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Ask a Teacher: What is an ESL Recruiter and Why Should I Use One?

ESL Recuiter

Hey, Go Overseas!

I'm a recent grad with no TEFL certification and have been looking for teaching jobs abroad, but I'm a little confused. What exactly is a teach abroad program, and why would I use one? Also, is using a recruiter a good way to get a job? What do they do? Why wouldn't I just apply to a job directly on a job board or something?

Thanks!
Recruiter... what?

Teach abroad program? Recruiter? Why not just apply to work with a school directly? Which of the three is most trustworthy? Is there a difference between government programs and private programs? Trust me, these are all questions I had when applying to teach abroad.

Finding a teach abroad job is difficult enough on its own, especially if you don't even know where to look! In this article, I'm primarily going to focus on China, Japan, and South Korea -- three of the most popular teach abroad destinations.

If you're curious about other countries, be sure to have a look at our individual country pages to get a better sense of which options are available in your country of choice.

What is an ESL Recruiter?

Recruiters are very popular in China, Korea, Taiwan, and the Middle East. Typically, there are two types ESL recruiters: recruiting agencies and freelance (individual) recruiters.

Finding a teach abroad job is difficult enough on its own, especially if you don't even know where to look!

Just like recruiters in other industries, they both work directly with schools and companies to find qualified foreign staff, and will often assess you before passing you on for a final interview with your potential employer. Recruiters also tend to be free and will make a commission from the school for finding you.

Recruiting websites

Recruiter websites

At first glance, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a recruiting website or a basic job listing website. The difference is that recruiting websites will often interview you before sending your application on to a school or potential job. Personally, I used CRS Education to find my current job as a college counselor in China. A woman from CRS Education interviewed me before sending my application to my current employer, who then contacted me for a second interview.

When the first job I applied to didn't work out, they contacted me individually with specific jobs they thought I might be interested in. CRS emailed me about similar positions in Beijing, Chengdu, and Singapore, and I was able to let them know whether or not I wanted to apply. This was great because I didn't have to actively seek out these jobs, and I knew the companies were all legitimate because of CRS' reputation for only working with quality employers.

Freelance recruiters

Freelance recruiters are a very popular method for finding jobs in China and elsewhere in Asia. Oftentimes recruiters find you when you're already in a country. I've been approached on the subway, in restaurants, and even bars in Beijing and Xi'an. Their goal is to find native speakers for a selection of schools so that they can make a commission -- often amounting to your first month's salary.

You may also find a recruiter through a friend or by word of mouth. Personally, I have a recruiter I work with in China. I often send my blog readers her way, and she places them in public and private schools in smaller Chinese cities.

If you decide to work with a recruiter, it's important to keep in mind that you'll need to vet the school yourself before you decide to take a job, just as you would if you were applying directly. Be sure to talk with the school before signing any contracts, and you may even want to request to speak with a current foreign teacher.

What's the benefit of working with a recruiter? Many schools actually prefer to work with a recruiter rather than posting their services online. They don't want to deal with vetting applicants and would rather the recruiter contact them when they find someone who is qualified. Many of my friends have found fantastic jobs by working with a recruiter that they weren't able to find online.

Keep in mind, you can always look online yourself while also working with a recruiter, and make up your mind when you see what your recruiter offers you!

Where to find a recruiter

It may seem confusing at first, but a lot of the listings on Go Overseas are for recruiters. Three of the bigger recruiters -- particularly in Asia and the Middle East -- are Footprints, Reach to Teach, and Teach Away.

Recruiters also regularly post job openings on our teaching job board. In fact, most of the job postings are either from programs, recruiters, and bigger chain schools.

What is a Teach Abroad Program?

Teaching in Chile

A teach abroad program is an organization that recruits a large group of teachers and places them at partner schools. Usually, they'll hold a group orientation and may offer benefits like standardized contracts. Teach abroad programs usually also act as a good intermediary between foreign teachers and the school. They may also provide a Facebook group, photography or writing competitions, and optional outings for program teachers.

The great thing about teach abroad programs is that they create a safety net that you may not have if you apply to work with a school directly. They will enforce contracts, ensure that you receive all of your benefits, and welcome you to your host country. They also serve as a network, helping you create friendships with other teachers across the country. These teach abroad programs are a way to have the structure and organization of a large company like EF or Disney English, while also being able to work at a public or private school.

One major thing to note when applying to a teach abroad program is that you often have little say over which school you'll end up working at. Some programs will provide a preferences sheet; however, not every program will fully take your preferences into consideration.

This means that if you have a strong preference to teach in Tokyo, Seoul, or Shanghai, you actually might end up in a rural area. If you want to teach high school students, you may end up at a kindergarten. Once you receive your placement, it'll be up to you to decide whether or not you want to accept the job or quit the program altogether.

Government programs

Two of the most popular government teach abroad programs are JET in Japan and EPIK in Korea. Both of these programs are very competitive and are the best way to find work at a local public school in these two countries.

They offer standardized contracts and bonuses, an orientation, and on the ground support while you're teaching abroad. For those of you thinking of teaching abroad in Japan and South Korea, I would definitely recommend using these programs if you can.

Outside of Asia, France (TAPIF), Spain (North American Language and Culture Assistants), Colombia (TEC, and Chile (English Opens Doors) all have similar programs sponsored by their respective governments.

Private programs

For those of you who want to teach in China, there is no major government teach abroad program that I know of. However, there are plenty of programs run by private organizations. These private programs may demand a fee for your orientation and school placement, or they may be free. Private teach abroad companies also usually make a commission from the schools they match you with.

I personally participated in the Ameson Year in China teach abroad program. We were provided an orientation, pre-departure support, and standardized requirements for all of our contracts. We were also supposed to have language classes and occasional group activities, though this never actually happened.

Private teach abroad programs are a great way to get your foot in the door in China, but I personally think there are better ways of finding a job. If you've never been to China before, you may want to participate in a teach abroad program for a year, and then move to a different job you find through a reputable recruiter or through a friend.

Applying Directly

Finally, you can always apply directly to a school. There are plenty of sites that list jobs online, and you'll have full control over the schools you select. However, it's important to note that not all of these schools are good places to work for. Personally, I recommend Go Overseas and Teach Abroad Network (TAN) for finding reputable jobs in Asia. I find the jobs on these sites to be better quality than just randomly googling "teach abroad jobs in China."

Be sure to remember that just because a job is on one of these sites doesn't mean that this job is perfect. You'll want to do your own research before making any decisions. You can ask to speak with a current foreign teacher, or read reviews online before making a decision.

Overall, there are many different methods for finding a job in China. It's up to you to decide which route to take. The most important thing is to reject any jobs that aren't a good fit. Even if it means losing time or a small amount of money, you owe it to yourself to find a job that's right for you.

Find teaching jobs or ask a question on the forum.

Photo of Richelle Gamlam

Traveler, blogger and serial expat, Richelle has been living and working in China for the last four years. From high school English teacher to college admissions consultant, Richelle has tried her hand at many different jobs in China. She spends all of her vacation days traveling Asia off the beaten path, and in her spare time, she loves to scuba dive, salsa dance and try weird foods no one else will eat. For more of Richelle's crazy misadventures, check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.