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Job Applications: Chris’s 10 Tips

How to apply for the jobs you really want to get. A practical guide to filling out those (automated) application forms.

When Cambridge University once advertised for an executive for Thailand, of 300 replies over 100 had CVs longer than 10 pages. HR people form their opinions within 5 seconds of their first glance…

Online job application formThere is now a plethora of TESOL job websites; many are forum-based and many, particularly the automated ones, share the same databases. This has given rise to a confusion of choice for applicants and many ply the web and enroll on them all. The resulting increase in applications received by the schools is phenomenal. Many of the automated applications submitted to the schools by job sites are often not considered because they contain too much, too little or the wrong kind of information. Some schools’ own electronic application forms may seem to ask a lot, but they do save you from wondering what you should be telling the school, they help you keep your resumé short, and they cut out the need for a statement of motivation. Developed by experts, they are able to carry out an initial “search and destroy” of irrelevant or incorrectly-completed applications thus relieving the recruiting staff of the task of manually sifting through hundreds of applications. Forms are therefore often designed as part of the interview process and how they are treated can be decisive: over 68% of applicants do not follow the instructions – not  particularly brilliant for people wanting to  be teachers.

Application forms provide all candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for a teaching position. Teaching requires a lot of routine form-filling, so candidates who find application forms tedious may wish to reconsider. Careful answering and completing all fields correctly will be well worth the time invested.

If a recruiter replies or calls personally, it is a good idea for candidates to be prepared to show that they remember the information about the school and having applied for a job there.

The average EFL teacher lasts less than 4 months in a job before leaving, either because the school did not honour its claims or because the teacher was asked to leave.

Pure common sense in any kind of job application counts for 90% of the success, but less than 45% of applicants for teaching jobs follow all the tips below. The last paragraph is of particular importance for anyone wanting to teach in Asia.

How to apply for the jobs you really want to get…

  1. Follow the instructions and personalise your applications to the organisation whose ad is being answered. Obvious blanket or multi-mailings are uninspiring, demonstrate a lack of personal energy and engagement and will almost certainly be ignored. The instructions in the job ad should be rigorously followed: no less, no more; and of course, your own English is absolutely perfect. 
CV Databases: the short text you enter which describes you should contain a reply e-mail address, see Tips #7 and #8 below. Applications which just state “Hello, I want the job you advertised” or “Please send me details” will be ignored; many advertisers now include links to their websites which contain all the infomation that you require. Schools have to pay to view the the CV or the contact details you parked for free on  a recruiting  website, so they want value for their money. 
ALL fields on application forms should be completed, whether they appear indiscreet or otherwise. Leaving information blank either leads recruiters to believe you have something to hide or just gums up the computer system. Applicants who are really keen to get the job will tell Asian recruiters what they want to know, including marital status and religion if they ask for them; and remember, being gay is no big deal – countries such as Thailand even have three distinct genders.
  2. Lengthy letters of motivation should be avoided – they are unmodern, and everyone uses a similar template. Mentioning the country will at least show the recruiter that you already know about salaries and costs of living there, and that you have looked up everything about it on the Internet. 
The language content of your application needs to be toned down; terms, expressions, acronyms or idioms will confuse a non-native recruiter. To say you are “hardworking”, “totally committed”, “perfectly suited”, “an asset to the school”, “the perfect candidate for this job”, ” an excellent teacher…” is not very original and will not impress the recruiter who will be the judge of these qualities during an interview. 
In Asia, particularly Thailand, many of the schools that advertise for foreign teachers are very modern and have excellent resource libraries, state-of-the-art materials and equipment; they often feel embarrassed by applicants who suggest bringing their own ideas and materials. Many of the better schools are even better equipped than their European counterparts.
  3. The CV is critical. Nobody is interested in an applicant’s past history as a pom-pom girl, a catcher’s glove carrier, a cub scout or a newspaper boy. Language centres do not want to know about sporting achievements or hobbies. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer, unless it has a direct and positive bearing on the job, is not important. Likewise, the vacation stint serving burgers in Joe’s Diner only demonstrates that the applicant was refused anything better! Helping people choose their meals from the menu in McDonalds is hardly to be classed as “nutritional consultant”. Having a PhD in marine biology or being a retired Boot Camp drill sergeant will contribute precious little to the power of singing the ABC song to a bunch of naughty 5-year olds.
 Nevertheless, a CV should not be too brief. HR people won’t ask later for more – they already have dozens of complete CV’s to read. One A4 page – or even less – contains all a recruiter needs to know to decide to call for an interview. All relevant information should fit on one A4 page – some online application forms are designed to truncate any excess and the application will not be processed.
  4. A CV should not be sent as an attachment. Attachments are usually deleted unread. They take time to download and often carry viruses. If email applications are allowed, a CV is best copied and pasted into the body of the email – it won’t be more than one A4 page. 
Copies of degrees and photos should be sent only when requested. It will NOT enhance an application to add copies of your GCEs, GCSEs, Abitur, Bac, US High School Graduation, Life Saver’s Diploma, Football Coach Certificate or Peter Pelican’s Road Safety Certificate for Five-Year-Olds. It will compromise the entire application attempt. Scanned documents must be small enough to print on ONE A4 page. (You will know that the US ‘letter’ size is not standard in the rest of the world.) Documents should be saved only in JPG or GIF at low resolution (72 dpi) – NEVER in PDF or a Microsoft format. Video clips, slide shows and presentations are not really wanted.
  5. CVs shoud preferably not be sent to organisations which are not currently advertising. 
Multiple applications for the same job or to the same advertiser will disqualify you as a timewaster.
  6. Grouped applications from partners or friends demonstrate a lack of maturity and independence – qualities which teachers MUST have. Everyone can sign up for free to Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail and have his/her own account. Some countries, particularly in  Asia are still very conservative and unmarried couples are not socially accepted; and at teacher level it would be tantamount to a scandal.
  7. State your age and gender because it should of course be on every CV for any job.
 There are a great many very different reasons why employers need to know the age of a candidate for a job. So, no age, no reply. With all the first names out there, particularly in the USA, it is not always clear if boys or girls are writing in. Teaching jobs can be perfectly legitimately gender-specific, so although Thailand may have three genders, neuters don’t get replies to job applications.
  8. Candidates abroad – please don’t suggest to the schools that they call you. Recruiters like to make their own short lists of people to call. Recruiters will definitely NOT visit your personal web page or blog, it takes too long to load. The information in your e-mail should be enough.
  9. Warning: 
prospective teachers should BEWARE of those organisations who ply the universities with promises of jobs abroad. Beware also of web sites offering programmes that sound too good to be true. Some offers are nothing more than pay-to-work programmes. There is no need for job seekers to pay any fees whatsoever to obtain a job placement. NOBODY (unless on an assisted training scheme or internship), not even the least experienced and least qualified, needs to volunteer or teach English for free, because somebody, especially the organiser, is making plenty  of money out of the scheme. There are other scams too.
  10. And finally, the best jobs, with the exception of the elite international schools that recruit through the TES or their own bona fide agencies or parent schools in your country, go to those who are already in the country and on call for an interview at a moment’s notice, and who can dress for the part. Anyone who has the confidence to stand in front of a class of kids or a conference room full of executives should also be self-assured enough to travel alone and ask around.
Written by Chris for TEFL.net
April 2010 | Filed under Career
Chris is an educational consultant, a published TESOL author and a retired college administrator and recruiter.

7 Comments on “Job Applications: Chris’s 10 Tips”

  1. Helen Says:

    Thanks, this was very useful advice.

    It might also be worth advising the schools on how to recruit and retain a good teacher.

    I recently had an interview in a school where the interviewer was late, they clearly hadn’t read my covering letter and hadn’t looked at my CV properly either. They didn’t make me feel very welcome and I left wondering if I would really want to work there.

    At another interview I went to, I felt the interviewer was interested, had prepared for the interview as well as I had and that I would be welcome in the school.

    It’s true that there are more applicants than jobs and that we have to compete for the jobs. However, the schools should also be competing for us!

  2. Helen Says:

    I just wanted to respond to the article that in number 5, the writer advises against sending a CV to an organization not currently advertising.

    Maybe this is true for Asia. But in some places it’s sometimes a good idea to send out enquiry letters. My current job wasn’t advertised – I called the director of the school, submitted a covering letter and CV, and was offered the job, where I’m very happy. It can sometimes pay off for both employer and employee.

  3. Michelle Says:

    Advice reminding us to edit our application materials is necessary. Human error slips in no matter how many, often or the range of years we’ve been seeeking advancing education and teaching opportunities. The same does apply to the advisors. Please edit your copy for text accuracy.
    Thanks for your supportive and helpful sections.

  4. SIDY DIENG Says:

    Thank you Chris,
    Your article is very important for teachers who have never got the opportunity to be asked to send CV or for an interview.What I want people know is that a Cv should be concise and clear enough to be well considered.
    as you say, for the interview, one should be patient and flexible in order to answer correctly and fairly all the questions.Thank you

  5. Kim Says:

    This is an interesting list with some good advice. However, not all of it is universally applicable.

    As someone who has been active on both sides of the recruitment adventure,I have seen some mystifying and irritating things. I have gotten applications with cover letters addressing a different school and others with resumes chock full of errors. A high proportion of applicants did not address their cover letter to the person specifically designated. I even had one person write that he wouldn’t deal with me since he “knew” that all decisions were made by locals.

    What to include on the resume can be tricky. While a PhD in marine biology might not help teach the ABCs, it indicates pluck, intelligence and a reservoir of biological knowledge in a field most kids are excited about, which can be used in teaching English. If someone has a background in theater, dance or music, I want to know that. Except for very young applicants, resumes under a page and a half rarely gave me enough information.

    The format and manner of inclusion of things like resumes one should use varies from employer to employer. As a reviewer, I certainly did *not* want resumes sent as part of e-mails: I wanted a simple attachment clearly identified with a file name such as Jane Smith resume. A number of openings actually specify PDF. While age and a photograph are needed on resumes for Korea, they are illegal in America. While being gay is no big deal in Thailand, it certainly is in Korea.

    As an applicant, I have spent hours filling out forms that upon submission are automatically rejected for a reason not specified in the advertisement (e.g., age). If a school or recruiter only takes people under 45, then they should save applicants’ time by posting that right up front rather than putting it only in a pop-up that appears after the application form has been completed. I have also run into a lot of forms that seem to have been formulated by someone unaware of the realities of the field. This includes demanding [ yes, “demanding,” since the forms are coded so that anything else doesn’t get processed.] things that many good candidates don’t have (e.g., telephone numbers or addresses only from the U.S.). Often, forms do not allow for degrees that do not fall within a narrow range (B.A., B.S., M.A.). Many forms also have ambiguous fields such as “country.” Is that where I am now, the country of my nationality, or what?

    While Chris says that we should know the employer, many job offers are intentionally masked in terms such as “a school in Chile.” Why should the applicant have to fill out forms etc. when the school or recruiter won’t list basic information such as school name, city, and ages to be taught, much less pay range.

    I find Chris’s comment that ” they often feel embarrassed by applicants who suggest bringing their own ideas and materials” interesting and surprising. Is this peculiar to Thailand? Except for schools such as Berlitz, I have gotten the impression that most places are open to new ideas — and many explicitly say so in their ads.

    Chris’s last point (about being in-country) is well taken; however, beware of being offered a job without getting the proper governmental permits. It leaves you open to all sorts of problems.

  6. Stefanie Says:

    Amazing! Thanks for taking your time and share these knowledge with us. As a newbie, i truly appreciate it.

  7. Dennis Schauffer Says:

    Dear Chris,
    Your advice is truly useful and encouraging but one thorny issue is not mentioned: AGE.
    I have good qualifications, followed all the good advice on how to apply for jobs and it worked! I received job offers – some of them incredibly lucrative. BUT when I tried to take up any of these offers, I hit a stone wall. I am too old!. If you are over 55 you cannot secure a work permit or visa anywhere in the world… and boy have I tried (26 countries). My advice to young prospective teachers is then to take the opportunity to teach abroad without delay. The age limit used to be 70 and now it is 55 … who knows what it will be tomorrow?

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