Question from a reader: finding a job without a recruiter?

A reader named J.R. writes:

I'm taking you up on your offer to give advice about coming to Korea. Thanks in advance! Ive been teaching English in China and I want to continue this ESL journey in South Korea in 2010. I've only been in Asia a few months and I love it! I'm in the process of applying to teach in South Korea. I want to teach in Busan, the closest to 'downtown' as possible, in the middle of everything. i'm in a very provincial town here and i'm bored! I need city! Ive been browsing many blogs and esl sites and there's lots of hate against recruiters. I understand cause the people who 'helped' me get to China also scammed me. How else can I go about it, if not through a recruiter? Do you know any big companies that run hagwons that won't shut down in a week that I can email directly with my resume? I'd like to try a public school for a year maybe, can I contact any schools in Busan directly without a recruiter? Where do I start?!?!?
Any help would be GREATLY appreciated! If I make it to Busan i'll treat you to starbucks (or kimchi?!) in gratitude!

As a general rule, recruiters are a necessary evil. Whether teaching in a public school or a private hagwon, most jobs are found by a recruiter. On a practical level, it's easier for the schools if a third-party to handle the administrative details, especially if the number of applicants are high. I've written about recruiters and finding jobs a few times before, so you're definitely not the only one that's heard bad things.

A number of schools advertise directly - Pagoda (, YBM (, and BCM ( are three larger chain hagwons that recruit directly. A number of other chains (e.g. CDI, Avalon) have experienced some issues within the teaching community that make them hard to recommend. I should note that you'll hear horror stories about almost any school. One website (among many) that some schools use to recruit directly is - but note that some recruiters also use the website. Ask for their title within the school if you insist on doing business directly with said school, or if you think they're a recruiter.

Part of the problem is that bypassing the recruiter removes a layer of protection, on both your end and the school's end. If you get a job directly through a school and things go sour, it's difficult to complain to the school's recruiting department because they're, at best, at a conflict of interest. They're paid by the school, so their first interest is to the school,
not you. Granted, a recruiter is also paid a fee for their services by the school, but they have an external reputation to worry about. That they're separate from the school gives them a modicum of independence - and possibly a means of action if the schools screws you over. At the very least, they may be able to help you get another job with a different school.

Some recruiters are above reproach, and are worth contacting regarding the jobs they may have available. To limit your search to schools that recruit directly will seriously hamper your efforts to come to Korea, for better or worse. A few recruiters I've heard multiple, unsolicited responses from include Footprints (one of the largest recruiters in Korea) and Say Kimchi Recruiting (which has a native-English-speaking partner and teacher).

Whether your job comes from a recruiter or comes directly, once you're hired your obligation is to the school. It's been repeated many a time, but the way you're treating often comes down to the relationship you have with the powers-that-be. Do you put in the least amount of effort, or do you stay late to make sure things get done on time? Do students complain about your lessons often or do they tell the Korean teachers how cool you are? So what if the only reason they like you is because you play games with them? That can still be positive points in your favor - and happy kids generally make happy parents.

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