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Preparing for an International School Job Search: Rocket Science?

The international school recruiting season is once again in full swing!

Wendy McArthur | @wendy_mcarthur
December 5,  2019
Perspectives

Whether you are about to embark on the search for your first international teaching position or an international school veteran looking for a change, you are about to begin an exhilarating, somewhat stressful, and busy time! Recruiters and school administrators have already begun gearing up to find the best candidates for the following school year, and you are surely hoping that you will be one of them – but don’t leave it to chance! The market for great teachers is competitive, and the best schools out there are well known. Everyone wants to work at these prestigious schools, so be sure you are at the top of your game, not only as an educator but as a great candidate! As you connect with schools about vacancies, how can you ensure that you want the job, that you deserve the job, and that once they hire you – that you will do a great job?

Invest in Yourself

There are many recruiting agencies out there, so how do you know which one is best for you?

Some agencies offer face-to-face job fairs, while others facilitate virtual job fairs. Other agencies simply offer a database service where you sign up, pay your dues, and upload your CV. As you weigh this important decision, here are a few things to consider.

  • What are your colleagues saying about their experiences with agencies? Talk to your fellow teachers and get some insight into what each of the recruiting firms has to offer. 
  • You need to weigh the pros and cons of signing up for an agency that offers job fairs.  If you interview better in person, this is something you may want to consider. The price of travel and registration is also a consideration, not to mention if your current school will allow you to miss work in order to attend the fair.
  • Does the agency provide you with an individual who will support you? If not, are you comfortable advocating for yourself? If so, what services does this individual offer you?  See if you can speak to someone that has worked with the recruiter in the past; not all recruiters are created equal. You want to make sure that person knows who you are, what your plans are, and has had past success in advocating for teachers they represent. 

Looking for a new international school position is a time-consuming process, so have a list of questions ready, but time invested at the beginning should pay off for you in the end.  

Invest in yourself by making sure that you research different recruiting agencies and find the one that fits your needs.

“You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way.”

I am not sure who said the quote above, but I think of it often when I get resumes and CVs where it is clear that the candidate has put little to no time in it and has barely taken the time to pick a decent font, let alone double-check formatting for errors. Do not let YOU be the only thing standing in your way! The entire recruitment process is an investment in yourself, so you have to decide if you are ready to commit to it. If not, you should be prepared to settle at any old school that offers you a job. The best schools want the best teachers, so you have to sell the best version of yourself!  You must write your resume, cover letter, statement of philosophy, and anything else you are requested to write exceptionally well. If writing is not your thing, seek the help of a colleague to help you get your ideas onto paper so you can articulate who you are, your strengths as an educator, and why you would be an excellent fit for the school. There are services online that offer to write cover letters and resumes, but be careful since some of these are not very good and they are quite expensive. If you want to use this kind of service to support your process, be sure to get a reference from someone you trust. I cannot stress enough how important this stage of the process is! So what should you do? Review, edit, review, edit, review, edit. I think you get the idea. Don’t let your resume and cover letter be the reason you do not get an interview!

Congratulations! You Have an Interview

Your hard work is paying off, but it does not stop here! The fun is just beginning. It is now time to prep for the interview, and here are a few things to keep in mind as part of your preparation process:

  • Research the school. Don’t just read the mission and vision. You have to get to know the school, as much as time permits (sometimes there is very little time, and that’s when you go directly to the “Cheat Sheet” below). If you have more time, you should review the website, reach out to people you know that work at the school, or who can put you in touch with someone at the school. Recruiters want to see if you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with their school and how serious you are about working with them.  
  • Prepare for a variety of interview questions; write them out, review them. You must think through the reasons you want to work at the school, your experience, and expertise in various areas by highlighting contributions and giving specific examples. Don’t underestimate the value of this process. Everyone knows the standard questions: “So tell me about yourself.” The answers sound significantly different from the person who has prepared it and the person who is winging it.   
  • If you are doing a digital interview, be sure you test your camera, microphone, and position of your camera and be ready for a video interview. Sometimes it is not always possible to do video but be prepared just in case. It sounds simple and basic, but it is an important consideration; I once interviewed a candidate still wearing pajamas because he was not prepared for a video conference!
Make sure that you prepare for the interview by researching the school, anticipating questions, and having thoughtful questions about the school.

The Interview…Just Breathe

So your resume was very clear, and your cover letter is well written, you have done your interview prep, and now it is interview day! You are interviewing with your school of choice, and it’s showtime! Here are a few things to consider while you are interviewing:

  • Be confident, not cocky!
  • Dress for success. You do not need to show up in a suit, but when you are well put together and look professional, it sends a message that you are serious about the role. Dress alone does not mean that they will hire you, but why not make the best impression you can?
  • Body Language – Sit up straight; don’t slink in your chair. It is super that some interviewers put their candidates at ease so you can have a relaxing, professional conversation, but it is still an interview. Don’t cross your arms across your chest; keep your hands and arms relaxed and open. Make eye contact. If this is not comfortable for you, practice! 
  • Take your time to respond to answers if you need them. The interviewer wants to get the best from you, so if you need a moment to think about how to best respond, take it!
  • Ask questions! Be sure your questions are specifically about the school. At this stage of the game, you are interviewing the school as much as they are interviewing you, so questions are essential. Ask about things such as curriculum, professional development, how collaboration happens in the school, and how feedback is given. The more research you do and the more thoughtful your questions, the more the school will perceive your genuine interest. You can learn a lot about a school if you ask the right questions. These questions will also help you decide if the school is a good fit for you. It is super important to get the match right; it can be a long two years in a school where you are not happy! 

After the Interview

  1. Thank you notes and emails allow you to put your name in front of the recruiter again, and they are an opportunity to reiterate what you would bring to the school and that you would be an asset to the team. You do not want to write an essay, but a brief paragraph gives you that extra place for one more pitch!  A recruiter always appreciates the notes!
  2. Be Patient – The recruiter is interviewing many candidates, and they have some vital decisions to make. They likely gave you a timeline for their process, so be sure you respect that. If you have not heard back after the deadline they gave you, it is okay to contact them, but I would wait for several days past the deadline. Once you do contact them, make it meaningful. Can you provide them with any other information that would help in the decision making? You may want to send updated info that you or even follow-up with a question yourself. Do not follow up too many times. If you have not heard back after a few times, it is likely time to move on.  
Once you land a job, make sure you network and connect with teachers at the school, gather necessary documentation, and put a plan in place to leave your current job.

You Got The Job!

All of your hard work has paid off, and you now have a new position in a new school, and likely in a new country! There is still more work to do, and your new school will guide most of the way, but here are a few things you may want to ask your new school for as you prepare to make your move.

  1. Buddy – Many international schools have buddy systems in place, but if they don’t, ask your new school if they can set you up with a peer-mentor that will help answer your questions about life in your new country and school. 
  2. Documents – Start putting together all of the documentation that will likely be needed for your visa process. If you are currently living abroad, you need to be sure to get police checks before you leave and have them translated with the appropriate stamps. Even if your new school does not ask for a police check, it is recommended to get one anyway as the time, expense, and hassle of getting a police check later will be extremely difficult from outside of the country.
  3. Put a plan in place to leave your current position on a positive, happy note that honors and celebrates the school and host country. People don’t even realize they are going through this process, so you need to make a cognitive choice to ensure you do not become “that guy.” As you are getting ready to leave your current position, there is much work to be done in preparation for your transition into your new role. Be sure to take advantage of your peer-mentor and get as much information about your new school curriculum, student demographics, and/or expectations of teachers. The information each new teacher needs to make a successful transition can vary drastically, and if you are someone that requires a lot of information before you arrive, be sure to ask; your new school wants you to feel as prepared as possible.

So this advice may not be rocket science, but it is useful information to review as you begin your job search process. Over my twenty years as an international school administrator, I saw a lot of mistakes – even on the basics – so be sure you give yourself the time to prepare for your job search properly. Now,  it’s time to get started and get busy! You have a long recruiting season ahead of you, so you need to get started now!

Wendy is an experienced, passionate educator with a great sense of humor! Wendy has a Bachelor’s degree in History and Education and has a Master’s Degree in Education. Wendy has twenty years of experience in international school leadership and over twenty-seven years of experience in education; she has worked in international schools in Mexico, Serbia, and Panama. In 2005, Wendy was recognized for her dedication and commitment as a school leader when she was the recipient of the National Distinguished Principal’s awarded for the Office of Overseas Schools. Wendy is well versed in the International Baccalaureate program, American curricula, and school accreditation processes. Wendy is known throughout the international community as a leader and a presenter, presenting at conferences in the United States and regional international school conferences. Wendy believes that schools should be led with laughter and empathy if they are to transform into places where great learning takes place.

: www.wendymcarthur.work.

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