For those of you thinking of teaching abroad, writing your cover letter and resume is just one of many considerations. First we need to answer this: “Where in the world do I want to teach?”
When I moved to Japan it wasn’t because I had an obsession with the culture or the literature. I knew nothing ofmanga or Harajuku-style. For me, sadly, haiku, ramen, and sushi were the extent of my working knowledge. So why did I pick Japan? For that same reason – it was completely new, and the challenge of entering an environment that I had no bias for or against was quite frankly stimulating. This made the year unbelievably thrilling but tough; however, I’d do it all over again in a second. But if I had to, I would tell myself this:
Research “The” Job Boards
I write “the” job boards as opposed to “any” job boards. “The” boards are TEFL.com and Dave’s ESL Café. But each country will probably have its own niche site too. For example, if you’re considering Japan, then Gaijinpot.com is your place. My main reason for suggesting TEFL.com and Dave’s is that companies have to pay to put their job advertisements on these sites, which means hole-in-the-wall schools run out of some guy’s basement typically can’t afford the advert fees. That does not mean that all teaching positions posted on these sites are 100% legit or even worthwhile. But I’ll explain that more in the interview section below.
Get to Know Your Audience
Once you’ve decided on the country and schools you want to apply to, research those schools. Is the school government-funded or a for-profit private school? What are the learning outcomes? Do they focus on test preparation or basic English conversation skills? Who is the principal or the manager? Did you check out their LinkedIn page(s)? Does the school have any reviews on Glassdoor.com or a similar site? Are their employees happy?
Dust Off Your Resume
Back home in the U.S. I teach a 400-level university course titled, Technical & Professional Writing, and every semester I teach “The Resume”. Every term I also get at least one student, typically an older student, who has written plenty of resumes in their lifetime, and they are not too shy about telling me that resume writing is “a waste of their time.” Sure this is one approach, but I think that an overall openness to improving one’s work, no matter your age or experience, is a better way of approaching your resume revisions.
In 2016, resumes have slimmed up. The first two things I tell all of my students are you don’t need to include your high school education or references, so cut that dead weight. Next, consider a two- or three-column approach to fit more information on one page rather than going onto a second page. And finally, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Head over to Google Images and search “Creative Resume” or “Hip/Beautiful/Fuzzy/Whatever Resumes” and scroll through your findings to see what is attractive. In the past, resumes were expected to look one way. Today, it’s good to know the expectation an audience might have of a resume, but maybe break an aesthetic rule (or two), just enough to stand out.
Apply, Apply, Apply
At this stage, you should know if you want to commit a year of your life to that country and that school. If you’re not willing to give it that much time, don’t waste the school’s time, money, and energy. But if you’re serious, make sure you write your cover letter to an actual person. A little bit of personalization goes a long way. From the hiring side, this is a quick and easy way to impress whoever is reviewing the applications. I saw so many “blanket” cover letters written to the broadest possible audience (aka: To Whom It May Concern); it was apparent that the applicant was not actually applying to “my school”. Then, demonstrate your enthusiasm for teaching. Don’t go on and on about how much you are obsessed with the country that school is located in. The school is hiring teachers not tourists.
Finally, take the time prepare for your interview, should you get one. How? Keep reading.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Time to interview. In most cases, your interview will be conducted via Skype. Any school that wants you to travel to them (be it in another state or country) to interview is probably not worth your time or money.
Since your interview will be a Skype interview, you need to prepare. First, find a clean room with good acoustics. Test this out ahead of time. Remember this is going to be your first impression, so take down that Sublime poster and dirty laundry hanging in the background. Also if there’s a guitar in the room, move it. Even something like the hollow body of an acoustic guitar can catch sound and create some auditory disturbance when you’re on Skype.
For your interview, dress professionally but casually. Suits just look strange when the interviewer knows you’re sitting in your living room. And practice being “on camera”. One way to do this is to pretend you're a newscaster. They don’t talk with their hands or touch their face on camera because it’s distracting, so you shouldn’t either.
Finally, have a few good questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Here are some good ones:
Why do you like working at your school?
Can you break down (hourly) what the school day looks like?
How many hours are teaching hours vs. prep and/or grading hours?
How long have the current teachers been employed your school?
These questions will give you a general idea about the quality of the education, the school, and employee happiness levels. For me, #3 is the most important question. Some schools will have teachers work their entire shift, meaning back-to-back-to-back-to-forever teaching duties, giving little or no time for prep or grading. This is not only stressful but exhausting too. If the interviewer says their ratio is 60% to 40% (teaching/prep) that’s not bad. 70/30% is doable, but you’ll not enjoy your job very much. 80/20 or more, and I would not walk away from the job… I’d run.
Now that you know how to apply and interview, the next step is to consider if you want the teaching job that is offered to you, or not. My next post will examine your big move, where to live in your new city, and how to make the most of the work/life balance (if it exists). Good luck applying, and send any questions about moving abroad to firstname.lastname@example.org.