Podcast: How Teachers Can Find The Right School and How Schools Can Find The Right Teachers

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We interview Jessica Keller who has recruited over 1000 ESL teachers in China, Korea, Japan and the USA about the importance of recruitment as well as do's and don'ts for schools and teachers.

Recruitment ‑ How Teachers Can Find The Right School and Schools Can Find The Right Teachers (with Special Guest, Jessica Keller) - Transcript

Tracy Yu:  Hello, everyone. Today we have a special guest.

Ross Thorburn:  Jessica Keller, awesome to have you here. [laughs]

Jessica Keller:  Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Ross Thorburn:  I was thinking about this yesterday, actually. You must have recruited more teachers for more companies in more countries than anyone else I could think of or even imagine.

Jessica:  [laughs] For China, overall about 350, and for Japan, more than 500. For the US, it's a smaller number. I've done a lot of referrals as well.

Ross Thorburn:  It must be close to 1000 or more than 1000.

Jessica:  I think that's a safe number.


Tracy Yu:  I'm sure some of the people who're listening to our podcast probably were recruited by you.


Jessica:  Well, I hope so. If you are, I hope you have your great teaching experience wherever you are.

Ross Thorburn:  They're not going to be like, "I hate that woman. She ruined my life."

Jessica:  Yes, hope it was all been much better than that.

Ross Thorburn:  As usual, we've got three questions, all about recruitment and interviews.

Tracy Yu:  The first one, why is teacher recruitment important, the second one, advice for teachers on finding a job.

Ross Thorburn:  Finally, advice for managers on finding teachers.

Why is teacher recruitment important?

Ross Thorburn:  If you open any journal or any...there're so many books on teaching and TEFL Education. So many of them talk about teacher training and teaching but there're so little written about recruitment in this industry. I thought that was really weird.

Jessica:  I'm not actually sure why there'd be so much limited material on recruitment for the ESL industries specifically because there's a large body of recruitment information, [laughs] the world over.

For ESL, a lot of it is because the industry has probably just grown so quickly. Even from that, it's jumped from country to country.

In Japan, it blew up very quickly. In Korea, it's the same. Now in China, we're experiencing that, probably because people are hiring so quickly. There's not been a lot of time to evaluate it, what needs to be done in terms of hiring people with the best practices.

Ross Thorburn:  I read something...I can't remember the quotes from but it was talking about, "Training is important. If I had $1 to spend, I'd spend 70 cents getting the right person through the door." If you don't have good people in the first place, then the other staffs are not going to be that much of a help, right?

Jessica:  People also don't think about the cost of recruiting as much, which is always surprising to me. The money that any company...even if they have a very low recruiting budget, the money that they're spending on getting somebody, there's a lot of cost involved. It's something that deserves a lot of attention so that people can just make better use of their money.

Ross Thorburn:  It's not only just important, it's that for the company selecting the right people. It's also a super important thing for the employee finding a job. If you give people a good or a bad experience during the recruitment process, then it's usually a sign that there's bad things to come over the horizon. [laughs]

Jessica:  That's where onboarding is also a crucial component too. Even if you recruit the right person, you have a good training component after that. If you don't give them a good experience on arrival or entering into the company, then it's going to taint the experience.

Ross Thorburn:  I've been reading this book by Laszlo Bock. He used to work for Google as their HR dude. He was saying, "When people have an interview for you and common experience the company for the first time is like you should make sure it's the best day of their professional lives. They have an awesome time." It's true for the whole recruitment process. They'll be more likely to trust you.

Jessica:  Getting off on the right foot is key.

Tracy Yu:  Give the first impression of the company. They feel more confident, they're going to stay or not. I'm doing on‑boarding orientation with new staffs, definitely affects their decision if they're going to stay or not.

Sometimes, if they're coming alone and there's no people go through the same process with them, they feel, "Oh, it's so hard for me to come to the new country, finding an apartment and everything. Yeah, I miss my family." It's very likely for them to leave.

[background music]

Ross Thorburn:  What about if you ever come across and you're like, "Bad recruitment practices," or horror stories that either of you have heard about of?

Jessica:  Yeah, the key mistake that a lot of people when they're recruiting make is that they treat applicants like they have to prove themselves, which of course they do. You still should treat them like the valuable people that they are.

If they aren't suitable for the company, then you'd still want them to leave with a good impression. That's part of your own marketing. If they are suitable, then you want them to feel as valuable as they are. They're interviewing with all of these other people. Just as we've said that the industry is so big now, they do have other choices in terms of where to work.

Tracy Yu:  Well, another thing, it seems like the company sometimes try to keep everything a secret. I don't want to tell you all the details, what we're doing. I know what exactly everyone's work schedules like, what is the challenge, and you're going to face. They just hide everything. You've asked them some specific questions, they try to change the topic, confident...

Ross Thorburn:  I've done an interview with somebody of, "Can you send us a video of you doing training?" I was like, "Sure." "Can you send me a video of you doing training? You're going to be my boss. I want to see what you are like as well." I was like, "No. No. We're not going to do that. There's no trust at all. You expect me to be transparent with you, but not the other way round."

Advice for teachers in job interviews & in finding a job

Jessica, if you're speaking in partially to someone looking for a job, what advice would you give them in terms of what to look for in a potential company?

Jessica:  You've both already spoken to this a little bit. That's trust of your employer. That begins with the person who is recruiting you. Whether that is a full‑time recruiter, the school manager, or anybody like that, you should definitely have a level of trust with them both with what they say, and also what they can demonstrate.

It's important in China to be working on a legal visa. The process is still that realm.

Jessica:  Actually, what's interesting about that is that there's some places like in South America for example, it's quite a common practice for people to work on tours visas. I don't know the legality of it. Either way, just make sure that you'll understand the visa laws and what's happening.

If you have a question, or if somebody wants to bring you over on a certain visa, or whatever, just ask them. In some cases, there could be legitimate circumstances. You should be able to at least trust who you're speaking with. Also of course, make sure that you have insurance.

For Americans, it's a lot more complicated when it comes to insurance. Make sure that that's something that you're comfortable with. I would say for anybody working with an agent, meaning it's not a direct hire recruiting for the company that they're working for, just make sure that you have an opportunity to speak to that employer at some point. It's not just dealing with an agent.

Ross Thorburn:  That's interesting. I read something on LinkedIn saying that the vast majority of candidates don't want to speak to a recruiter, on recruitment day. They want to speak to their potential manager, which is quite understandable. Yet, a lot of bulk recruiting is done by recruiters instead of managers. If you're a candidate, is it cool to say, "I want to speak to my future boss"?

Jessica:  Unfortunately, for a lot of large companies, it's not a realistic expectation. First of all, you don't always know what school you're going to be allocated to until you get to that point.

Even though they might not be able to speak to their manager, in most cases we can usually find a way for them to speak with somebody, at least in the school, whether it's a colleague if there is, or somebody at the same level.

Ross Thorburn:  I'm going to add to the trust again, doesn't it? If you're willing to be transparent enough that you're willing to open up and let potential employees speak to people who are currently there, then that show us...It can let the trust, isn't it?

Jessica:  Absolutely, right.


Tracy Yu:  For me, the recruiting process, it's just like, "I'll be asked a lot of questions but I really don't know what they're looking for. Maybe I said something that's not exactly what they want. I probably just messed up the whole process." I don't know if there is any dos, don'ts, or checklist, and for people when they are applying for jobs.

Jessica:  Yeah, I would say most important is to be sincere. The most concerning thing for me when I'm interviewing somebody is when I can trust them. That's where the trust goes both ways. You have to be able to reasonably believe that what somebody is telling you is accurate, and not just their perception of what they think they should be saying.

Being able to talk about your experiences is a really important thing. Anybody prepping for an interview, I always tell them, "Make sure that you think about your classroom experiences, what's gone well, what you think that you could work on, what your goals are as a teacher," different things like that. Also, make sure that you researched the person you're interviewing with.

I know that's sounds really, really basic. You'd be surprised how many people don't. They're applying for a lot of ESL jobs. One big turn off I've had is when people say, "Oh, what company is this? I'm sorry." That thing.

Even if you're serious enough to want to interview with the company, make sure that you at least know who you're interviewing with and what the job is.

The other thing there in recruiting, there is keys that we know that somebody in the interview, that's them at their very best. That's a key thing. If you at your very best are late, disheveled, have a cat walking around in the background, or your mom comes in or whatever, then we don't have a strong assumption that you'd be a successful teacher.

Ross Thorburn:  What would you be like on a bad day if that's...?

Jessica:  Exactly. That's somebody who's going to be late and disheveled, and all of those other things.

Ross Thorburn:  What things do teachers avoid? Are there some of the things you just shouldn't do or shouldn't say?

Jessica:  Yes, I can tell you a few. I'm sure that none of the listeners would do this. Don't swear. Don't talk extremely negatively about former employers, even if you had a difficult employment situation in the past. It's not a good idea to mention that continually, even saying the word crap.

I know it seems minor. Again, it's you at your best. Especially when you're interviewing to be teaching, you think, "What is this person going to be like in front student?" If they can't hold it together...

Ross Thorburn:  Representing a brand...

Tracy Yu:  Communication skills...


Jessica:  Yeah, exactly.

Ross Thorburn:  That's things that people should avoid saying. I never knew what to ask at the end when they were like, "Did you have any questions for us?"

Jessica:  I don't actually mind one way or the other if they have even any questions, as long as I feel that it's a sincere person that I'm speaking with. Sometimes people have asked me about my own experience. That' fine.

Ross Thorburn:  That's something that I like to do. You can't read that on the website.

Jessica:  It can start‑off a number of different conversations about teaching or whatever country you're going to. Also, pointed questions about the job, like hours. Things like that, they show that somebody is, again, serious about the position that they're applying for.

Ross Thorburn:  To play the devil's advocate. I got told off in an interview for doing that and being told, "You should have read the job description," which I did but I didn't memorize it. I've almost schooled at it a couple of times to the point where I was afraid to ask questions. [laughs] Just neither necessarily, I didn't join that company.

Advice for managers on recruiting and interviewing teachers

Ross Thorburn:  What advice do you have if you're a manger, you have to hire a half a dozen people a year?

Jessica:  At least be humble enough to understand that it's worth investing time, and learning about. There's some simple practices that you can do, in terms of learning whatever interview questions that are important for you.

I've always been working in the behavioral interviews. If you don't do that, just thinking about the staff that you have that are successful and trying to figure out, "How can I get more people like that?" Maybe talk to the staff. Think about what makes them successful. Try, and find that in other people.

Ross Thorburn:  Interesting story about us. My first TEFL job, my boss had figured out that the people that stayed the longest were the best, were British males, age between 21 and 27.


Jessica:  What I can see him doing is those parameters.

Ross Thorburn:  Seriously, he hired a whole office full of them for intention. He ended up staying very professional.

Jessica:  That's an important point. In addition to thinking about the questions that you're going to ask people in an interview, if it's a teaching job, having a teaching component to the interview is helpful. One, it's more legitimate, because then you're demonstrating that you want to see how people can teach.

Of course, don't put people under too much pressure. Give them something to present or something that's important, and then that helps.

Ross Thorburn:  Teachers don't always have experience. How do you interview for those people who've never done the job before?

Jessica:  That is where competency‑based hiring comes in. In that, we look at things that are relatable, and in the English language industry that tends to be looking customer service. It's definitely not exactly the same.

If somebody has experience working in difficult customer service situations, then we can reasonably assume that they might have the ability to work with challenging situations with students or parents. There's usually a relatable skill. People who are generally, hardworking, and focus on their customers or students, and can handle a certain level of stress will be successful, we hope. [laughs]

Ross Thorburn:  I know you touched on it a couple of times, behavioral interviews. How do you go about writing an interview question?

Jessica:  Identifying what you want is the most important thing. Going back from that and thinking, "How is someone going to demonstrate that with their own experience?" and then asking them a question about that.

In the case of customer orientation, we would ask someone to discuss the time that they have maybe worked with a difficult classroom situation or a difficult customer service situation, if that's the case.

Ross Thorburn:  I finally want to know you can touch them on the other side. Any red flags to look out for?

Jessica:  Back to the word trust, anytime that you feel that there's been a break in trust. Somebody is saying something that contradicts something they said before, or contradicts something put on a job application, that's a definite red flag. If something feels off, if your instinct is telling you there's something weird, then think about why that is. You can probably figure it out.

Well, there is of course some bias in recruiting that we always try to minimize. In most cases, if something seems off, it generally is.

Ross Thorburn:  Cool. Jessica, thanks so much for coming on.

Tracy Yu:  Thank you.

Ross Thorburn:  It's just been so much fun.

[background music]

Jessica:  It's been great to be here. Thank you.

Tracy Yu:  For more podcast, videos and blogs, visit our website, www.tefltraininginstitute.com.

Ross Thorburn:  If you've got a question or a topic you'd like us to discuss, leave us a comment...

Tracy Yu:  If you want to keep up to date with our latest content, add us on WeChat @tefltraininginstitute.

Ross Thorburn:  If you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on iTunes.


Transcription by CastingWords