Looking for a teaching job in Korea? The teaching market here is far bigger, more dynamic, and more lucrative here than in virtually anywhere else in the world. Here are some tips from a fellow traveler that should hopefully make the journey a little easier.
Note: The word “hagwon” refers to private institutions that teach after-school classes to K-12 students.
1.) Learn Korean
As a general rule, you will find far more information about any country in that country’s language than you will find written in a foreign language. With all due respect to the excellent work done by the expat community here, you will find far more information about job openings, hagwon reviews, teachers, and the like by going to Naver.com or Daum.net (two major Korean search engines) than by looking up articles written in English via Google.
2.) Know Where to Look for Jobs
As mentioned above, the best sources are in Korean. However, among the English language websites I would recommend are http://www.worknplay.co.kr, http://www.eslcafe.com, http://www.craigslist.org, http://www.hiteacher.com, and http://www.monsterenglish.com. For people looking for either a.) corporate teaching jobs or b.) test-prep (SATs, APs) jobs – I would recommend looking at the newspapers here. The Korea Herald (the largest English-language paper here) is a good source. Another excellent source is the Naeil-Shimun – a free weekly that you’ll find on the streets.
3.) The Teaching Industry is a Very, Very Close-Knit Community
According to Wikipedia, there were over 70,000 hagwons in Korea in 2008. However, as crazy as it sounds – everyone here knows what everyone else is doing. The competition between the hagwons is ridiculously fierce and everyone keeps tabs on each other. Both job and student turnover are very high so you start bumping into and knowing of different people in different places pretty fast. Avoid burning your bridges. If you must decline a job offer or a hagwon has turned you down, always email a thank you note of appreciation.
4.) Be Professional
Most importantly, don’t be late! I interviewed at about 15 or so places and I got an offer from 12 out of the 15 places. The only ones I got denied from are the ones in which I was late for an interview. It doesn’t matter how qualified or how charming you are – if you’re late your job chances are dead in the water. Also wear a suit and tie, bring a resume, and all that other fun stuff.
5.) Try to Schedule a Short Phone Conversation Before an Interview
Interviews are very time-consuming and exhausting. I’ve had many interviews where I would prep for the interview, commute one and a half hours each way, then interview for an hour only to then find out that the position was completely unsuited for me. Before going to an interview, request a short phone conversation and ask a few basic questions just to make sure the job’s not completely unsuitable. You don’t want to waste your whole morning for a position that was never right for you in the first place.
6.) About Public Transportation in Seoul
Here are some notes about public transportation. 1.) Seoul is a very hilly and mountainous city – the time it takes to walk a kilometer will generally be twice as long as in a flat place like New York City. 2.) Everything is next to either the 2 (green) or 3 (orange) subway lines. 3.) Any job that is outside of Seoul in one of the satellite cities (Ilsan, Bundang, etc.) will be a lot further from Seoul than advertised. Hence, if you want to be in Seoul – avoid the satellite cities and find a place that’s close to either the 2 or 3 subway line.
7.) Size Matters
First, the large mega chains here generally keep their promises better than the smaller independent operations. Second, if you interview at a hagwon – ask to see the teacher’s room. Check for notes, books, or personal effects on the desks that shows which desks are for current teachers. I would be very wary of any hagwon that had less than five full-time teachers (administrators who work as teachers don’t count). Very few teachers mean the hagwon either 1.) doesn’t make enough money to hire more teachers, 2.) is a new company without enough capital to invest in more teachers upfront, or 3.) has trouble retaining teachers. If there is no teacher’s room that means the hagwon either 1.) has very few teachers or 2.) gives very little consideration to the teachers. All of the above are bad signs.
8.) Who are the Decision Makers?
At the risk of sounding prejudiced, you generally want the managers at hagwons catering to students in the Korean school curriculum to be native Koreans who went to and graduated from the Korean school system. Likewise, you generally want the managers at hagwons catering to students in the American school system (primarily boarding schools or international schools) to be people who went to and graduated from the American school system. In my personal experience, problems arise when the managers went to a school system completely different than those of their students.
9.) Beware of Developing a Curriculum
If a hagwon requires you to develop a curriculum and teaching materials while teaching – make sure that you get paid well. Developing a curriculum is very time consuming. As a general rule – the number of total work hours in a job without curriculum building will take at the very least 1.5 times the number of teaching hours. For example – if you have 26 hours of teaching a week expect at the very least 39 work hours a week. Keep in mind 1.) this is the minimum and 2.) this is without time to step out for lunch or other extended personal time. However, if you’re have to build a curriculum – expect your work hours to be about 2.5 times the number of teaching hours. So if you have 26 hours of teaching a week – expect about 65 work hours a week.
10.) Your Picture Matters Just as Much as Your Resume
It is standard practices for recruiters to ask for a personal picture along with your resume. Make sure you look as good and professional as possible because like it or not that’s going to count just as much as what’s on your resume.