At the start of 2014, I was hired to teach English abroad in Korea. I found a recruiter on January 2nd. By January 6th, my first interview was arranged. The company offered me a position on the 7th, and on the 8th I giddily signed the contract. It was a whirlwind of amazing luck, or so I thought.
Unfortunately, I broke nearly all of the rules for finding a good hagwon in Korea and paid the price. I ended up working longer hours than most first-year teachers, and with very few breaks. I also had to do jobs outside the normal job description, such as cleaning the classrooms and school with the other teachers.
Living in Korea was a blast, but looking back, I definitely made some rookie mistakes during my first job hunt. My first school in Korea could have been a lot better had I known what to look for and what questions to ask. So, as you start your own process, here are some tips to help you out.
1. Know When to Apply:
Most schools start their hiring process for the next school year far in advance. The average hagwon will know how many new teachers they will need by November and begin looking then. That means that the ideal time to start your job search is anywhere from October through December. Good hagwons try to have their new teachers hired early, so there is plenty of time to process the needed paperwork for the visa. Some hagwons hire year-round, but applying in the fall will give you the widest range of job offers to choose from.
2. Use Recruiters (carefully):
Recruiters are an amazing resource for new teachers coming to Korea. They match you with potential schools based on what you are looking for and work as an intermediary during the hiring process. Even better, many recruiters will pick you up at the airport and escort you to your new job. If this is your first time traveling abroad, this can save you a lot of stress at the airport. However, remember that recruiters are paid a recruitment fee by the schools. Yes, they are there to help you. But their ultimate goal is to match you with a school as quickly as possible, not to hunt down your perfect job. If you decide to use a recruiter, be clear about what kind of job you want and don’t be afraid to turn down jobs they suggest if it doesn’t match your criteria. Using multiple recruiters will also increase the odds of you finding your perfect hagwon.
3. Take a Look at the Job Boards:
If you want to try searching independently, there are tons of great job boards online. If you have enrolled in a TEFL course with a company such as TEFL.org, you’ll be able to make use of their jobs board and apply for positions listed on it. There are also other websites, such as Waygook.com, and Daveseslcafe.com. Many schools will post job openings on these sites, meaning you can contact the school director personally. Some schools prefer this since they will not have to pay a recruiter to help them find a teacher. One thing to keep in mind is that some of the job postings are made by recruiters – if the post offers “many jobs all over Korea!” it is probably a recruiter. Look for posts that focus on just one job or school if you want to be in contact with the school’s director.
4. Know Before You Start:
Whether you use a recruiter or plan to forge a path on your own, you will need to have a few things planned out before you start to teach english abroad. Where do you want to work? Some teachers are comfortable teaching in small towns around the country, and others are determined to be in Seoul. Try to focus in a bit more on specific areas you might want to live near, such as Gangnam, Apgujeong or Dongdaemun. What hours are you looking for? Schools that cater to preschool students generally work starting at 9 am. Not a morning person? Then you might want to consider an after school hagwon that works with elementary or middle school students and starts in the afternoon. Do you care if you are the only foreign teacher? If you already know people in the area, this might not be a concern for you. However, if you don’t know anyone, having several other foreign teachers at the school is a quick way to build a social circle.
5. Don’t Jump at the First Job Offered:
Play the field a little and interview at a few different schools before you make a decision. This will let you see what is common among schools, and what contract requests are a bit odd. For example, my first school expected me to clean the classrooms, help make snacks, and do bus-duty at the end of the day. Thanks to my inexperience, I didn’t know that this was not a normal list of teacher duties. Most good hagwons hire a cleaning service and have other workers ride the bus home with the students. So, take your time and interview with a few schools before you make your decision.
6. Interview Them Back:
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions in your interview. You are the one flying around the world and moving to a new country. Make sure you are comfortable with your potential boss and the situation you are putting yourself in. Ask questions about how many students will be in each class, how many breaks you get each day, and about the curriculum you might teach. If they don’t give clear answers, or try to avoid the question, this might be a sign that it isn’t the right school for you.
7. Wait to Sign the Contract:
After you get your job offer, take a day or two to really read it carefully. If this is your first job offer and you aren’t sure what red flags to look for, you can post it on Dave’s ESL Cafe. There are lots of experienced expats who will take a look and offer some feedback. Be wary of contracts that don’t give specific details, such as your salary, working hours and teaching hours, sick leave, vacation, housing, flights, pension, severance, and health insurance. The average hagwon for a new teacher will likely pay 2.1 million won and expect you to work from 9 to 5. You should have 10 days of paid vacation, which is usually one pre-scheduled week in the summer and one pre-scheduled week in winter. Good hagwons will pay for your flight to Korea and give you money for your flight home at the end of your contract. Schools are offering this less often these days, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Only sign the contract once you are 100% comfortable with it.
8. Check the Blacklists or Greenlists:
If you are unsure about your school, you can always do a little research. There is a Hagwon Blacklist of schools that other people have had terrible experiences at. Be sure to include the location of your potential school, since there are several franchised schools – the company might have a great reputation and still have one of the franchises on the blacklist. At the other end of the spectrum is the Hagwon Greenlist, where you can read about the best years of someone’s teaching life. Just remember, you don’t know all the details behind these reviews, so take them with a pinch of salt.
9. Talk to Current Teachers:
The best resources you will have for finding a great hagwon are the teachers who are currently working there. Be sure to ask for a contact at the school so you can speak directly with someone who has been there. This is who you can speak to about the school’s work environment, what problems they have experienced, what are the best parts about working for that school. One great question to ask is if the teacher you are speaking to is leaving the school, and if so, why? If possible, try to speak with two or three teachers to help you see several perspectives on the school.
10. Be Willing to Walk Away:
Though it might seem crazy to pass up a job offer after going through all the trouble to speak to teachers, research the school, and examine the contract, you have to be willing to say no. If you learn things about the school that make it seem questionable, move on. There are more than 100,000 hagwons across South Korea, and over 25,000 of those are just in Seoul. You will get another job offer. If the job doesn’t feel right for you, turn it down and interview with other schools instead. If you are comfortable with everything you learn about it and the information you find, then congratulations! You have found a teaching position at your perfect school.