea and just got my TEFL certificate and was finishing my previous school. I had several offers and more were coming in towards the end of my contract. I was just looking for elementary schools and in a target region of Yongin and Bundang, so things were naturally limited. Yet I did have offers and even some schools willing to hire me on the spot.

Although I am not looking for a job currently my foreign coworker is and has been having trouble. Things are definitely more competitive now and schools are for sure being more picky. Another factor seems to be that people are choosing to continue their careers here in Korea so there are more experienced people to compete with than before.

However, my coworker has had several offers, one she rejected and others rejected her. I believe she has landed a job now but there are some complications in her documents. So things aren't terribly bleak but from what I can tell she didn't have a whole lot to choose from. In the past you could have more choices but these days being picky is hard.

The landscape of job hunting for a public school in Korea has changed because there has been a surge in applicants and schools have become pickier.

I saw what was happening to my coworker as warning signs for my future job hunt and so decided to contact a few recruiters with my concerns.

Recruiters Expressing the Change:
The following are the responses I got from several recruiters. I won't mention who they are but they are coming from reputable sources.
  1. "We have not been too successful with these of late. (Talking about independent public schools)
    Getting the match is simply too hard and usually a waste of time for us.
    Most schools want experienced, white, young, pretty, US females in Korea now.
    If we are lucky enough to have those candidates, we have to be able to offer them positions in the locations they desire.
    If we are incredibly lucky to still have a match, the teacher has to be able to pass the interview and get the docs in before the other applicants from other companies.
    It just does not usually work out. So we will not be dealing with independent schools anymore. Life is too short for them.
    I do hope you find something you want."
  2. "Honestly competition among foreign teachers to get a position is really intense so far. Even stable public schools or private academies’ principals tell me they want teacher who has degree in English or Education or Teacher license. Or they are looking for a teacher who has teaching experiences in Korea AND who is in Korea. Because economy in Korea is bad like the world does. So their budget is reduced. They need to stay on the budget and have to hire qualified teacher. So they choose to do not pay overseas flights then hire a qualified teacher. Even some Public schools and private academies don’t care TEFL, TESOL.
    School needs to prove they have good quality teachers for students. Most foreign teachers who already stay in Korea currently, they are extending to contract with school for next year. Because they heard there are no opportunities to make money back home now. I think you don’t want to work for bad institute during your rest of contracted days. So I’m telling you about present scene of Teaching in Korea. Anyway I didn’t mean to knock you down about it. But if my say made you it, I apologize to you.
 This line "Most schools want experienced, white, young, pretty, US females in Korea now " seems to be the most controversial part of this new job hunting game. Even on Dave's ESL cafe there are threads where people go on about how they can't get a job because they don't fit the new biased criteria of schools. We can sit here and discuss this discrimination and outright illogical thinking, but the reality is schools have the upper hand. In that case one needs to prepare themselves for a much harder job hunting climate.

My advice to get a job in this new climate:
  1. Be patient! Look at the reality of the situation and understand that it might take longer than expected.
  2. Get a professional photo. It really doesn't take much to put on an ironed dress-shirt and sit in front of a camera. In fact you can go to your local Emart or Lotte mart and make a visit to the photo booth section. Here they can take your photo under those studio lights than do a little photoshopping to make everything look smooth. You can get both digital and hard copies to take home. From what I have heard on Dave's ESL, and from what my coworker has experienced, this seems to be working like a charm. Consider your professional photo next to other applicant's casual ones, which one do you think they will take more seriously.  
  3. Be nice to the recruiters. They probably have no worries with getting paid. So if you are rude or impatient to them they can likely put you on the bottom of their pile. I suggest keeping things simple and concise when communicating. Also some might not know all the answers to things such as immigration issues or (well) your life.
  4. Have a Plan B, C, D... Because the job market is tougher one should have a plan if they don't get a new job right after your current contract ends. Either make plans to go back to your home country or choose to stay in Korea. You can stay here on an extended visa or go in and out of the country and stay here on a tourist visa. This goes without saying, but have money saved up for this in between time.
  5. Send photos of your work with children: Some might say schools don't want to hire experienced teachers because they cost more. However sending pictures of you working with happy smiling children might convince a school otherwise. If you are working at a school now ask your coteacher to take your picture during a special activity. 
It is my opinion that there is no solid "one type" of person that schools are looking for. One school might want an experienced applicant while another wants one fresh off the boat. Yes it is important to keep in mind that most schools are choosing just based on age, race and looks. We all know this is wrong but it is the way it is. That's why you have to take what you got and step it up a notch! 

Although, all of this makes me nervous I can't help but see that it was inevitable. With the job market being so poor in America (and other countries) and new graduates having trouble finding work coming here looks like gold. 

The most important aspect I feel, in the end, is to support each other. That is what I am doing right now by providing this insight I feel on the current job market.

But let's hear from you!
Are you having troubles finding a new job?
If you work for a hagwon are things changing in that sector too?
Any words of wisdom?


  1. Having recently been given notice at my soon-to-be-former school, I sent out Facebook and Twitter messages, which led to one interview - and one offer, which I'm on track to taking.

    Even without that personal network in place, writing a succinct cover letter (more than 3-4 short paragraphs and you're trying the patience of the person charged with reading them), attaching resume showing relevant jobs, and a picture.

    A significant part of the game is how you approach it - do you see yourself as struggling to keep up, or confident in your abilities and experiences? That comes out in your voice and mannerisms, whether you want it to or not.

    Get out of Seoul - the suburban areas have just as many jobs, while the job market seems quite hot on hiexpat, craigslist, etc. outside of Gyeonggi-do.

    Get out of public schools - sorry, but they are far from the guaranteed-good type of jobs they once were.

    Get used to a new reality - wages aren't rising, working hours will need to be more flexible, and schools have gotten pickier. Yes, more people are sticking around - if you want to be one of them, get with the program. Send out several e-mails (a standard template is great, but customize it with the school / location and something specific to that job) and respond quickly.

  2. I’m having the opposite experience as I’m doing my best to leave at the end of my contract, and instead I have my bosses offering me more money (I’m already paid quite well) to stay for a fifth year as well has having a couple of other hagwons offering jobs to me through past Korean teachers/students who have moved on and have heard through the grape vine that I’m leaving.

    What worked for me (I originally came for one year) was working hard, not making waves, and taking on a few extra classes on the weekends when asked to by my students (this really impressed the bosses). It may have also helped that I didn’t plan on taking a vacation at all during that first year, so, in re-contracting, I was able to get a nice paid monthly vacation between contracts now that the kids and their parents realized what type of teacher/person I really was.

    So, the person lucky enough to replace me in a couple of months is coming into a great family. They may not get all the perks I currently enjoy, but with a bit of actual work on their part, they can find a great second home that just so happens to be next door to Costco. I will have been here for over 4 years when I leave in a couple of months, and the previous Native English Teacher was here for 3.

    Oh, yeah. As someone from/in the corporate world, having a decent photograph in a suit really helps separate those who might actually work out as opposed to those only looking for a good time by using their playful/ill-advised facebook photos. It’s amazing that college graduates can’t seem to understand this simple business principle. You are selling yourselves as a teacher of impressionable young minds in a “conservative” country. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure this out.

    If someone is interested in a good hagwon job in Daejeon starting at the beginning of December, shoot me an e-mail at jawick (at) hotmail (dot) com


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