Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is This Speed Dating?

My last post talked about the season for hiring for international teachers, which is in full swing right now by the way. Well, I wanted to update you curious readers on how this works. I know... I know... what's the connection to the title? You'll see... be patient. :)

As you may or may not know, I went to the Search Associates Job Fair in London, UK. These events are often huge and the Search fair in London is one of the biggest. It's the reason why I chose it. I thought I'd have the best chance to see the best schools with openings in my area from a variety of locations. Wait... do you know what all this is even? Let me back up this truck and explain a few things to you.

International teachers don't often get hired in a traditional sense. Sometimes we complete interviews via email, telephone, Skype or in person at job fairs. These events are put on by a variety of agencies and organizations that help to bring prospective employers and employees to the same place. Back when I started this gig (a long 13 years ago), it mattered a lot which agency you chose (ISS, Search, CIS etc... if you really want to know more about the agencies, please leave a comment and I'd be happy to fill you in) because they often specialized in schools for certain locations like Asia or Europe or the Middle East. However, these days there really isn't much to differentiate them besides the schools that also belong or the cost etc. I chose Search Associates because I had worked with them before and was comfortable with their format.

Anyway, in the hiring season, these agencies throw these fairs and accept a certain number of candidates and schools per fair depending on the venue etc. The Search London fair had over 600 applicants and over 150 schools that were potentially hiring. So it was BIG and competition was FIERCE!

How do the fairs work? Well, if you are invited to the fair, it's often best to keep tabs on which schools will be in attendance, what job openings they have (which change on a daily basis the closer to the fair it gets), what their hiring package looks like (which is often posted with the agency you choose), and what interests you most. It's also best to be in touch with the schools BEFORE the fair so that they know your name and a little bit about you. Be personable and professional. A lot of schools won't respond to your initial email but will to a second or third email where you make connections to the school, the place and you personally. Basically, it pays to do your research AHEAD of time. It's also great to have a membership with International Schools Review (it's a website... click the link) so you can see what other professionals have said about the school.

Once you get to the fair (and I do recommend staying in the same hotel/convention centre as the fair), get out your resume (C.V.) and some nice cards (which you should have purchased before arriving, although most fairs do provide communication slips) and begin to write introductions to yourself or re-connections to schools you've already connected with via email prior to the fair. Everyone (schools and candidates) has a communication folder located somewhere in the fair hub (whether in a candidate lounge or the hallways) that is used like a mailbox. Drop your little notes and resume in the folders of the schools that interest you most and then check your own folder to see who may have left you communication there... If you are like me, you might get some interest from schools you aren't interested in. Don't be mean (like a nasty ex or conceited crush), if you aren't interested write them a nice card and slip it in their folder. Making good impressions with EVERYONE is always a good idea. The international teaching market is a tight knit community and people remember the best and the worst out there.

Now once all this communicating and note writing has taken place (it does feel a little like high school... passing notes, hoping they'll check the "I like you" box so to speak). There is an interview sign up. All the schools are in one giant room and you are meant to run (and yes, I mean RUN) around that room in a limited amount of time filling your interview sheet (or dance card if you will). Usually this process takes a couple of hours. You stand in line, get to the front (put your best foot and face forward), sit for a few minutes during which time you hope to impress the hell out of these stellar administrators so that they will grant you a 30 minute interview sometime in the next day or two, and then you shake hands, get up and go to the next line. THIS is the connection to the title of this blog entry... it's like what I imagine speed dating must be like. It's a little chaotic, fast and (truth be told) kind of fun!

The rest of the job fair is filled with interviews, discussions, more communication folder notes and cards (ALWAYS send a thank you card even if you don't get a job offer... that good impression needs to keep coming) and worry. You worry when a school says they'll be in touch but they aren't (remember, they are competing with each other for the top candidates in the building and there are some AMAZING people at these events), you worry when the one school you don't really want is busy romancing you, you worry when most of your friends are getting second and third interviews and offers and you aren't, you worry when in the 11th hour you get a great offer but you feel unsure, you worry you will make the wrong decision. But the best part is you have a WEALTH of resources at these events. There are tons of other people in the same boat, willing to lend an ear or offer advice.

So, while it's a crazy 2 or 3 days of a speed dating like environment, if you are lucky you might come out with a good relationship. And if you don't, you know that there wasn't a right fit for you there and loads of schools still hire in a variety of other ways (they say more than 40% are hired outside of these fairs). Basically, it's a fabulous experience where you network with oodles of other amazing professionals.


Kristen said...

Thanks for the insight, I've often wondered how you find you postings

introductionsInc.com said...

What an interesting post to read, thanks for bringing it up.

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