“Hey Matt, I’m thinking of coming over to Korea to teach, can you recommend a good recruiter?”
I get this question repeatedly. People ask me all the time.
I also see it asked on forums, social media and blogs. Or it will be some slight variation- “good recruiter”, “honest recruiter”, “efficient recruiter”, etc. And it makes perfect sense. In order to get a teaching job in Korea, a lot of the time you need to go through a recruiter, so they better be good.
There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about what exactly a recruiter is and is not. Quite frankly, it’s something a lot of teachers already working here don’t totally understand. There’s a lot of misconceptions about what they actually do.
People often describe them as if they’re the one’s they’ll ultimately be working for. I’ve even heard people go as far as to refer to them as their “agents”.
I actually worked in a Korean recruiting company at one point. It was only for a short period of time, but nonetheless, I did get to see behind the curtain.
And here’s the deal. A recruiter is someone who connects you, the teacher, with a potential employer, the school…that’s it. That’s all a recruiter does.
They’re not your agent (at least not in the way you probably think of an agent). And they’re certainly not your boss. They’re the middle man. They act as a liaison.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Recruiters make their money from the schools. So if School A says they need two teachers to start in March, they pass that information along.
The recruiters then advertise on the schools behalf, either by directly posting the specific job on various job boards (Dave’s ESL Cafe, Craigslist) or by pitching it to potential teachers (you) who have approached them looking for work.
WHAT IS A RECRUITER SUPPOSE TO DO?
Once the contract is signed between the teacher and the school, they’re responsible (at least they should be) for maintaining communication between the teacher and the school’s management throughout the process of actually getting the new teacher to start working at the school.
This includes relaying information about flights, providing assistance with visa processing, and advising about necessary paperwork.
Essentially, their job is to help get you from your home country into the school and working as quickly and smoothly as possible. In exchange for this, your employer compensates them.
SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
It means that finding a “good recruiter” isn’t nearly as important as you think. For a lot of first time teachers who are at least a little anxious about making the move, this is an issue of comfort. They think if they have them in their corner that they have an extra layer of security.
This security is largely an illusion. The most important thing you can do is to find a GOOD SCHOOL.
This also ties into the common misconception that your recruiter has some kind of power over the school regarding your employment after you start working. Although they may be willing to consult with you, give you advice and talk to your employer on your behalf, they really have no ability to affect any decision made.
So instead of thinking about how easy your recruiter is to deal with, think about how easy your BOSS will be to deal with once you get started. Because most of the time after you start working, your contact with the recruiter will pretty much drop off (although they do host parties sometimes, and they’re usually pretty good).
Are there good recruiters and bad recruiters? Yes, absolutely. Just like there are good and bad people in any business.
A lot of the friends I made in Korea are recruiters. Some are extremely ethical, go the extra mile to help the new teachers out, and refuse to work with schools if they find out that they mistreat teachers.
And some of them could absolutely care less and will tell you pretty much anything to get you to sign the contract.
But the fact is this; once you do sign the contract, you’re working with the school. Hell even the worst recruiter ever can set you up with a quality school, and the best one can occasionally set you up with a terrible school. In a lot of cases the sheer volume of requests they get far outstrips their ability to screen for quality.
Sure, it would be nice if your recruiter was organized, polite and replied to you quickly. But at the end of the day, they’re not working for you, and ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.
If you’re looking for a job, spend the vast majority of your time and energy negotiating with and evaluating the school.
Learn to watch for red flags and filter out the good schools from the bad.
Pay attention to the things that matter. How well will you be paid? Do the other teachers seem happy? How many classes will you be teaching? How good is the location?
These things matter far more than any recruiting agency.