Top 5 ways to improve your application for teaching overseas in Korea
My name is John Morgan and I taught English for 13 years at Hanyang University in Seoul. I currently work as a recruiter hiring teachers for school positions in Korea. I loved living and teaching in Korea and I hope through these blog posts to offer some advice to new teachers about working and living in Korea so that they may get the most out of their experience.
You may be currently applying for positions to teach overseas with mixed results. Maybe you have been submitting your application for quite a while without getting the responses you expected. As a recruiter I see hundreds of resumes a month and I have seen some fantastic teachers completely sabotage their application by doing some things that really hurt their application. If you keep in mind a few simple tips when applying, you may end up receiving a lot more offers (and better ones too).
1. Submit an appropriate photo
Note the key word there – appropriate. There seems to be a belief among some applicants that when recruiters or schools ask applicants to submit a photo that any photo on their hard drive will do. Not so. Try and imagine what an employer might be thinking when they see an applicant”s photo and the applicant is clearly intoxicated. Or they are at the beach. I somehow doubt that any applicant would attend a job interview after a night of clubbing or in their European-cut speedos, but I do receive these kinds of photos with a fair degree of regularity (yes, I actually did once receive a photo of a teacher in their speedos). Submitted photos of a teacher in a bar, holding a drink or clearly drunk are actually quite common. And very damaging to your application.
If you believe that a photo is indeed worth a thousand words, then the photo you submit for an application should reflect that. If you are spending hundreds of dollars on preparing to teach overseas, and it will cost that by the time you get all your documents and belongings together, then the last thing you should be doing is submitting a photo which presents you in an unprofessional way. In short, the photo that you submit for your application should be the exact same image that you would want to present in a job interview. When submitting your photo ask yourself these questions “Does this photo represent me in a positive way?” “Is this the image that I would show in a job interview?”
I am occasionally told by an applicant “Sorry, I don”t have a better photo” when they submit a photo that is not appropriate. My suggestion would be not to be sorry, but to take the time to have a better, more professional photo taken. It will show schools that you take the process seriously and it will open up more positions for you.
As a rule, the following photos would be considered inappropriate:
- any shots taken in a bar, holding a drink, or any photos where you are intoxicated
- group shots
- recreational shots where you are hiking or at the beach
- photos where you turn the camera on yourself and lean into the picture
Appropriate photos would consist of:
- a head and shoulders shot of you (the person applying) and no one else
- if you do use a group shot, it could be acceptable to include one with students, although the head and shoulders photo is best
- photos where you are smiling and friendly are best
2. Submit a professional resume
I”ve been called a Grammar Nazi sometimes for pointing out the mistakes on a teacher”s resume, but I would like to mention that these resumes are for English teaching positions. I think a sloppy or unprofessional resume tells a lot about an applicant and what kind of teacher they would be. Like a professional photo, a well-made resume will open more doors for you.
If you are unsure of how to prepare a resume, there are numerous sites out there which offer good resume samples and temples. There are also professional resume writing services, which cost a bit more but also usually result in getting better job offers.
When preparing your resume to teach in Korea, you need to take into consideration the things a Korean school would want to see. The most important things would be teaching experience, of course, but other important experiences are camps or any experience working with youth. Don”t bury this experience at the bottom of your resume. I”ve seen a lot of resumes where they bury the really important information at the bottom of the page (like teaching or camp experience) and put unrelated experience (like sales or fast-food) at the top. Employers are busy people and they rarely read the whole resume unless something grabs their attention.
When preparing your resume for Korea, take the following into consideration:
- Put any experience you have with youth on your resume and make sure it is prominently displayed (don”t bury it)
- Be sure to put details about what you did at each position. Often I see resumes that simply list the names and dates of the places worked without any mention of what the teacher did there.
- Be wary of things like font choice, colour choose and other “creative: choices. Best to keep it simple. Resumes with a lot of font choices or colour schemes seem to turn off employers.
- Include a cover letter with your resume and in your letter include why you want to teach in Korea and why you would be a great teacher. Don’t just repeat what is in your resume. Your cover letter is a great chance to sell yourself.
- Most important: Do NOT under any circumstances put your salary expectations on your resume or cover letter.
If you find yourself submitting the same resume over and over again with no results, or not the results you want, try something different with your resume. Have someone look at it and make suggestions for improving it. The definition of insanity would be to do the same action again and again and expect a different result. If what you are doing does not seem to be working, take another look at it (or better yet have someone else look at it) and try something different.
I”d like to offer another practical tip for you out there that post your resumes on public forums. Email, people, email. Don”t post your phone number on a public forum unless you want to be bombarded with phone calls at all times of the day. I would never post a phone number on a public forum and would only give it out selectively after screening some of the responses you get to your resume through email.
One other resume tip that I”d like to add for applicants is to NOT send off your resume in a mass email to a long list of schools/agencies
that you have found online. Schools and agencies generally hate that and it shows that the teacher is not serious about applying. When a teacher submits a resume in a mass email, to me it says the teacher does not care what kind of program they work in. I think sending fewer applications which are specifically targeted to the school programs you want will get you much better results.
3. Get your documents together before you apply
Yes, you read that right – start getting your visa documents together before you apply. The visa process for Korea, to put it mildly, can be a frustrating process. It certainly is a far cry from when I first came to Korea in late 1996. When I first came to Korea it took about 2 days to get my documents together and mail them off. All that was required at that time was a set of transcripts, a photocopy of my degree and a signed contract. When applicants are submitted to schools, one of the first questions the directors ask about is their documents. ”Do they have their documents?” “When did they order them?” Schools surprisingly don”t hire that far in advance so the window for hiring is often 3 or 4 months before the position opens up. Teachers that submit their applications to schools have a much better chance of being selected if they are well-prepared with their visa documents. Schools view this that the applicant is more prepared and that their hiring process will go much smoother. From a recruiter”s perspective, it is much easier to work with someone who has all their documents.
I occasionally get responses from teachers where they state that they want to be hired and then start the document process because it is a long and expensive process, but in my opinion, that makes your application weaker. Having all of your documents prepared shows a school that you are serious and committed to coming to Korea and also gives you a bit more leverage in choosing positions. A lot of schools find themselves needing a teacher at the last minute because something happened during the visa process (things often happen – a criminal check takes longer than expected, a criminal check is rejected or many other possibilities). As such, having your documents prepared may put you in the position where you can get a much better position that opens up at the last minute and needs a teacher. I know a teacher that was hired for a university position and got the position because he had his documents prepared and the position needed a last-minute hire. Had he not had his documents prepared, he would not have gotten this position.
4. Do your research and choose carefully
Fifteen years ago would be what I would refer to as the days of “cowboy recruiting”, the wild west days of recruiting before numerous websites starting popping up and detailing some of the stories about schools and recruiters. Nowadays a simple google search will tell you all that you need to know about a program. When it comes to applying, my suggestion would be to start small and gradually build up the number of places that you apply to. Target the programs that you want to apply for and focus exclusively on those programs. Same as working with recruiters – target a few that you feel comfortable with and start working with them.
In doing your research, there are questions that you can ask to both schools and recruiters that may help you feel comfortable with them:
- How long have you been recruiting?
- What programs do you recruit for?
- Are you a licensed recruiter?
- How many teachers have you placed in Korea?
- How long has the school been open?
- How many teachers currently work there?
- What is the student enrollment at the school?
- How long have the teachers worked there?
- Can I speak to teachers at the school?
As a general tip, it is always recommended to speak to teachers at the school. This usually happens when you are considering taking the job, so after you interview, if you are interested in the position, you should request to talk to a current teacher. If possible try and talk to them at home as it will be a little uncomfortable for them to answer questions directly if they are in the office or within earshot of their director. If a school won”t allow you to talk to a current teacher, that may be a red flag about the position. Personally, I would never accept a position without talking to another teacher and being able to ask them my questions first.
As a rule, you should never feel pressured into taking a position as if it is the only position that will ever be available to you. Take your time and take the position you want and you”ll be much happier. If someone pushes you too hard to take a position, I would recommend walking away.
5. Get TEFL certified
This is particularly important if you don”t have a lot (or any) classroom experience as it allows you to put a teaching-related credential on your application. Applicants that are certified tend to get hired more quickly and with better starting salaries. In addition, having a TEFL certification gives you a bit more information about teaching and will make your experience a bit more enjoyable. I would generally recommend doing a longer (100+ hour) certification over the short ones, as these tend to carry stronger weight with employers.
However, there are a ton of TEFL programs out there which range from excellent to complete garbage. While some of these programs have strong international recognition, some of these programs are not recognized at all. The last thing you want to do is lay down the money for a TEFL certification program only to find out that it is not recognized anywhere. I know of at least a couple of online TEFL programs that are run out of homes and likely wouldn”t be recognized by many schools. When choosing a program, don”t base your decision simply on cost. Choosing the cheapest program may save you a few bucks but if the program is not recognized, your money will have been wasted.
When choosing a TEFL program, be sure to ask them:
- Is this certificate internationally recognized?
- What is the background of the instructors and their qualifications?
- What modules will we study in this certification program?
As mentioned, there are a ton of TEFL programs out there, many promising the same thing. Do you research on TEFL programs and choose carefully.
Applying to teach overseas can be a long and complicated process (and a very frustrating one at time too), but if you keep in mind some of the above tips, I can all but guarantee that your application process will be a more successful one. Any other tips or suggestions for applying to Korea? Share them in the comments section.
In addition, I have found a useful site for helping teachers prepare to go overseas here:
In particular the article on resume tips, as well as the article on getting started in teaching will be useful for new teachers. I also liked the article on Avoiding teacher burnout (a common issue with teachers). Anyway, I highly recommend checking out www.educationdegree.com for some good information on teaching and preparing to teach abroad.