ESL Job Application Differences: Japan and Korea

Greetings, everyone! Amanda here. If you read my last post, you will remember I talked about why I didn’t do JET. This time I am back to tell you about application processes for different ESL jobs. Jen C. has already talked about the JET application process in more detail in another post; I will mention it briefly for comparison purposes, but will go into more detail with eikaiwa (English conversation/teaching) jobs and jobs in Korea. I can’t speak for other countries, since I only applied in Japan and Korea, but from what I can tell from recruiting sites, many countries seem to be similar to Korea.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan

As I’m sure you may know by now, JET has a very strict application timeline and one may only apply once a year. The application process begins in October, the interviews are administered in February, and new JETs arrive in Japan in August. Eikaiwa and Korean schools are very different in that you can often apply more than once a year. I applied to AEON, and they have interviews monthly. If I remember correctly, if you get rejected in an interview, you have to wait six months before applying again. For Korea, they hire at all times of the year because contracts begin and end at all different times, but their major hiring times I imagine are before the new semesters start. The beginning of the semesters are in the beginning March and the end of August, so they probably start hiring a few months before then. But you can contact recruiters at any time.

The other major difference between JET and eikaiwa and Korean jobs is that for JET and eikaiwas you apply directly to them, i.e. you submit your application directly to the people you intend to work for, or at least people who work directly for the company/school your intend to work at. For Korean jobs (and I think many jobs in other countries) it is extremely common to use a recruiter. You submit your resume and application to a recruiter who would then look for a job for you.  I will go into more detail about recruiters after fleshing out my AEON experience a bit.

My Experience with AEON:

After you submit your application to AEON, they will notify you of a group interview that you are to attend. The interview process for overseas applicants is usually a series of interviews that spans two days in a major city, like New York or Chicago. I attended my interview in New York City. For AEON, you have a sort of group interview/evaluation and if they like you, you get called back the next day for an individual interview.

The group interview is kind of weird. I’ve never been to anything like that before. In my group interview, there were five other people, but I imagine that group numbers vary depending on how many applicants they get that month. The interviewers will tell you all about AEON as a company, what the job entails, and other relevant information. The most nerve-wracking part of the group interview is having to prepare a 30 minute sample lesson plan and present five minutes of it. You have to hand a copy of the 30 minute lesson plan to the interviewer, and he/she will observe you as the other group members act as your “students.” They broke the group up into two groups (we had two interviewers) so there were three people in my lesson group. At that time, I had no teaching experience, so I had no idea what I was doing or what to expect, so you can imagine how terrifying that was. I had prepared a basic lesson on foods, complete with picture cards and a key expression: “I have [food] for [meal].”

After the group interview, they hand each person an envelope that they kindly ask you to open after leaving. The envelope contains the results of the group interview. If you are liked, you are asked to return for an individual interview the next day. I was able to get an individual interview, and that was a whole other experience. The interviewer from the day before met with me one on one. He first told me about the job in more detail, like how a day of classes for you is set up. Then he handed me a sample page from their textbook. He left the room and I was given 15-20 minutes or so to look it over and prepare a way to teach it to him (he would act as a Japanese student upon returning). Again, I still had no teaching experience then, so I was pretty lost and really winged it. When he came back, he actually role-played as a student, complete with low English ability and blank stares when “confused.” It was really weird. After I was finished “teaching,” we switched roles and he showed me how an AEON teacher would’ve presented the lesson. Following that, he asked about what I could have improved in my lesson. The last thing he talked about with me before I left was a typical weekly schedule and what to do with time before and after work and in between classes. I left after he told me he’d be in touch.

Obviously, I wasn’t hired by AEON, so about a month later I got a rejection letter in the mail. I imagine if your are hired, they’d probably tell you in a more timely manner and perhaps even call to tell you the news, but then again maybe not. Please ask someone who was hired by them. ^_^;;

My Experience with Korean Recruiters:

First thing’s first: you should never have to pay recruiters. Their salary is provided either by the government or the schools they recruit for. If you’re asked to pay, you’re being swindled.

Basically, a recruiter is a middle man between you and your potential employer. With a recruiter, you never have to contact your employer during the application process, unless you choose to for whatever reason. (I had a very short, informal phone interview with my current co-teachers upon their request.) Many people never meet or talk to someone from their school until they arrive in Korea.

Photo by blmurch

When you want to apply to a recruiting agency, you should find a recruiter online, send them your resume and fill out their online application form, and then they will supposedly contact you about jobs. The online application form is just about your preferences in teaching and placement; it is NOT your actual job application. That comes later. When a recruiter contacts you, they usually set up a phone interview. This is really informal and they just ask very simple questions, like if you’ve ever been to Korea, if you have teaching experience, and if you have a criminal background. It’s kind of like part two of the online application. I think it’s mostly to make sure you’re not crazy and to hear you speak in English. Once they deem you a worthy applicant, they start looking for schools for you based on your preferences. You’ll start filling in the real job application and gathering necessary documents for the visa process (some of them take a REALLY long time to get). If it is a good recruiter, they will stay in touch frequently and check in about potential schools, your progress on gathering needed documents, and answer questions promptly and thoroughly. If they find a school interested in you, they will send you a contract and the visa process will begin.

One thing you should know about Korean recruiters is that you are in no way required to use just one, but that only applies if you’re looking for a hagwon*, or English academy, position. If you’re applying for a public school position, the government will void your application if it’s received from more than on recruiter, so please be careful. You can contact as many recruiters as you want and can handle. That being said, not all of them are upright, helpful people.

There are recruiters that recruit for just public schools, just hagwons, and sometimes both (though I think these are rare). At the time I was applying, I didn’t care where I got a job (even though I think public school positions in general are much better), so I contacted multiple recruiters. My first recruiter was for public schools. He was wishy-washy, didn’t seem very organized, and would often only half-answer or ignore questions in emails. I applied to a well-known recruiter called Footprints Recruiting, and I got an email to call a number to set up an interview, but every time I called the phone just rang. No answer, no machine, nothing.

My friend got a position at a hagwon before I got hired, so I contacted some recruiters she used. They hired only for hagwons, I think. One called me for a preliminary interview on the phone, and then I never heard from them again aside from mass emails about job positions that they sent to everyone that had contacted them. The other one I also talked to on the phone, but she pretty much flat out told me she wouldn’t search for a job for me because I am ethnically Korean and hagwons wouldn’t want to hire me since they prefer stereotypical Caucasian Westerners. Yeah, talk about discrimination, not to mention the fact that’s total bull crap. I’m not saying finding an English teaching job as an Asian in an Asian country isn’t hard, because it is. I’m pretty sure because I’m ethically Korean it took me longer to find my job, but it’s not impossible. Far from impossible. I’ve met a lot of other Asian English teachers here. It just takes longer to find an accepting employer.

I’m not sure when I contacted my successful recruiter in the mix, but she was seriously LOADS better than all the others. The recruiter I worked with was named Juno from Korvia Consulting. Sadly, Juno no longer works there (she resigned and went to India to study yoga – random!), but I heard similarly good things about the other recruiters there. They were friendly, professional, and honestly the only agency I thought actually cared about me as a person as opposed to just one more job to fill. My boyfriend and I had the same recruiter, and we actually became friends and had dinner with her and hung out… before she went to India, that is. She was really helpful for the whole process and even after I arrived in Korea. I was happy she was my recruiter, and I’m even happier I can call her a friend.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not here to bash most recruiting agencies. I just want everyone to be aware of the discrepancies in service and that you should do some shopping to find a recruiter that suits your needs.

As you can see, the application processes are all very different depending on the position you are looking to obtain. All of them are very tedious in their own ways though. For all positions, my advice is to APPLY EARLY. It’s always best to get things in quickly. It’s also good to be on top of things, like getting visa documents and letters of recommendation, and check your email frequently to stay updated on news and questions.

Job-hunting can be really stressful, but you just need to be well-prepared and persistent, especially with the current job situation. I started contacting recruiters in August of 2009 and didn’t get hired until maybe March or April of 2010, so these things take time. It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t hear back, but try to remember that many people are in the same boat as you. So good luck to those of you job-hunting!


*Hagwons are schools that students attend after public school that their parents pay to attend. They are pretty much like eikaiwa in Japan.

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