Top 10 Reasons Why You Can’t Get that Uni Job in South Korea

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University Jobs Teaching English in South Korea
University Job in South Korea

Okay, so maybe you’ve bought the book: How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams, are decently qualified (Masters degree + in Korea with a couple years of experience) and you’ve followed my advice.

Perhaps you’ve already done most of the 103 things on this list that will help you get a university job in Korea but you’re still having a hard time getting interviews.

I get it. I totally do. Things are kinda difficult these days in Korea and it’s an employers market. So, I’ve made this top 10 list for why you might be having a hard time getting a uni job in South Korea.

1. Education 

It’s really hard to get a university job in South Korea without a Masters degree these days. A few years ago, you could slip by with a BA degree, but times are changing and requirements are far higher these days. Even someone with a Masters not in education, English or TESOL would have a hard time. People with a PhD might have better luck these days.

2. Experience

It’s not easy to get a university job with only a year or two of teaching experience, even if you have a Masters degree. Places will be especially reluctant to hire you if you have never taught adults. Hagwon experience is even less valuable than public schools. Unfortunately, most of the high school positions which could lead towards a university job have been cut in Korea.

A Reader Question: How to Get Experience?

I’m interested in teaching English in a Korean Uni. I have an MA (in English Language & Literature) but most job advertisements say that they require an MA + 2 years experience at a college or university. I would like to know more about what that entails, and what the expectations are.

Recently, I completed my MA in 2012, and my university teaching experience is limited to the 8 months I was a teaching assistant in a college class back home. My goal is to teach at a university this fall, but I would love to know, how does one get those all-important 2 years of experience?

My Answer: Go out to the Paddies!

These days, it seems like job requirements are getting higher and higher due to some government regulation regarding funding levels for certain tiers of teachers. Almost all universities want the magic MA +2 years experience at a university, with a strong preference for experience in Korea.

If you have an MA but don’t have the experience, you’re still a step ahead of many people competing for the entry-level university jobs (low-pay, unpaid camps, out in the countryside, etc.), which is where you’ll have the best chance. This is especially true at crunch time when the semester is starting in a few weeks and they still haven’t filled all their slots with warm bodies. People always back out at the last minute so it really is entirely possible to pick something up at the last minute. It’s like a game of chicken basically.

Also Consider Uni-Gwons

You could also look for “uni-gwon” jobs, which are hybrid university and hagwon jobs. It will be Something like an English cafe, or language institute at a uni campus and usually will involve around 20-25 hours/week with a month or two vacation. For the purposes of your resume, it still counts as “university experience” and of course, it’s certainly better than working at a straight hagwon or even public school in terms of vacation, hours and stress levels.

Bite the Bullet: Suffer for 2 Years

Apply to these less than stellar jobs and stick it out for 2 years, even if it’s not great. Then, you’ll have the magic number on your resume and can move on to bigger and better things in Busan or Seoul and with better working conditions. Your MA in English lit is certainly going to look great to potential employers.

Don’t Give Up

Of course, this MA + 2 years of experience working in a university is the ideal candidate. Plenty of people without this still get jobs working in Korean unis. That person could be you, so send out those resumes even if you don’t entirely meet the requirements. And, network like crazy. Many jobs, especially the last-minute ones get filled by somebody on the inside.

3. Age

If you are either younger (less than 30) or older (more than 50) than the ideal, it can be really tough for you to even get interviews, no matter how well-qualified you are. You’ll either be the same age as the students, or heading towards retirement age in Korea. How old is too old? Find out here. 

4. Gender and Country of Origin

North America females are generally preferred and if you don’t fit into either of those categories, you might be overlooked in favor of someone who is both of those things, even if your qualifications are better.

Asian American teaching English in Korea: It is possible to find work in a university?

“Would being an Asian American reduce my chances of getting a job at university? I’ve heard that most places prefer white teachers above anyone else.”

Short answer = yes, it is indeed possible

During my time working at Korean universities, I have indeed met Asian Americans but not in great numbers. Unfortunately, it does seem like most university admin/school owners/principals have some strange idea that the white, blonde hair/blue-eyed person speaks English better than someone who does not look like that. It’s obviously really racist and terrible, but it’s just the reality in Korea.

Another thing that Koreans think about Korean-Americans or Chinese-Canadians (etc.), is that they will have an accent of some kind and not the “real” accent of the country that they grew up in, even if they were born in Canada or the USA or whatever.

What are the Basic Requirements to Get a Uni Job in Korea? Find out Here!

5. Appearance

As I mention in the book numerous times, appearance truly is everything in Korea. If you are anything but well-dressed and groomed and reasonably attractive, it can be quite difficult for you to get a university job in South Korea. You have to put a picture on the resume and hope that the university likes what they see.

Obvious physical defects and not being white are often huge strikes against you. Or, maybe you don’t present that well at an interview due to things like B.O., facial hair, weight or ill-fitting clothes. I’m not trying to be mean, but consider these things carefully-you need to look like a professor.

6. Lack of Knowledge about Teaching

If you make it to the interview stage, but keep failing it may be because it is obvious that you have no idea about teaching and universities are definitely looking for the “real teachers.” Trust me, the “real teachers” are easy to spot and I can pick them out after about a 20 second work-related conversation.

Almost all interviewers will ask at least one question about teaching methodology to sort out the amateurs from the professionals in the classroom. Consider this carefully and buff up on your English language teaching knowledge if necessary by taking a class such as the Celta.

7. Lack of Networking for a Uni Job in South Korea

 If you are not getting interviews, it is perhaps because you don’t know someone on the inside. Many of the top jobs are never advertised publicly and are instead filled through word of mouth, through friends of current foreign teachers. Even the ones that are advertised get filled by friends of the current teachers. If you are reclusive or not a cool person and just don’t know that many people in Korea, you will have a hard time finding a university job.

8. Lack of Professional Development

See #6. This can really set apart the “real” teachers from the “amateurs.”

9. Non-Professional Application Package

If you are not getting interviews, consider your package carefully. I offer a wealth of advice in How to Get a University Job in South Korea: The English Teaching Job of Your Dreams on this topic.

10. Not Applying to Enough Jobs

In the book, I talk about what to do if you are not a top candidate and have a few strikes against you such as your country of origin, lack of experience or age. I suggest applying to ANY and ALL university jobs in South Korea. Treat it like your full-time job and get obsessed with it.

You need to apply for at least 50+ jobs in order to get a few interviews and eventually jobs offers. Maybe you are a less than ideal candidate but you are being too picky and only applying to the very top jobs that even someone well-qualified would have a hard time competing for.

A couple years out in the countryside working at a job with a high number of teaching hours, less than full vacation, or low pay will help you tremendously in competing for the best jobs in the future. Seriously. A bit of humility is going to go a long way towards getting that first job. Then, put in the time and move onward and upwards in the world of university jobs in Korea.

Have your Say about a Uni Job in South Korea!

Why do you think most people struggle to find a university job teaching English in South Korea? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.


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