ESL Recruitment: Tips for Attracting the Best Teachers

Posted by Bridget Manley on Jul 5, 2018 2:24:00 PM

How much can it cost you to hire the wrong ESL teacher?

Quite a lot, actually. When a candidate proves to be a less-than-ideal fit, you can plan to spend six to nine months of the ESL teacher’s salary to find and onboard a replacement, Gallup reported. To put that into context, a teacher who’s hired at $45,000 annually may require up to $33,750 to replace.

But, the costs aren't limited to financial losses. Employers who participated in a CareerBuilder survey confessed that productivity, employee morale and client relations also suffered when they hired a less-than-ideal candidate. 

Infographic showing the cost of a bad hire

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When it comes to recruiting ESL teachers, it pays to make the right choice. Your teachers are critical to shaping your school's reputation, performance and long-term viability. Teacher recruitment isn't simply a routine task. It's a crucial component of building and sustaining your business.

Because each situation is unique, there's no 10-step guide that guarantees the best hire every time. However, if you adopt the right strategies and mindsets, you can dramatically increase your chances of finding the right candidate. We'll look at each of these individually, beginning with the internal factors that influence the hiring process. Then, we'll look at some best practices for recruiting top-flight ESL teachers.

If you're ready to refine your ESL recruitment process and attract top talent, read on.

Key differences in recruiting ESL teachers

In many regards, recruiting star ESL teachers is similar to finding top performers in any other field. However, there are a few important differences.

In addition to the core competencies required in other teachers, ESL instructors need a refined sensitivity to cultural differences and how they can affect learning. If they work with adult language learners, they also need to know how to tailor their instruction to each student's personal goals. Finally, they must be adaptable to emerging technologies and methods — including digital platforms, student-directed learning and the mobile learning phenomenon — that change how students learn English.

For some schools, the hiring process itself varies in key ways. If you're hiring internationally, always be sure your candidates meet the requirements for obtaining a work permit. If your school is outside the U.S., be sure that you're in compliance with your host country's employment laws. Also, be prepared to help candidates navigate the requirements of obtaining a work or tourist visa.

'It's not me, it's you:' 3 ways to repel great teachers

When you're on the hunt for a good hire, it's easy to forget that scrutiny flows both ways. Your candidates are examining your school as closely as you're examining them. How do you know if you're making a good impression? Start by steering clear of these off-putting behaviors.

Offering subpar compensation and benefits

A school that offers measly benefits or paltry wages sends a clear message to job seekers: We don't value talent. Don't assume that a teacher's love for his or her profession will make up for low wages or poor working conditions. Consider U.S. public school teachers, for instance. They rate their quality of life higher than most people in other professions, one poll reports, yet teacher attrition in the U.S. is twice as high as it is in similarly high-achieving countries.

Do some research to see if your wages are competitive. The average salary for an ESL teacher is $40,341, but that figure can vary, depending on the location and the skill set required by the job. Use a salary comparison tool like PayScale or to get a refined picture of what you should be paying your teachers.

Don't forget to evaluate your employee medical coverage, too. These benefits can be just as crucial to attracting top performers. In one survey, candidates for international teaching positions listed medical benefits among the most desirable perks a potential employer could offer.

Demanding unrealistic workloads

You should also make sure your teachers' workload is reasonable. Jobs with long working hours can drive away candidates or, worse still, they can send your existing teachers fleeing for the exits. In England and Wales, for instance, teachers spent nearly twice as much time grading in 2013 as they did in 2010. Not surprisingly, perhaps, ten percent of these teachers quit their jobs in 2014.

Grading doesn't have to be such a time-consuming chore, by the way. When teachers sign up with Your Agora, they can easily review and grade written assignments, or they can apply the auto-grade feature to score true/false, matching, multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions. It's one of many tools you can use to help your teachers create a better work-life balance, which will ultimately create happier and more productive employees. 

Not offering professional development opportunities

To successfully attract and find the best ESL best teachers, you need to be sensitive to what the best teachers want. And, most often, they want to improve themselves. Professional development tops the list for what international teacher candidates are looking to get from their job.

Offering in-service training, providing opportunities to attend professional conferences or offering extra time for teachers to pursue online ESL teacher training courses independently can go a long way toward gaining currency with the best teacher candidates. What's more, your school will benefit from having better trained and happier teachers. It's a win-win for everyone.

Is your recruitment process broken?

Finally, take a good look at your recruitment process. Problems in your talent acquisition department don't just waste time and resources. They also create an unflattering perception of your school that drives away talent.

Start by looking at the numbers. To identify how much money you're investing in recruitment, calculate your cost-per-hire. Simply divide your total recruitment costs by the total number of hires in a given period. Be sure to calculate both internal costs, such as the salaries of staff members included in the recruitment process, and external costs, like job board fees.

Next, look at the human side of your recruitment process. Are your staff members warm and personable when they interact with candidates? Do they go out of their way to make jobseekers feel welcome? The personal touch makes a big difference. In a Mattersight survey, 80 percent of respondents said they would choose one job offer over another based on the personal interactions during the job interview.

More importantly, assess the assumptions — unspoken or otherwise — that underlie your recruiting process. Do you look solely at what jobseekers can bring to your school, or do you also consider what your organization can offer to them? Do you select candidates based on a narrowly defined set of skills, or are you open to considering candidates with a broad range of talents? If you're not giving candidates the star treatment, or if you reserve it only for candidates with specific backgrounds or skills, you're sending the wrong message.

It will take time to identify and correct these problems. In the meantime, here are some basic strategies for fixing your recruitment process.

  • Make sure your job postings are realistic and inclusive.

  • Get a real human being to read every résumé you receive. Don't use an algorithm to filter out résumés for you.

  • Use warm, friendly language when communicating with applicants, and make sure to respond to them promptly. Also, make sure that a human being responds to each applicant. Communicating with candidates is one of the most vital parts of the recruitment process. Don't delegate it to a computer program.

  • Remember that the power dynamic flows both ways. You need the applicant as much as the applicant needs you. Be sure to establish a balance of power that puts both parties on an equal footing.

Finally, remember that recruiting is a year-round process. On average, it takes 52 days of recruitment to fill a job opening, so be prepared to invest your time and resources accordingly. It's better to draw from a robust talent pool nurtured over time than to attempt to build one from scratch after an employee puts in their notice. Stay active in social media platforms where qualified candidates are likely to engage with you, and don't forget to invest in the rising talent inside your organization. They may be some of the best candidates for future leadership roles.

Once you've remedied your recruitment process and addressed any internal problems, it's time to look outward. Next, we'll discover strategies you can use to attract the best ESL teachers to your school.

How to craft a compelling job description

Where do you see your school in five years? What growth targets do you want to reach? What kinds of clients do you want to attract? Answering these and other questions not only help you articulate your long-term goals; they also help you recruit the teachers you need to accomplish them. Let your goals be your first guide in drafting a job description. For instance, if you're looking to launch a business English program, then you'll want candidates who are familiar with the distinct vocabulary and communication skills students need to thrive in global business.

More importantly, though, your job description must be clear, concise and easy to skim. On average, jobseekers spend between 49.7 and 76.7 seconds with a job description before determining if it's a good fit for them. 

Infographic describing how long job seekers spend reading job descriptions

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Follow these guidelines for crafting a compelling job description that will make those seconds count.

  • Eliminate jargon and buzzwords, particularly in the job title.

  • Showcase your school's mission and vision in the introductory paragraph. This forges an emotional connection with the reader and drives interest.

  • Keep the list of job duties concise.

  • Describe job duties in an easy-to-read bullet list, not a long block of text.

  • Avoid gender biased language, which drives away qualified candidates and sustains gender inequality in the workplace. Use a gender bias decoder to help you identify and eliminate phrases that evoke gender stereotypes.

  • If you're an international school, highlight your proximity to major tourist destinations. More than 40 percent of candidates list travel opportunities as a key motivator for seeking teaching jobs internationally.

  • Use a writing tool like Grammarly or the Hemingway App to ensure the job description is clearly written and free of errors.

A well-crafted job description won't do you much good if no one sees it. In addition to it on relevant job boards, share it with your social networks. If you're already networking with your peers on social media, then you'll have access to a larger talent pool. Also, don't forget to share the job description with staff and encourage them to share it on their networks, too. Employee referrals drive more than 30 percent of hires, making them an invaluable recruitment resource.

Cracking the résumé code

The résumé offers a first glance in to the candidate's history, experience and character. If you know what to look for, it can be a valuable tool for homing in on the best candidates.

Take a hard look at the candidate's job history. A jobseeker who rarely stays in one job for more than a year or two may be more likely to leave your school prematurely. Holding multiple jobs isn't uncommon, particularly for younger workers, but be wary of candidates whose job experience doesn't follow a discernible pattern toward ESL education. Even applicants that are new to the field should have job trajectory that indicate a long-standing interest in language education. Be wary of job descriptions that offer a dry recitation of duties performed. A well-written job history will highlight what the applicant achieved, and it will have data to prove it. It will also tell a compelling story about their career journey, revealing a little about the writer's values and aspirations.

Take a few moments to scour the résumé for keywords you included in the job description. If the job description describes your organization as "professionally minded and student centered," then those phrases, or something similar, should also appear in the résumé. This demonstrates that the applicant carefully read the job description and fully understands the job requirements.

Links to the applicant's social media channels should also be included. Take a few moments to browse through them and see how the jobseeker behaves online. Finally, expect the résumé to be clearly written and free of grammar or spelling errors. You're relying on this person to be a master practitioner of the English language, after all.

To find star candidates, think 'interview,' not 'interrogation'

If a résumé offers a glimpse into the candidate's professional life, then an interview is an opportunity to know the candidate on a human level. Be aware, though, that interviews are a stressful ordeal for most people, and this can impact their performance. In one survey, 92 percent of respondents reported feeling anxious about job interviews. And, although a small amount of stress can sharpen memory, high levels of stress can impair memory and reasoning skills.


Teacher recruitment interview 3


It's in your best interest, then, to set your interviewees at ease. Set a conversational tone and refrain from bombarding them with questions. Give them an opportunity to meet your other staff members and explore your school, either before or after the interview. Before starting the interview, give the candidate an estimate of how long it will last.

The quality of the interview also depends on the types of questions you ask. Use the applicant's résumé to craft open-ended conversations that invite them to describe their experiences, goals and methods in greater detail. For instance, if a candidate lists working with remedial students as a key strength, ask her to describe the interventions she created for struggling students and what outcome they had on student learning. Asking candidates about what they learned from past mistakes is fine but be sure to pose the question tactfully. The intent is to draw the candidate out, not make them feel small or intimidated.

Making the right choice

You've combed through resumes and interviewed the top candidates. Now comes the hard part: Making the hiring decision.

In this stage of the process, it's a good idea to use a rubric to evaluate each candidate. This helps ensure your judgments are more objective and less subject to cognitive biases, such as the knee-jerk bias — the inclination to make impulsive decisions — or the inertia bias, which predisposes you to actions that are predictable and familiar.

Beyond possessing the core skills and experiences necessary for the position, the best candidate will also be a good fit for your school. Consider your school's culture, or the shared assumptions, values and beliefs that help your team identify and solve problems collectively. It acts as a social "glue," binding teams together and integrating people into the organization as a whole. Probing questions like these will help you define your organizational culture.

  • Is your school vertically organized, with the highest-ranking employees making most of the decisions, or can teachers make decisions without first seeking approval from managers?

  • Is your school process-oriented and predictable, or does it thrive on change?

  • Are teachers expected to work autonomously, or do you encourage collaboration?

  • Do teachers receive feedback only during performance reviews, or do they receive informal feedback regularly?

Don't underestimate the power of culture to shape your workplace. One study showed that when employees feel like they fit with their job, their organization and their supervisor, they're less likely to leave and more likely to become high performers.

Hiring the best ESL teachers requires you to decide quickly. On average, the best candidates spend as few as 10 days on the job market. Setting deadline for extending the job offer will lend a sense of urgency to your team and ensure that you reach your top candidate while they're still available. But, don't forget to also contact the other interviewees as soon as possible. Thank them for their time and effort, and, if appropriate, encourage them to interview with you again.

Recruiting high-quality teachers isn't a one-and-done exercise. It's an ongoing process that requires careful planning and vigorous self-reflection. When it's done well, it ensures you always have the talented teachers you need to meet your long-term objectives.

The best teachers don't have time to waste scouring the Internet for lesson plans or doing hours of tedious grading. Make your school more appealing to top-shelf candidates by signing up for Your Agora, a state-of-the-art online platform that gives ESL teachers access to a wealth of collaboratively designed ESL lesson plans. With collaborative created lesson plans and auto-grading for simple assignments, teachers can devote more of their time to teaching lessons that inspire students' best learning.

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Filed Under:

Jobs, ESL, Admin, Principal, Recruitment