Teaching Abroad – In The Know Series (No.13): (Negative) Responses, Offers, and Contracts by Thomas Dowling

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Ahoy, Digital Travellers!

So, if you have been actively job-hunting over the last couple of months whilst reading these blogs of ours and internalising the morsels of knowledge and advice from myself, as well as taking onboard Philip Negus’ pointers from at ESLstarter.com seven short days ago, you should, I hope, have received a couple of interview invitations by now.

Assuming all that to be true (or if you are not yet making your way through this process but are looking to see how it might pan out), there are three areas that are relevant for today’s discussion that I’ve organised into the following sections: (Negative) Responses, Offers, and Contracts.

Again, most of this isn’t rocket science, and will be pretty obvious, even mundane to the more astute readers, but like with other instances and elements of this blog-journey, I want to be confident that we are all on the same page, and that we continue to progress in a logical, linear way. With this in mind, these points must be covered at this juncture. Unfortunately, these themes leave little scope for the more flamboyant writing and craftsmanship that I enjoy. That, I hope, returns more formally next week. For now, let us plough through this field of tall stalks.

 

(Negative) Responses 

Ok, cutting to the bone then, a negative response in this context obviously refers to the fact that you’ve not been offered the job that you’ve applied for. Now, there is the generic ‘no thanks (in all of it's various iterations).’ As you’re starting out, this is most likely a no because of a lack of experience. If it’s not this, it’s likely due to a lack of qualifications, perhaps you really do need that Masters degree in Applied Linguistics or a CELTA. To some extent, you’ll probably anticipate these sorts of rejections if you are aware that you do not possess such resume staples. This is fine, and you should not lose heart. Fortify your efforts; continue on with those cover letters, polish your resume with another coat of lacquer, and apply for more job adverts. Assuming you don’t have significant personality flaws and followed my suggestions about attire and surroundings, these two reasons are more than likely why you’ve been overlooked on this occasion. Persevere.

Sometimes you won’t hear anything back at all. Eventually, you’ll assume you’ve not got the job, and they’ve just not invested the energy to tell you. This is fairly normal and of course occurs in just about every industry in the work-marketplace, not just ESL. Not replying even with the briefest of message when you have spent time crafting a cover letter and whizzing over your resume is poor form, especially when most responses will be cut-and-paste replies anyway. So, move on. Not everyone is like this. In the end, this says more about the recruiter/direct hire than you, and probably represents a lucky escape. Treat it as such.

Some interviewers/recruiters will reply, stating that you’ve not been selected, but request that your details remain on file. Accept. There have been occasions whereby I’ve not been selected for a particular job, but I’ve stayed on file and be offered various jobs years after an initial application was rejected. I’ve even accepted jobs through this means, too. On other occasions, I’ve taken the initiative and requested that I stay on record, and have also been offered interviews and contracts this way. Think of these rejections as slow burning investments: With but a small investment of capital, substantial gains might be made down the line.

In a similar vein, don’t feel the need to reply with vitriol or invectives of other sorts to those who fall into the sorts of response-‘categories’ as those outlined above. As mentioned, they may well get in contact in the future, or refer you to another client or recruiter. They won’t do that if you drop your sense of professionalism or integrity in a fit of anger.

 

Offers 

Hurrah! Receiving a job offer is patently a good thing. Someone, somewhere thinks you are the right candidate to go into the world of ESL. Fab. Generally speaking, in the course of this email-reply with direct hires—and often with recruiters (though some differ, of course)—once the pleasantries are exchanged—a contract will be offered post-interview, most likely attached to the same email.

First thing: Don’t feel pressured into accepting the first offer/contract you get. If you’ve been offered one job, you are more than likely going to be offered others, others that may well be better suited to you. Some recruiters also care little about who they employ; they are after numbers to fill quotas and may offer you a post that is ultimately not in your best interest. You should be able to get this impression yourself. Think on the offer a while, and then decide on your course of action.

Secondly, don’t rush into accepting it just because it’s been offered. I never apply only for one job at a time, and I may well interview for several posts before accepting an offer. But there is more to it than this. I—and The Digital Traveller more generally—have tried to expand the panorama of going aboard whether for work, travel, or whatever else. With this in mind, before you accept an offer, check out the precise location and the country in more detail. You may love the job, but will you be happy living in an authoritarian state? A Muslim or Hindu country? Or frozen tundra? Check the climate, the politics, the security, the religion, the cost of living, and anything else you think might affect your time abroad. Only you will know what will be potential issues or trigger points for you. Be honest with yourself. No doubt there will be things you are not sure of or are entirely unaware of, and that’s OK. That’s where this blog comes in. These will be themes I discuss very shortly.

Take your time in considering an offer, and the contract. This advice, however, does not apply to jobs that are advertised and offered as IMMEDIATE positions—time is obviously a critical element that is in short supply.

 

Contracts

More patent obviousness: You’ll need to sign the contract to move everything forward with the job offer. This might seem like a formality in many instances, but will often be an absolute necessity to keep things moving. As most can surely appreciate, companies and schools on the other side of the world are scarcely comfortable paying for things upfront without a signed contract. They, like you, want something in writing to ensure that you are actually coming and therefore justify the time and money that will soon be invested in you.

Once an offer comes through and you’ve had a chance to look at the contract, this will be a good time to try to negotiate improved benefits and pay, seek clarification on points that might not make sense, or ask about those elements that are not the same as those advertised on the original job posting.

Given that you have been offered the job, it’s fair to say that you are the preferred candidate for this post and so can haggle, to some degree, from a position of informed strength. At the same time, your lack of experience and minimal qualifications inhibit probable success. Large companies may simply reject counter-offers out-of-hand given the pool of candidates available, or simply state company policy for salary bands based on experience and qualifications. There’s not much you can do here, but there is no harm in asking. Direct hires may give more wiggle room. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve never been very good haggling for improved conditions, but you may have more luck; the practice certainly goes on.

Regardless, the point to make here is this: If the things you strive to improve or otherwise wish to change are not given, and you are not happy with what’s offered, don’t sign the contract. Given the huge changes that will soon affect you deeply and intimately, don’t agree to something you are not comfortable with. Likewise, don’t sign the contract expecting or hoping that these things can change once you get to place ‘X’ - they won’t. It’s your responsibly to be happy with the contract you agree with and all the provisions and stipulations contained therein.

The main things to check are the salary, the included benefits (like flights and accommodation), hours of work (not just teaching time), and location (as this might not be what you initially agreed). Things like dress code may be a concern for some, while others may think disciplinary procedures might be of import. And to re-state again: Check everything, particularly for your first job abroad, and then only sign and return it once you are sure you’re happy with it. If you are new to the world or work, not just ESL, having friends and family giving it the once-over might also help. As always, it should never get old to say that moving abroad is a massive undertaking by whichever metric or criteria of assessment you employ. The right contract for you—the one you are happy with—is tremendously critical to your future enjoyment and success in your year abroad. Don’t take the contract lightly.

My rule of thumb is that if any of the items advertised in the job post or those mentioned in the interview are different in the contract, that’s a red flag, and something that should not be signed. This could indicate an intentional falsehood at the extreme end, to poor internal communication, or bad organisation between client and recruiter at the other. Not good signs in my view.

Never sign a contract that is in a foreign language, or a language you don’t fully understand. If they try and coerce you, or tell you that you need to translate it at you own expense, look elsewhere. These are also red flags in my book. While it is unlikely that they’ll own your kidneys if you perform badly in a lesson observation, there could be all manner of exploitative parts that could make your life super hard. Contracts offered in different languages are very rare, but they do occur. 

In my personal view, contracts are there to protect the employer rather than the teacher, who often has very little control or power legally to challenge the manifestation of that contract in your working conditions and benefits. The employer, meanwhile, uses the contract more as guideline or framework knowing that teacher protection is essentially an illusion. I don’t really hold a lot of stock in contracts as a means to prevent exploitation, but they are necessary to land that job, and get yourself in that foreign land. This comment may well perturb readers but I should make clear again that this is my personal view. Other teachers you meet and talk with may well have different viewpoints and thoughts. Yet, after working in over ten countries at a range of institutions, I rate this comment as a fair reflection of my experience. That said, every employer I've had has stuck to stipulated pay, accommodation, bonuses, and flights—the main parts—as outlined in signed contracts. It’s more when there are disputes over working conditions and requests of work one did not expect that problems arise.

Lastly, a word of warning. Contracts can be broken after signing not only by yourself (legal repercussions differ widely, and this is obviously a choice you will have to make if the issue crops up), but also by the employer. Many times when I’ve been abroad, the memo has gone around that teacher X is coming next week to replace teacher Y, only for things to not happen; teacher X decided Saudi wasn’t from him and pulled out, even after the contract was signed and the flights booked. Equally, on one occasion for a job in Belgium that I accepted, the company in question broke their contract with me after I bought my guidebook and very nearly paid for flights. It happens. Despite any outward perceptions looking in on the ESL industry given what you may perceive of the profession in your home countries, turnover of staff abroad can be high.

 

Summary

As with any profession in just about every industry, don’t lose heart if you don’t get the job you want at the first few attempts. In such a populous, fluid, high-turnover marketplace, a rejection at your first attempt might end up being your next job after you’ve gained some experience or completed a particular course. Conversely, don’t be too quick to accept the first job offer you get either. Give it a few days to see what else pops up in your inbox, and do a little research on the place you might call home for the next year. And when it comes to contracts, only sign when you are happy with the final terms - do all of your negotiating before putting ink to paper.

Ultimately, looking over the contract is your responsibility. It's important because this 6-odd page document will likely be the keystone to the successful outcome of your twelve months away. 

While much of this might seem obvious now, these are some of the easiest—and biggest—mistakes you might make before you even board your flight. Try not to underestimate the importance of the contract - it’s not as simple as giving a month’s notice and finding a new job like it might be in your hometown. 

Next week, we are going to start a several parter on Getting Things Together. This will discuss everything from your visa, to medicals, to organising your flights, to packing for the right climate, to properly preparing, and getting ahead through appropriate courses. There’s gonna be a lot of cramming over the next 6-8 weeks with dozens of links for you to check out. There’s also going to be a few more Special Editions that will be promoting our friends over at ESLstarter, ITI, and Twinkl, so do watch out for them too - they will be of tremendous help in preparing for you new adventure. And it should, I hope, mark the restart of more interesting, fun writing and topics. It’s tough making things like contracts sound exciting, but I am trying my best. Realistically speaking, there will be some blogs that are informative rather than interesting. T'is the nature of the beast.

So, with all that in mind, clear your Monday mornings for the next two months. There's reading to be done.

Out.

Editorial: Thomas Dowling has worked in the ESL industry for over 7 years, having lived and worked in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Myanmar, Kuwait, and the UK. Currently, Thomas is a full-time Ph.D Student studying Environmental Security (mainly Myanmar and Southeast Asia) at the University of Leicester. He has previously studied degrees in Ancient History (BA; MA: Bristol), and International Security Studies (MA: Leicester). In 2014, he earned his CELTA qualification (ITI: Istanbul, Turkey). Thomas is also the Co-Founder of The Digital Traveller, focusing upon content and content management. Thomas presently lives in Daegu, South Korea, with his wife, Mandy, a rambuncious Jack Russell Terrier, and his newborn baby, Zeno.

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