Getting hired is like gambling at a casino. It doesn't matter how much money (or qualifications) you have, you need to put the odds in your favor if you want to win and land your dream job.
I want to share with you how myself and many others were hired by universities abroad. Even better, it is a proven method that has an 86% success rate*. I’ll warn you beforehand that this strategy might take you out of your comfort zone, can be quite intimidating, and requires a lot more work. But the results are worth it.
The Answer: Pitch Yourself Directly to Universities
The idea is simple and not much of a secret. Still though, few people do it. You have to be proactive in your job search. First, decide where you want to work. Next, contact the people at those schools who can hire you, even if they don’t have any current job openings. Introduce yourself and learn as much as possible about the school. Finally, if the moment is right, tell them how you would be a benefit to their department. Let’s take a closer look.
Step 1: Decide where you want to live.
The first thing you need to do is think about what country or countries you want to live and work in. Next you should choose a few cities or regions in that country where you have the best chance of landing a job. Take into consideration your skills and experience when making your list.
For example, almost all universities in Japan require an MA and years of experience to teach at a university, whereas many universities in China or Saudi Arabia have lower requirements. Many will hire instructors with only a BA and very little teaching experience.
Once you choose what country you want to work in, you then need to think about what cities or regions you want to work in. Let's say you aren't highly qualified. Your best chance of finding work will be at lower tier schools such as community colleges and/or at universities located 1-2 hours from major cities. The competition is lower at rural schools because they often have trouble drawing in qualified applicants. Most applicants prefer to live in big cities like Tokyo, Dubai, Seoul, or Hong Kong.
Step 2: Create your target list.
Now that you know the country or countries where you want to work, it's time to list out potential universities to work at. Let’s imagine you want to live in Busan, Korea’s second largest city. Look at this list of Korean universities by city and region. You can also find many country and city specific university lists on Wikipedia.
In Busan, there are over 20 universities. You might also want to include lower tier universities in nearby cities such as Gimhae, Ulsan, Changwon, Gyeongju, and Masan. All of these cities are in the the Gyeongsang Province and take about one hour to get to Busan. These universities will make up your target list.
Boost your odds even more
Now, narrow down your target list to schools which have hired foreign English teachers in the last 3 years. The reason is that there is a high turnover for teach-abroad university jobs. Most native English instructors only stay at a job 1-3 years. Then they either move on to a new country or move back home. Furthermore, their contracts always end at one of two points during the year: at the end of the fall or spring semester.
Job seekers who leverage knowledge of university hiring cycles and past job ad information can exponentially increase their odds of getting hired.
As a result, universities end up advertising for the same positions again and again, sometimes even from one semester to the next. This is known as the university hiring cycle. For example, in the last 3 years, Woosong University in Korea posted job ads for English instructors on these dates:
- Nov-2011 (Spring Semester)
- May-2012 (Fall Semester)
- Nov-2012 (Spring Semester)
- July-2013 (Fall Semester)
- Jan-2014 (Spring Semester)
It's true that Woosong has a huge staff and therefore has positions open every semester. However, you can see a similar pattern at many other universities around the world. Basically, if they hired once, they will hire again. If you can’t find a job ad from the school, then chances are they probably won’t be hiring native English instructors in the future.
Step 2: Schedule an Informational Interview with the decision maker.
Now you’ve decided where you want to work and qualified your schools. In other words, you know if they hire native English teachers, when the last hire was or how often they hire, and you know all of the job details such as salary, hiring requirements, and contact info from their expired job ads. For this reason, all of the job ads on Profs Abroad are stored in a database and never deleted unless they are replaced by a new ad from the same school.
Next you need to send a brief e-mail or letter to the decision makers at the universities on your target list. The purpose of your message is to set up an informational interview.
- DO NOT send a long-winded email about your life’s accomplishments
- DO NOT send any attached documents
- DO NOT ask if they can hire you
This is only your first knock on the door. Keep it short and to the point. Introduce yourself briefly. Then say that you would like to learn more about their university/department. Ask if you could set up a short informational interview at their school or by phone (or Skype).
Who should you contact?
The decision-maker, the person who decides to hire you, is your number one target. This is usually the dean of the department or coordinator. You can usually find their contact info in each job ad. This information does change over time, but at least you will have a starting point to work with. If the person in the ad is not the decision maker, then it’s usually his or her assistant or someone closely related to the hiring process. If the decision maker doesn't respond to you, go for the next best thing: the instructors.
University instructors in your desired department can be extremely helpful. They can share inside information and often tell you what a job is really like, without filtering it too much. Where can you find instructor contact info? Look no further than the university's web page. Many list their faculty for each department with a photo, phone number and email address. For instance, KOC University in Turkey has their entire Academic Writing Department faculty posted on their website, including their CV! You can also try searching LinkdIn or Facebook to find faculty.
Step 4: The Informational Interview
Before your informational interview, make sure you’ve prepared a list of questions. Don’t take up too much of their time – 15 minutes at most! Treat this interview as if it were a real job interview. Dress your best. Be on time. Be positive and respectful.
If you meet the decision maker and the timing seems right, sell yourself. Give a brief pitch as to how you would be a benefit to their department. Ask them to contact you if a position opens in the future.
If you are talking to anyone other than the decision maker, your main goal should just be to network, not land a job. For some great tips on what to say and do during your interview, read Marci Alboher’s article Mastering the Informational Interview in The New York Times.
Just The Facts
I’m not going to lie. This method takes a lot of hard work and the ability to take rejection lightly. Not everyone will want to talk to you. But you will find people who are open to helping you. If you are persistent, do some detective work, you may even discover a job before it’s advertised. If anything, you will learn more about your target universities, what kind of people they hire, and what it's like to work there.
Maybe you're thinking, "Won't I be bothering these people?" The answer is no. Look, these universities need qualified candidates. You are not pestering them. You want the decision makers to know who you are and keep you in mind for future openings. In fact, you are doing them a favor. If you are right for the job, they can and will contact you when the time is right. Let them know who you are and why they need you. Get out there and sell yourself!
*The 86% success rate statistic came from job the hunting guru and bestselling author Richard Bolles in the article What Happened to Your Parachute (scroll down to “The Five Best Ways to Find a Job").
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