University jobs in Korea—let’s get to it! If you’re looking to get one of the best ESL teaching jobs in the world, you’re probably looking for all the information you can get your hands on, right? Here are the answers to many of the most commonly asked questions about Teaching English in South Korea, specifically universities.
Will In-Person Visits Help me Get University Jobs in Korea?
“My wife and I just moved to City X last month to teach in a Hagwon. I have a Masters in Social Work, and my wife has an MBA and a Law degree. We live right next to the university here and wondered how to make contact there for possible work next year. Can we introduce ourselves directly to department heads? Or will we need to find some kind of contact that will introduce us? Any suggestions for how to make this happen?”
Contact With Department Heads: Difficult!
Making contact with those in charge of hiring at that specific university can be quite difficult. You probably won’t even be able to figure out who these people are until you see a job ad posted somewhere like ESL Cafe. Even at the universities I worked at, I had no idea how to find these people. Honestly, I didn’t even really know who my big boss was in most cases.
The other thing is that resumes generally get screened through a department secretary of some kind. The actual big-wig at the top making the decisions may not even really know what’s going on until it comes down to the actual interviews.
A Better Bet? The Other Foreign Teachers
Your best hope is to make friends with the foreigners at that university, which will be quite easy if you live next door. Hang out in the local expat bar in town and you’re sure to meet a few of them.
Or, attend a local chapter meeting of KOTESOL and you’ll meet lots of teachers there. If you become friends with these people, they will probably be happy to introduce you to their bosses, or drop off a resume when it comes time.
Of course, you shouldn’t treat these people like university job vending machines-that is most definitely not a cool thing and won’t work out for you, at all.
I’ve had people approach me in places and within a few seconds state that they were looking for a university job and wanted to know if I could help them. This made me feel…bad, and used and I kind of wanted to run in the other direction. Don’t be that guy!
What about Weekend or Phone Interviews for a University Interview in Korea?
This is a question that I got from a reader of mine:
“Something that worries me is my capability to be able to attend the interviews mid week. I know that my school would have a heart attack if I didn’t show up. There is no way that they would ever give me time to go for interviews but I have a great resume and think I’ll get lots of interview offers.
From where I am now, it takes me over 2 hours to reach Seoul and then God knows how many extra hours to reach the potential interview destination. Do universities do weekend interviews? How about Skype or phone interviews? Any advice you could give me would be appreciated.”
I’ve Been There Too when Teaching English in South Korea
First of all, this was the very situation I found myself in when working at a hagwon. I just finished my MA and was applying for university jobs. I got two interviews and fortunately one was in the morning when I didn’t work. The other? Right during my work schedule. I think I ended up taking one of my vacation days. It wasn’t ideal, but getting a university job was certainly worth it and I made up for that vacation time later (5 months of it per year!).
Korean Uni Interview via Phone or on Weekends? Not Likely
You might be out of luck with the weekend/phone interview thing. Most universities are quite inflexible in terms of interview times and will often expect you to drop everything on short notice to attend. If you’re lucky, you may get a choice of a couple days and morning or afternoon or something like that.
Always remember though: the people who are interviewing you are more important and are likelier far busier than you. You’ll most often get interviewed by a panel of 2-5 people so finding a time when they can all get together is a minor miracle similar to the parting of the sea.
Plus, there are lots of you (the interview candidate) to go around so if you can’t attend, they’ll just go to the next person on the list.
In-Person Rules All for University Jobs in Korea!
Basically, all universities want in-person interviews and if you’re in Korea, there’s almost no excuse that is good enough for why you’d need a Skype or phone interview. And nobody wants to work on a Saturday or Sunday, so I think you’ll have an extremely hard time finding someone that will schedule an interview for those days.
Remember that you’ll often be interviewed by a panel of people in Korea. So, it can actually be quite difficult to find a time when the 2-5 people can sit down together and do this. The day/times they have chosen is likely the only day or time that’s going to work for them.
There are a Ton of Applications for Teaching English in South Korea Jobs
I don’t know exact numbers, but my guess is that there are at least 100 applications for each university job in South Korea. Perhaps the department secretary narrows it done to the best 10 in terms of experience and qualifications. Then they might interview the top 5.
If you turn down that interview, there are certainly lots of other people who will jump on that opportunity before you can blink your eyes. Don’t think that you’re the chosen one and stay humble. You will certainly have to compete for the job with other top candidates.
The Solution: Use a Sick Day?
I know your current school might have a heart-attack, but don’t you have a sick day or two in the contract? I hope you haven’t used them yet because that seems like your best option by far.
Sure, they’ll be a bit angry but it’s your life, you know? Why stick around at a crappy hagwon for longer than necessary just because they won’t give you a day off to attend an important interview.
If they hassle you about going to the doctor, or want to come over to “take care of you,” just tell them that you have the pukes and have to stay near the toilet at all times. That’ll hopefully put them off the trail and will give you a valid reason for not going to the doctor.
Or, a Vacation Day?
If you plan on applying for university jobs, save your vacation days. If you work at a hagwon, you’ll probably have 10. 5 will be assigned for summer vacation, and then 5 can usually be used at your discretion.
Universities will often give you at least a week notice of interviews, so use a vacation day if possible. This is often a better solution than calling in sick.
My Timing is Bad For Getting a Job at a Korean University
The semesters start in September and March, with March being the start of the academic year. A recent trend in the past few years is that schools have started to try to hire most of their English teachers for a March start, when in the past the hiring has generally been divided pretty equally between the two (that said, I got both my jobs as a September start so don’t despair if you find yourself in this position).
Here are some of the best options
The Best Case Scenario-Extend your current contract
Anyway, what should you do if your current contract does not finish at an ideal time, such as in October or April and you’re interested in teaching English in a Korean university. The best case scenario would be to stick at your current job until you can finish at an ideal time.
This will probably involve asking your employer to extend your contract, but not for a full-year, maybe something like 3 or 4 months. In my experience, most employers will be willing to do this if you are a good employee since it saves them the hassle (and expense) of hiring a new person for a bit longer.
The additional bonus of this one is that you can hopefully transfer your visa from your old employer to your new one, which is much easier than getting a new visa. If you aren’t a good employee, of course nobody will go out of their way to help you and you shouldn’t expect this.
Remember! In Korea, relationships are everything so do whatever you can to avoid burning any.
Find Some Temporary Employment before Finding University Jobs in Korea
The next best idea would be to finish your current contract, but then find temporary employment such as at a summer or winter camp. Or, you could study Korean for a few months and switch to a student visa. It’s kind of unclear whether or not you’d have to submit new teaching English paperwork for either of these options. Perhaps give the immigration hotline a call to find out the details for your specific situation.
Remember! Immigration policies in South Korea often change, depending on who you talk to so always get the full name of the person who told you X,Y or Z.
Switch to a D-10 Visa
If you only have a month or two between your old contract finishing and the new university job starting, you could switch to a D-10, “looking for work visa” in which case you probably wouldn’t have to submit new paperwork when you sign a new contract.
Take a Few Months Off
Alternatively, you could also take a few months off to travel or hang out in Korea on a tourist visa (you will probably have to leave and come back). In this case, you will definitely have to submit new paperwork, which could be a significant hassle and expense.
Don’t Even Consider This Terrible Option instead of University Jobs in Korea
The option that you should put out of your head is starting anytime besides September or March. It just isn’t possible. I know it maybe doesn’t seem fair, but that’s just the way things work here. There is a faint glimmer of hope, perhaps, if you can find a job at a unigwon, but even most of them start at the standard times.
What are the Types of University Jobs in South Korea?
There are a few different uni jobs in Korea that you might want to consider.
Your job will often consist of teaching mandatory Freshman (and sometimes Sophomore) English courses. Schools vary in how they administer this. But, it can involve one 3-hour per week course during either the student’s first or second semester. Or, it could involve something like four 1-hour per week courses over the first two years of a student’s program.
You will sometimes be able to teach other classes like writing, presentations, or business English to students in majors like business, airline business, tourism or English. It really depends on the university. Student English levels range from almost fluent to very low. All of these classes involve designing a syllabus, administering tests and homework, and giving final grades.
The Takeaway: Some excellent students!
These institutions offer two-year programs in fields like hair-styling, security or cooking. The students are still required to take English courses. They will likely be extremely low-level and have almost no motivation to learn English. There is usually no opportunity to teach anything besides basic conversation at these places.
This job is similar to the one above in that you will have to design a syllabus, administer tests and homework and give final grades.
The Takeaway: Often terrible students, but also very low expectations in terms of teaching skills or results.
Unigwon University Jobs in Korea
These are hybrid “university + hagwon” positions, which are located on university campuses. You will teach mostly university students and some adults from the wider community, but quite likely some children as well (if not mentioned explicitly in the job advertisement, you should ask about this in the interview).
None of your classes will be for official credit so there are no tests or grades and you will teach things like basic conversation or run English discussion clubs. Your students will often be quite motivated because they have chosen to be there, unlike the previous two positions where students attend your classes because they must fulfill academic requirements.
The Takeaway: more hours + less vacation than the previous two jobs, but usually the most highly motivated students.
What About Public School or Hagwon Jobs in Korea?
Along with university jobs, by far the most common English teaching jobs are at Hagwons and public schools. A hagwon is basically a “cram” school where students go after school for English classes. You may also find some daytime ones that operate as English preschools.
Public schools are just like they sound—where Korean students go for most of their days. The role of the foreign English teacher is as kind of an English teaching assistant to the Korean teacher. However, in some cases, you will be teaching on your own, particularly for summer and winter camps.
Are these Teaching English in South Korea Jobs Any Good?
So, what’s the deal? Are these jobs any good? In some cases, some of the them are excellent jobs and are even on-par with university jobs. This is quite rare though.
At hagwons, you’ll run a serious risk of getting ripped off, in either a big or small way. While in public schools, you’ll get paid on time and in full, there is a whole lot of bureaucratic crap as well as desk warming during summer and winter vacations which can be annoying.
They can be a stepping stone on your way to bigger and better things and it’s a way to get your boots on the ground in Korea though, along with a local reference or two.
Top 10 Reasons Why you Can’t Get a University Job in 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.
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 and University Jobs in Korea
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.
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.
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.
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 for University Jobs in Korea
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.
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 University Jobs in Korea
Do you have any tips or tricks for people interested in university jobs in Korea? Leave a comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2020-04-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API