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ESL Recruitment Overview

Why recruitment is a key to success, and how to get it right
By Lucy Pollard

Recruitment is the process of getting the right person in the right job and so is a key to success in your school. All too often you have one hour with somebody to decide whether they're going to fit into your school and your existing team. If you hire this person, you're going to see them on a daily basis, you'll be sharing in their successes and failures, and the image of your school could depend on their abilities. So you want to get it right.

Mistakes that are made can be costly and very time-consuming. If the person doesn't fit the profile or doesn't fit into your existing team, you might find yourself starting up the recruitment process again. On the other side of the fence, if the interviewee doesn't get all the necessary info regarding the post and the school, they're not in a position to make an informed decision. They can regret their decision later and leave you. Out of fairness to interviewees and to save yourself extra legwork later, you need to be clear, precise and focused. I think that an hour is a very limited time for both sides to make such major decisions and like to use the time to the full.

Before starting any recruitment process, it's essential for you to know exactly what you're looking for. As one very wise person said, "If you don't know where you're going, how will you know whether you've got there?" This sounds obvious but you'd be surprised by the number of recruiters who jump this essential step.

Have your goal or end point firmly in sight. For this, you'll need to ask yourself a certain number of questions. Here are some suggestions:

  • Think about where your school is heading in the near future. For example, do you want to set up young learners' courses? Do you want to expand the range of business courses offered? You won't be looking for the same profile, so be clear to yourself about what you want.
  • If your school is likely to be expanding, do you want to hire an experienced teacher? This person could move into a post of responsibility later or have a role training and guiding less experienced teachers.
  • You also need to consider areas such as organisation, paperwork, report-writing. If your school (or one of your clients) insists on extensive paperwork, then you'll be looking for a teacher who is happy with this.
  • Do you want to hire a teacher who is autonomous? If you have a lot of in-company classes the teacher will get much less moral and pedagogical support than the teacher who teaches mostly in the school.
  • Do you want to hire a full-time teacher on a permanent contract? This would increase the amount of commitment on both sides. Or do you prefer to hire one or two teachers on part-time contracts or hourly-paid teachers? These two options allow for more flexibility (both for you and the new teacher) for increasing and decreasing teaching hours.
  • What are the legal requirements for interviewing and recruiting in your country? I can't explore this here as I'm writing in an international context but I will say that the legal framework is crucial. If you're unsure about any aspect, get professional advice.

Once you know what you want, you're almost ready to start looking. Before starting, it's helpful to brainstorm the profile of the perfect candidate. You could consider three categories:

  1. qualifications - is a university degree important for you? do you want someone who has the TEFL Cert or Diploma? Will you train the teachers yourself and so think that teaching qualifications are not necessary?
  2. experience (type of teaching, number of years, countries, size of school)
  3. personal qualities (adaptability, rigour, good with difficult people...)

From this wish-list, you can decide which elements are essential and which are an added advantage. This is your person specification (person spec) and will help you at every stage of the recruitment process.

Think about how you are going to check each item on your person spec. What can you check through asking for references? What will you ask the candidate in interview? How will you check certificates and diplomas? Will you ask the candidate to bring them to the interview? What will you ask the candidate on the phone before deciding whether to continue with the recruitment process? Remember that bringing someone in for an interview is very time-consuming for you and the person concerned. So get as much information as possible before inviting the candidate in.

Now you know what you are looking for, you're ready to start. Here is my suggested procedure and one that has worked for me.

  1. Place advertisement - make the school look seductive and attractive, but be truthful. Essential info includes:
    • experience, qualifications and personal qualities you are looking for in a teacher
    • info about the school: location, structure
    • info about the classes: in-company or in-school; size of classes (group, one-to-one...); type of teaching (young learners, business English...)
    You might also want to add info about possibilities for training and development and the sort of support provided.
  2. Questions to ask yourself about placing the ad include: where should I advertise to find the person with a corresponding profile? Internet, daily newspapers that are widely read by teachers (eg The Guardian in the UK), word of mouth, the notice board in a library used by teachers. Of course, this will also depend on your budget.
  3. If you choose to advertise on the Internet, the advantages are that it is instant and worldwide. You can have CVs coming in within hours. Another advantage is that you can put more detail in your ad and even link it to your website. There are thousands of job boards to choose from, some free and others not. As with anything, you get what you pay for. Paid ads have the advantage of being more credible in the eyes of teachers looking for work and so you might get a different class of applicant. The disadvantage of recruiting at a distance is that you might not get a chance to meet the person. This is where I think care is needed. If you can, use a local agent to help you recruit. The extra cost will be compensated for if you get the right teacher. If you can't go for this option, you should at least do a telephone interview and follow up references.
  4. Potential candidates contact you and you give further details about the post. Decide beforehand whether this information will be given orally over the phone or written and sent out on request.
  5. CVs are received. Qualifications and experience are checked and suitable candidates called for interview. Think about time management at this point. Your person spec will help you wade through the CVs. You can sort CV's into three categories: teachers you definitely want to interview, those you are unsure about and those you definitely don't want to hire. For applicants you're not sure about, phone and ask a few questions for clarification so as not to spend an hour with an unsuitable candidate in interview.
  6. Interviews are held in a quiet place to avoid interruptions. Put the person at ease, you won't gain anything by stressing the person out. You won't see them at their best and they'll reveal less. What's more, it's unethical. Outline the interview, first we'll talk about...then... As the interview ends, indicate what the next step will be, eg you can expect to hear from us in xx days.
  7. For the interview you'll need to plan your questions. Decide what you'll ask everybody and what information you need to give out to all candidates in the interests of being fair. There will also be specific questions that you'll ask concerning each person's CV. It's usual to have two interviewers for two reasons. Firstly, to cover yourself in the event of any complaints from candidates. Unfortunately, it happens and so cannot be overlooked. Secondly, one person can take notes allowing the other interviewer to give their undivided attention to the candidate. The note-taker can also ensure that the essential elements are covered. This person very often notices discrepancies in the candidate's answers, as (s)he is not involved directly in the discussion. So allow the note-taker some time at the end to ask questions.
  8. Write down your initial impressions as soon as you come out of the interview, then consider the interview again 24 hours later. Follow up references, if you've decided this is part of your procedure. You can then decide whether to make an offer or send a letter of regret. Your person spec will help you with decision-making.
  9. Make confirmed offer (or regret). It's wise to wait at least 24 hours before contacting the candidate. If you decide to confirm by phone have a spiel ready in case you get an ansaphone. Make it clear and short. Give - and repeat - your phone number. Don't leave a message turning down your candidate.
  10. The contract is signed and details are finalised (start date, etc).

All the above can seem very time-consuming. Especially when you're ready to hire. I strongly believe that any time invested in finding the right person is time well spent. The more time you spend getting your hiring right, the less time you'll spend with problems and/or departures later.

The expected outcomes of a well-thought out recruitment process are an increase in the number of suitable teachers who come to work with you and stay with you. The extra costs of a teacher not fitting in and leaving should be reduced.

Of course, some people still prefer to see hiring staff as an art and follow their feelings. By now you will have guessed that I'm in the camp of those who see recruitment as a science. I love spontaneity, but not in the interview room!

Don't forget that recruitment doesn't end at the interview. You might have decided to have a probationary period - or the law of the country you work in might require this - if so, how will you handle it? You also need to work at keeping your staff. Newly-recruited teachers are expected to be effective as quickly as possible, and they have their expectations of you too. More about these topics soon. So watch this space!

See also: ESL Recruitment Interview

© Lucy Pollard 2006
Lucy Pollard has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer and Director of Studies for over 15 years. Her teaching experience is very varied: adults, English for specific purposes and English for academic purposes, as well as teenagers and young children. She has worked with multi-lingual classes in the UK and in various European countries.

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