The Head Professor Tells it like it is. A no-nonsense guide, not for the easily offended.
Back in the day one could get a teaching job at some universities with only a bachelor’s degree, but those days are long. So you may be wondering exactly what you will need and how to go about finding work as a professor or lecturer in Korea. Fear not brethren for I shall share this secret knowledge with thee! Here is the information that is accurate at the time of publishing. This article is aimed at those first job seekers
VISA: First things first. Laws often change as do quota’s and educational initiatives so keep checking which opportunities present themselves. Now the visa, as a professor you will likely need to qualify for an E visa however these days many universities prefer F visas (permanent resident visas) because these are far less of a rigmarole when it comes to their paperwork. An E visa also means that there is some degree of liability for the school if you turn out to be a dodgy individual. E visas bind you to a single employer and you are legally only permitted to work for them, if you work illegal for another school or even private tutor, it could well lead to your visa and contract being cancelled and in you being sent sailing back to your beloved homeland. E visas are however transferable at the end of a contract and the school that originally hired you must give permission to your new employer. They usually give permission but are not obliged to. For English roles only individuals from Australia, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Ireland can get a visa. For other roles the requirements and accepted countries vary.
Now to education, you must have at least a master’s and a TESOL qualification or alternatively a Masters in TESOL. These days English teaching roles have become competitive and more and more universities are looking with particular favour on TESOL degrees. Does this mean that other majors are not possible? Of course not, but it will depend how you sell yourself. If you are teaching other subjects the major should be closely related to either the subjects or the specifications in the job advertisement.
In some cases, a PhD will be of benefit but not always, again it all depends on how you sell yourself. In some cases, a candidate with a masters may beat a candidate with a PhD when they show they are more suited to the role.
Most schools want 2 years’ full time experience at a college or university however there are some exceptions. With E visa the 2 years is linked to visa requirements.
Local Proof of Work Experience (경력증명서)
In Korea you will need a document called a 경력증명서, which is a legal document given by your employer to prove your work history. While most employers are honest, be sure to check the dates on the document to make sure they are correct. Here is a breakdown of how most universities interpret experience.
1 Year Full time experience at government institute for adults (Teacher training institute etc.) = 1 year experience
1 Year Full time experience at University/ College) = 1 year experience
1 Year Full time experience at High School/ Middle School = 6 months experience (some schools accept this and some do not)
Foreign Proof of Experience
Foreign public school experience is counted as well as institutes of higher education or training institutes for adults. Here are the details that your potential employer (university) will likely be looking for.
1. Full Name
2. Name of position
3. Clear statement of whether work was part time or full time
4. Dates clearly marked (from (Date) to (Date))
5. Date that the document was issued
6. Signature or Stamp or both (Having the document on the institute letter head is highly desirable, the more official and formal it looks the better)
7. A brief description of duties could be helpful.
Make sure your CV is logical and readable. Include a professional looking photo. Long hair on men and tattoos will count against you as culturally these things are somewhat frowned upon. Especially in regard to visible tattoos which in many Asian cultures are associated with organized crime. Earrings for men are also frowned upon. A photograph in a CV is that legal? Yes, and not uncommon in Asia. Remember first impressions count, even if the photo is not taken by a professional, make sure you look presentable.
Not many people that I have seen applying for jobs have much research on their CV’s. Let me tell you that when I see a CV from an applicant from a university that isn’t famous but they have research publications and are active in conferences, it immediately draws my attention. It tells me, this person is attempting to continue their academic career seriously and this person is likely to be a better teacher as a result. I don’t care if you are white, black, Asian, pink or purple if I see good research, I am going to put you on the top of the pile. Am I right in saying so? It is conceivable that I may be wrong but the likelihood of the individual making an effort in their classes is higher than average. Effort means happy students, happy students means more reputation, more reputation means more student flow in the future. It also means I am going to have less work sorting out problems and such if I hire competent individuals. If I as a fairly laid back Head of Department feel this way about research, how do the top schools feel? Much more pedantic let me assure you.
But I have no research publications I hear you say. Not to worry, think of some subjects you think you would like to research and include these in your cover letter. That way the reader will feel you have potential in the long run even though you might not have had the opportunity to publish.
TIP: Be nice to the administration staff, always show manners and write clearly. Assistants are the most important first step to pass, make a good impression and you will have passed the first hurdle. Don’t nag or call/email excessively, in Korean culture it doesn’t look good. Let them know you are interested but not desperate, it’s a college/university not a charity.
Networking is a great way to get a foot in the door. Try to contact folks that work at the university and ask about it, don’t stalk them. Remember being professional is going to take you much further than anything else, never play the race or gender card as this can leave you burning bridges. Knowing people who work at the same university can be a great help as some colleges and universities sometimes ask professors to recommend someone trustworthy when positions need to be filled in emergency situations. Bear in mind that the first time may not be a success. In my case, even with this dashing face (if I do say so myself), I applied twice at the same college before I got a call back.
Give yourself some professional online visibility, why do you think I made this site? It acts as a sort of unofficial CV and is just a click away.
Like any job market it can be disheartening to apply and not a call back. Just give up then? No! If you think you may be doing something wrong, then why not get a second opinion on your CV and covering letter. This is a very competitive job market but not impossible.
Oh but I am black/ Asian so it isn’t going to be easy to get a job……. Blab bla bla. Right, it isn’t going to be easy, so are you ready to stop feeling sorry for yourself? Like previously stated, many universities look at other factors. I have the least Anglophone name you could think of but still it doesn’t matter. The most important things are whether or not the CV photo looks like you are a serious professional and second does this CV tell me the person can teach? There are quite a few black professors, Arab professors and Asian-America/Canadian/Australian professors all around Korea so it really is not as if they are only after white faces. With that said statistically white blonde females are the most competitive group. Is life fair? No, let’s deal with it. My college hires about %35 Asian-Americans, so keep looking. He (or she) that seeks will indeed find….(eventually).
Type of College/University
I often hear, “I applied at such and such famous university and didn’t get a call back”. Here is my question to you, “Would the top universities in your country accept you as a professor there?”. If the answer is no, then by those standards ask yourself why a top University here would accept you. You are barking up the wrong tree. Is it conceivable that such a school might accept you in the future? Sure, why not. However, remember this article is aimed at helping you land your first job and well, beggars can be choosers. Go for smaller or countryside colleges/universities outside of the main Hubs and gain experience first, build your network and skills and then move on to higher ranking institutes. Never burn bridges, always stay professional, always show you are an academic.
The interview can be nerve wracking and often consists of you being placed at the end of a long table and being ploughed with questions by the college/university president and heads of departments, some universities may conduct this process with only the relative heads of department and a few other professors. Get ready for all sorts of questions ranging from experience and suitability to downright rude. Why rude? There is a reason. They want to see if you will stay calm in a stressful situation. This question might be asked at the end when you are tired so as to provoke the worst in you. At this point you have to ask, am I a professional or am I filled with pride? Professionalism beats pride every time, be professional, more than likely you will be offered the job.
Get out there, apply, get the job. Do it, do it now.
Alaric Naudé is a professor specialising in education, linguistics and social science. He is widely recognised as having a great face for radio.