Using teaching agencies to get a job abroad- YAY or NAY?

My name is Sorcha and I’m the founder of Empowering Expat Teachers. I have been teaching in the Middle East (Qatar and Dubai) for the last 5 years. The decision to move abroad and teach has completely changed my life. It has allowed me to experience a brand new culture, achieve rapid career progression, make lifelong friends, travel extensively, and save over €120,000 (£101,000/ $128,000) to date.

I have been able to experience such success and savings thanks to the 2 fantastic teaching jobs I’ve had in Qatar and the UAE. Both have had very high salaries, outstanding teaching packages, friendly and talented colleagues, inspiring leadership, and excellent Professional Development opportunities. In fact, both schools I’ve worked at have one of the best reputations and are known by experienced expat teachers to offer one of the best teaching packages in each of their respective countries (in Qatar and the UAE).

Did I use a teaching agency to get these amazing teaching jobs?

No, I didn’t use a teaching agency. I got these amazing jobs by applying directly to the schools’ job advertisements on websites like TES and other websites that advertise teaching vacancies at reputable schools abroad- click here to download your checklist here.

If I’d used a teaching agency, I wouldn’t have found either of my jobs because the schools I’ve worked at DO NOT use teaching agencies to find teachers to fill any job vacancies. This is because both of the schools have such prestigious reputations that they can advertise openly and receive thousands of applications from candidates applying directly to them.

How did I find these amazing teaching jobs?

I got these amazing jobs by applying directly to the schools’ job advertisements on websites like TES and other websites that advertise teaching vacancies at reputable schools abroad- click here to download your checklist here.

Have I ever used a teaching agency?

Yes. Many years ago, when I first started to think about teaching abroad, I hadn’t a clue about the best way to to find jobs abroad! So I registered with a few agencies to find jobs. I also used the online TES International Jobs page to look for jobs at schools that advertised their vacancies directly, rather than through a recruiter. I ended getting two interviews for two different schools in the Middle East. Interview 1 was from a school I had applied directly to on TES. Interview 2 was from a school I had applied to through a teaching agency. Here’s what happened:

Interview 1

I was interviewed by the school’s head teacher via Skype. He was passionate about his school and the education of its students. From the questions he asked me, I knew he wanted to find the best fit for their school. I could tell he cared about me as a person, asking me how I felt about living in a different country and culture. He also asked me about my personal and professional goals to see if they suited the vision and ethos of the school. I left the interview feeling very positive.

Interview 2

I spoke to a recruiter on Skype who wasn’t involved in education. He asked me questions from a pre-prepared list and ticked boxes as I answered. He didn’t really talk about the school ethos. As he was recruiting for a group of schools, he couldn’t tell me the exact school or location I could be working at, just the general region. I felt like I was just another number on a long list of candidates to be interviewed that day.

The result?

For me, it was a no brainer. I had made up my mind to accept the offer from Interview 1 if I got it, even if the other one had a better salary or benefits. I just loved how enthusiastic the head teacher was!

I ended up getting both jobs. Interview 2 sent me the contract with the job offer. I declined it and accepted Interview 1’s job offer WITHOUT even seeing the contract. (Rookie mistake- I would never ever do that now! Click here to see why I should have checked the contract before accepting!) When I got the contract, Interview 1 had a significantly higher salary, my own 2-bed apartment (instead of the shared villa offered by the other job), and longer holidays. I first thought it was just pure luck that it worked out like that but now in hindsight, I don’t believe it was all down to coincidence…

Would I use a teaching agency today?

No, I wouldn’t use the vast majority of teaching agencies today for a number of reasons.

  • When I compare my packages with teacher friends who got their jobs through agencies, I earn between 1,000-3,000 AED (£210- £625/ €255- €760) more PER MONTH than they do, for the same years of teaching experience. This is because when I’ve seen the jobs ads online on TES, I’ve been able to research the school, its location, curriculum, ethos, and teaching package very thoroughly. This helps me decide if this school best fits with my personal, professional, and financial goals. Click here to take part in my FREE 5-Part Challenge to Research Schools Abroad.
  • With these reputable schools, I’ve also the option to take a very generous rent allowance, an option many of the teacher friends above don’t have. I love having this option, as I have always been able to save a hefty portion of it by sharing an apartment with a friend or renting a smaller place in a cheaper area.
  • In my 5 years’ experience working as an expat teacher, I have learned that even with the best will in the world, teaching agencies can only place teachers in the limited number of schools they have on their books.
  • Some teaching recruitment agencies are working exclusively for certain schools, or a country’s ministry or education council, so naturally they will be aiming to fill the job vacancies for their client in order to earn their commission.
  • Because it is the school that pays them, not the teacher, some agencies think more about satisfying those schools’ needs and interests (e.g. looking for cheap labour, paying for a lower standard of accommodation, etc.) than yours.
  • Some schools abroad have such terrible reputations, treat their staff badly, have challenging students, and have a huge turnover. Their unhappy staff leave negative reviews online, so these kind of schools have to use agencies which don’t reveal their name, only their location, to recruit new candidates. Read my article on 11 Ways to Find Out What Your School Abroad is Really Like!

For me, the only person who has my best personal, professional and financial interests at heart is ME, so for you, the only person who has your best personal, professional and financial interests at heart is YOU. This is the main reason why I am now reluctant to use some teaching agencies to find jobs. Instead, I prefer to apply directly to schools as I am in full control of the process. I can get a real feel for the school from talking to its senior management via email and Skype. I can openly ask the school the important questions, so I know exactly:

  • Where I will be working
  • Who I will be teaching
  • Who my colleagues will be
  • What curriculum I will be teaching
  • Where I will be living (especially its location in relation to the school)
  • What my salary will be
  • What my benefits will be

Personally, the best packages I have got have been with schools that I have applied directly to.

In fact, in all of the podcast interviews I have done so far with expat teachers working in the best top-tier not-for-profit and for-profit schools around the world, including Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Singapore, and Doha, all applied directly to schools’ advertisements (mainly on TES) and have recommended this way as the best option for empowered expat teachers.

There is one teaching agency I would definitely use…

Search Associates is a teaching agency that I highly recommend using. They only recruit for well-renowned international schools with outstanding teaching packages, so you can be guaranteed a fantastic job with any of the schools they work with.

I am not saying to never use a teaching recruitment agency, but remember 2 important things:

  • Don’t limit yourself to only applying for jobs through teaching agencies. Give yourself as many options as possible by also applying directly to the schools that openly advertise their jobs on international job websites- FREE CHEATSHEET HERE!
  • Research the teaching agencies very carefully. Ask expat teachers how they have applied for jobs, and if they’ve used agencies, find out their experiences and see which ones they recommend
So then why do potential and current expat teachers use teaching agencies?
  • To give themselves as many options abroad as possible
  • To save time and effort, as agencies apply on your behalf
  • To get a job late in the recruitment period
  • To secure a job if they haven’t got much teaching experience in a certain education system (although this is starting to change as more and more schools now directly advertise for New Qualified Teachers (NQTs) – find out which schools in the Middle East employ NQTs!
  • To ensure they get a job with a friend who’s applying through the same agency
  • Because an expat teacher friend has recommended it to you based on his/her positive experience with the teaching agency
  • Because they don’t know where to start the international job application process. Keep reading to find out the 4 steps when you apply directly to schools abroad, rather than through a teaching agency…
  • Because they haven’t heard back from schools abroad whose ads they’ve applied to directly

I believe teachers don’t hear back, not because they lack the required experience and skills, but because their CV doesn’t sell them as an outstanding candidate to the head teacher within 7 seconds of reading it. Even though these teachers are very gifted, the format and language of their CV don’t sell them to good schools abroad, so they may feel their only other option is using a teaching agency. In the next month, I am hoping to do a free online webinar master class on “How to Create an Outstanding CV When Applying to Schools Abroad.” In this master class, I will teach you the format, skills, and language you must include to create your outstanding CV. Your CV has only 7 seconds to sell you as an outstanding and ideal candidate to the head teacher, so you need to make the best impression possible in that time. There will be limited spaces for this free online webinar master class, so if you’d like to book your spot, sign up here now!

Oh yes, I almost forgot!

The 4 Steps When Applying Directly to Schools Abroad

1) Find teaching job vacancies, using my cheatsheet of 8 websites that advertise jobs at good schools abroad!

2) Research the schools, their location, ethos, student demographic, curriculum, and reputation, using these 11 ways. Decide if it fits with your personal, professional, and financial goals.

3) Create an Outstanding CV and cover letter to be ready to apply to these jobs. Here are 15 Things You Must Fix on Your CV!

4) Adapt your CV and cover letter to suit each of your applications to the different schools.

(5) Start prepping your interview technique for all those interview offers that will come rolling in! Read my post on 7 Ways to Ace Your Interview!)

Join our supportive Empowering Expat Teachers FB group here where I share tips and resources to help you become a personally, professionally and financially empowered expat teacher! Don’t forget to secure your place in the “How to Create an Outstanding CV When Applying to Schools Abroad” free online webinar master class NOW!