TEFL Jobs Abroad (15 things to know to get hired)

TEFL Jobs Abroad (15 things to know to get hired)

On average an English teacher recruiter/school will spend 6 seconds looking at your resume. (Yes, that’s seconds not minutes)

I’ve compiled some DO’S and DON’TS that EFL teachers should follow to ensure you don’t get ignored by recruiters and schools when applying for your dream ESL job overseas.

I think the points outlined below are relevant, whether you’re a first time teacher (with) no teaching experience, or you’ve taught English before and you’re looking for your next TEFL job.

I’ve curated resume and cover letter writing advice as well as some thoughtful tips from dozens of ESL recruiters and teachers working at language schools and universities in various countries.

To get started here are 4 typical job qualification mistakes teachers make (right out of the gate) when applying for ESL jobs overseas:

1. You apply for a university ESL teaching job and the requirement is a Master’s Degree in TESOL, but you only have a Bachelor’s Degree.

2. The language institute requires someone with a minimum of 2 years teaching experience but you have no experience and apply anyway.

3. The school is looking for a female English teacher only but you’re a male. Sure this is discrimination in most countries but will you get a call back?

4. The school has stipulated that they want a teacher from the UK because they want someone with a British accent and follow a British curriculum. You’re American,but apply anyway.

Make sure your education, profile and experience match what the job ad is requesting from candidates

Of course, no school can stop you from applying to jobs where you the kinds of requirements above…

And there is an off-chance that the language school may still contact you because they just didn’t get any/enough qualified applicants.

Some schools may be prepared to accept a lot less qualifications.

For example, I have heard of schools and colleges asking for an MA but hiring a teacher who only had a BA.

But 95% of the time, you’re wasting your time even submitting your application if you don’t meet the conditions they’ve stated are “requirements”.

There is a big difference between required and preferred when reading TEFL job advertisements:

One ESL job ad states that an MA is required

If you only have an undergraduate degree, don’t bother applying.

Another job states that an MA is preferred

By all means apply, you have a small chance of getting an interview.

If you do feel you are qualified for the job, then here are 15 recommendations to follow, before you even think about applying for an English teaching job abroad:

#1 Do some basic research on recruiter or school BEFORE you apply.

Does the recruiter even have a website? There are many recruiter that advertise jobs on ESL job sites, but they don’t even have a website.

Any recruiter who is hiring teachers from abroad should have a basic web presence describing their recruiting business. Company name, job descriptions, contact information.

I’d be wary of using a recruiter without a website.

#2 Find some reviews from ESL teachers who have applied, interviewed or worked at the school?

Get on Facebook and find school review sites, run searches for teachers on LinkedIn or FB who have taught at the school and try to connect with them.

If you start recognizing a patter of negative reviews versus positive one, it’s best not to apply.

#3 Research the laws, environment, culture of the country you’re planning to teach in.

Is there anything you could not tolerate living there?

Example: Pollution levels, treatment of women and minorities, human rights record, etc.

I’ve corresponded with teachers who had asthma and were applying to teach in cities like Beijing with severe pollution on certain days. Not a good idea.

#3 Put together a 1 page cover letter that highlights your education, experience or qualifications and personality

Don’t make your cover letter more than 3 paragraphs

Make sure your education, qualifications and achievements are listed by most recent dates to oldest dates.

Include lot’s of white space and make your sentences 50% shorter than the printed word. People’s eyes get tired reading on computer screens

Your cover letter should be included in the email body. Not as a separate file that the recruiter/school has to click to open.

#4 Don’t force the recruiter to guess when and where you graduated university, or how many years you taught at a specific school.

And if you flipped burgers at McDonald’s for 3 months during your school summer vacation, why would you include it in your resume?

Restaurant experience is totally unrelated to the teaching job you’re applying and so are hobbies.

Keep your cover letter and resume concise and relevant.

#5 Don’t send out the same generic cover letter to every school

Put yourself in the recruiter shoes. What makes you unique and why should they interview you?

Don’t tell them how much you love teaching ESL to kids or how you’ve always wanted to teach English in Japan. This is stating the obvious and has nothing to do with your ability to teach English.

#6 It’s better to talk briefly about your qualifications, experience and achievements. Even if they aren’t 100% related to ESL teaching

Focus on what you can offer the employer. It should be school or job specific not a “boiler plate” resume you send to every employer.

Even if you have you make only a few changes to your resume, it makes a huge difference if it’s tweaked a bit for each country, city or school

#7 Print your ESL resume and cover letter and proofread it for spelling, grammatical and choice of words and flow.

If you edit on-screen you will miss mistakes. If you were a school, would you hire an English teacher with spelling errors or typos in his/her resume?

Ask someone (friend, family member) to read your resume) before you send it. They may be confused by certain things you’ve included or referenced. You’d be surprised

Some teachers will argue that it’s highly possible the recruiter would miss the mistakes in your resume because they don’t have a strong command of the English language or are not even a native speaker.

True enough, but why take that chance when a job is at stake? Many will pass it to an existing teacher at the school who will notice your mistakes.

#8 Include a photo. Most schools in Asia and the Middle East will ask for it.  If you don’t include it you’ll hurt your chances of getting an interview.

It’s a proven fact that resumes with a personal photo (especially if you’re applying for teaching jobs in countries like China and Korea) get three times the number of views.

A few tips on photos

Don’t take a selfie.

Include a head and shoulders shot (not full body)

Just a picture of yourself, please. Not with your friends or students or dog

Don’t have a beer glass or plate of food in your picture. (I actually saw this one time with the teacher’s car keys next to the beer glass)

No beards, moustaches if you want to teach in Asian countries. Bears are okay in the Middle East.

Remove any facial piercings.

I can’t stress the importance of a high quality photo. Most recruiters will look at your photo and decide to look at your resume or not.

#9 Even if you just finished college and have no teaching experience, don’t forget to include things like volunteer or tutoring experience

Perhaps you taught at a summer camp for kids. Maybe you volunteered or worked at a senior’s centre or nurser, orphanage or youth centre.

If you took a TEFL course, describe it and what you learned particularly during your TEFL practicum experience.

Where you did your classroom practicum?

What ages groups you taught?

What was their level of English?

How many hours was your practicum, etc?

Were you observed and graded by a teacher/trainer?

List the things you like to do in your spare time, particularly if they involve teaching, coaching, public service and mentoring others.

#10 Try to get your resume on 1 page. 2 maximum. Nobody wants to read through several pages of your qualifications.

The recruiter will unlikely get past page 1 of your resume.

Do you ever get past page 1 of Google when you’re searching for something?

Don’t provide a list of all your references with names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, job titles, etc. Just say that you can provide references if required.

3 references maximum, but no contact information unless the recruiter requests it. There is a lot of identify theft these days.

#11 Think like Leonard DaVinci

Everyone (in the beginning) has to write a resume to get their first job. This includes celebrities and artists.

Leonardo DaVinci did it to land his first painting job.  In 1482 he wrote out a proposal listing his skills and delivered it to the Duke of Milan.

Have a look at his original resume:


#12 Make your email subject header enticing to get the recruiter to open your email and review your resume.

Most recruiters are looking for 5 qualifiers in a teacher so try to include them in your email subject:

These include:

Nationality (Are you a native speaker?)

University Degree

TESOL/CELTA Certificate

Teaching Experience

Age (there are mandatory retirement ages in most countries)

Here’s just one example of how you could structure your mail subject header to meet the 5 qualifiers:

Subject: 27 year old Canadian with Bachelor’s Degree/ + TESOL + 1 year of teaching experience in Japan.

So, before they open your email they know your qualifications (from the email previewer) because you’ve listed the 5 things that are most important to them.

Next when the look at your photo and you have a professional appearance, they’ll read your cover letter (included in the email body) and lastly your resume.

Most schools will want to know your marital status and age.

If you’re comfortable with providing that information, include it in your resume only. Why is this important?

Because most countries have mandatory retirement age laws. Also, they may only have shared housing and it you’re married, they can’t partner you up with a fellow teacher in an apartment.

Also in Asia they have a general preference for younger teachers. It is what it is… we know it’s discrimination in the West and in Europe, but it isn’t enforced in Asia.

#13 Once you get the recruiter to click to open your email and skim your cover letter (in the email body) how do you get them to look over your resume?

List your education and teaching qualifications at the top of your CV.

Many countries require teachers to have a full university degree to get a proper work visa. Don’t make them dig for this information hidden in your resume.

List your TEFL qualifications after your education

If you’ve lived or studied abroad, make sure you include this experience in your skills section.

Experience abroad shows that you are adaptable and independent. Many applicants mention overseas experience in their cover letters, but the details are nowhere to be found.

14 Formatting your resume so it gets read.

Use plenty of white space, bold titles, make them bigger and use short sentences.

Use bullets when making lists of qualifications, etc.

State whether you have had your degrees verified, had a criminal records check done, and of course when you are ready to start teaching. T

These are the first questions a recruiter will ask you first. Why not get a head of them and have their questions answered already?

Your writing should be easily understood by 10-year-old school kid. Short simple sentences please!

Include your country code with your phone number, email, and/or your Skype ID so they have multiple methods of contacting you.

# 15 Don’t send unnecessary documents in your initial outreach to a recruiter or school

Please don’t send copies of your passport, driver’s license, working visa, degrees, TEFL certification when applying for a job.

Simply state which credentials you have, for example I have a degree and a TESOL certificate (how many hours)…

Recruiters have been known to in fact delete applications that clog up their email boxes with too many attachments.

Your application should consist of a resume (1 file) with a photo of you embedded inside.

Follow these 15 suggestions and you’ll have a much better chance than the majority of teachers who break most of the ESL job hunting rules of engagement.

Remember the 6 second rule!

If you have more suggestions on how to get noticed by a recruiter and get interviewed or hired, please share what’s worked for you below.

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