Should I use a recruiter to find a teaching job in Korea?
This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea.
A reader asks, “I’m considering applying for teaching positions in Korea, but don’t really know where to start. Is it best to go through a recruitment company? Or should I apply for jobs directly? Also can you tell me which recruitment companies are reputable? Thanks.”
Thanks for the question. The answer is… it depends. Isn’t that the answer to most questions?
For public school positions I think that you don’t really need a recruiter for the centrally organized programs like EPIK. The people who run those programs can all speak English, and they all have good reputations, so there’s not a lot additionally that a recruiter can do for you. For hagwon positions, though, I would definitely use a recruiter.
It also depends on how much hand-holding you think you’ll need. A recruiter will help guide you through the application and visa process, but truthfully you should be able to manage those things by yourself; there’s no shortage of web resources available on how to do them.
For positions in public schools
For positions in public schools, It’s up to you, but my advice would be this: if you are applying to EPIK, TaLK, SMOE, or the little-known Gnet, there is no reason to use a recruiter. They will just sit between you and the program and make communication difficult. I know of many people who applied to EPIK through a recruiter and later regretted it, as the recruiter insisted on acting as an intermediary for everything, which slowed down their application process and made it difficult to get answers to their questions. These programs are all reputable and will all look after you from the moment you arrive at the airport; there is nothing additional that a recruiter can do for you.
The GEPIK situation is more confusing, as there is a direct program to which you can apply, different recruiters who offer different things, not to mention some schools will find teachers themselves (which is how I got my new job). As far as I can tell, some GEPIK recruiters work directly with schools, while others do little more than forward on your application to GEPIK. In the former case I would think a recruiter would be a big advantage, in the latter case I think you would be better going direct. Working directly with the school would be best if you know what you’re doing, but it requires some familiarity with Korea, and would be a difficult option for somebody who hasn’t worked here previously*. *This was how I found my current position, where I work at an innovation school in the country with only 70 students, a wonderful English room with its own movie studio, beautiful grounds, and supportive co-workers. I found the position because my previous co-teacher posted on a Korean teachers’ forum saying I was a good teacher who was looking for a job at a small school. Opportunities like this are simply invisible to people without experience who are applying to teach in Korea for the first time. In short, I would probably recommend using a recruiter if you’re applying to GEPIK, but first find out what they can actually do for you, and make sure they’re not just taking a hefty fee to pass across your documents to GEPIK.
For hagwon positions
For hagwon positions I would definitely use a recruiter. Hopefully your recruiter will have worked with the hagwon before and have some idea if they are a fly-by-night operation, or not. At the least it will guarantee they will be somebody to meet you when you get off the plane, which is not something you will want to worry about if this is your first time teaching overseas.
Can I use more than one recruiter?
Why not? Some recruiters will say “no”, but that is for their own purposes, not yours.
However, for the centrally administered programs like SMOE and EPIK, there is no reason to go through more than one recruiter – it will only result in duplicate applications on your behalf, which could conceivably irritate the administrators enough to make them toss your application. For GEPIK, find out what a recruiter will actually do for you – they may have individual schools they work with, in which case there may be advantages to using more than one recruiter.
What else can a recruiter do for me?
Really, not much. Think of a recruiter as a dating agency – they set you up, but beyond that it’s up to you. If you think your recruiter will be there to bail you out when your hagwon goes out of business, you’re mistaken. Be wary of promises like, “We will be there for you for your entire time in Korea” – they might send you the occasional mass email, but they have earned their money by this point and practically speaking, you are gone from their minds.
Recruiters promise to help you through the visa process – however if you can read, there are plenty of web resources that will provide you with everything you need. See the relevant section in the Big guide to teaching English in Korea.
Because of competition amongst recruiters, I am seeing lots of recruiters these days who offer free things – guidebooks or a cell phone upon arrival. The guide books may be useful, but I wouldn’t let it affect my decision. Everyone I know who got “free phones” from their recruiter found them to be absolute crap, in some cases non-functioning. Again, I wouldn’t let this be a deciding factor.
Which recruiters are reputable?
All of the big names have their supporters and detractors, but all offer more-or-less the same service, with the same risks and benefits.
If you look in the job listings on Dave’s ESL cafe you will see many ads saying things like, “We have hundreds of jobs! The best recruiter! Just tell us what you want and we will find you a job!” It probably goes without saying that these types of recruiters should be avoided.
As for specific recruiters, I never used one with either my TaLK or EPIK applications, and I found my current position via a Korean language message board, so I am reluctant to list specific names. If you’ve had a good or bad experience with a particular recruiter, please let everyone know in the comments.
When I tried to do my too-clever-by-half switch to teaching on Geoje Island, I used Korean Horizons, which works specifically to place teachers in public schools in those provinces that hire outside of EPIK. I found them to be prompt and honest in their communications. On the other hand, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, I wasn’t offered an interview in the end, which seemed strange given my experience and qualifications. Regardless, they are an option worth knowing about.
A recruiter earns their money from a school or a program like EPIK by finding a suitable candidate and placing them in a school. Obviously you should never pay a recruiter, but remember also that you are not their customer; the customer is the school or program. They don’t earn money by finding you the perfect school or being understanding of your individual situation, they earn money by getting you on a plane and delivering you. Once they have placed you, their interest in you ends.
Having said that, you can of course use a recruiter, and depending on your situation, it may be the right choice for you. Just understand the limits of what they can do for you, and make sure that they are offering you something you need; not just taking a fee to pass on your application.