Part 1: Surviving the International School Job Fairs

In a previous article, I talked about how I got into teaching internationally and detailed the specific steps I took to land me my first international school job posting.  In this article, I will get into more detail about surviving the international school job fairs.  While many teachers can get a job without ever setting foot in a job fair hotel, it is still the most common practice used in the international teaching world.  Of all the admin I have talked to, including during my most recent fair experience, most of them have said that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting even if it is just to offer a contract.  They truly value the opportunity of "feeling out" a candidate in person to ensure they are a right fit and it also gives candidates the opportunity to "feel out" their potential new school. I want to be as detailed as possible so I will break this up into two parts. Part 1 focuses on pre-job fair prep.

STEP ONE: Register for Search Associates, ISS, or CIS

Yes, there are other job recruiting fairs - but these 3 are the "industry standard".  

Search Associates and International Schools Services (ISS)

Search Associates and ISS will have fairs in different regions of the world, including Canada and the USA. Majority of the candidates/schools will attend the job fairs that start in January. Their websites will list the schools in attendance in the different fair locations.  For those who feel they cannot attend a fair, the databases for Search and ISS are still a great tool because schools will use them to review your profile, references, etc. And they will give you the most updated information on a school's salary + benefits package, curriculum taught, and job openings.

CIS (Council of International Schools)

CIS job fair is held in London, usually just before or after the Search Associates London fair.  The difference between CIS and the other two major fairs is that registration is free.  

Date to register

For Search and ISS, people start registering as early as August before the school year they plan to move. For example, if you want a job for the 2016/17 school year - you would want to have registered as early as August/September 2015.  Why?  Fairs fill up.  Bangkok and London - the two most anticipated fairs for teachers who are already abroad - usually close out registration by November/early December. Register as early as you can so that your profile with your confidential references is LIVE and you can start contacting schools. This also gives you the opportunity to start contacting schools right away.

STEP TWO: Pre-Fair Preparation

Update your CV and educational philosophy statement

Limit your CV to two-pages and electronic format should be a PDF to make sure your formatting is preserved. Include a nice headshot on the top corner of your CV. I know that this is not standard procedure for schools in the US, but a picture helps recruiters remember you.  Don't be afraid to get a little creative with your CV template (I personally like using Pages on my Macbook Air for this), but don't also forget the essentials: related work experience, educational background, certifications, and professional development. Added bonuses: photos of you in the classroom and/or field trips.

Philosophy statement should not be more than 1 page. You can even format this into a cover letter, which is what I did.  Recruiters receive 1,000s of applications so limiting the amount of "fluff" they have to read through is greatly appreciated.  My philosophy statement was clear and concise bulletpoints. An essay is NOT needed and it will likely not be read.

Print out at least 20-25 copies of your CV in color, 1 page back to back. This is important because you will use these to put into recruiter folders at the fair or hand it to them directly during the interview sign-up time.

*optional extra: some folks opt to create a quick 'ad'/postcard/etc. to paperclip to their resumes when they hand it in to recruiters at the fairs.  It's a fun way to make your stuff stand out compared to others and also gives them a quick snapshot of what you can offer to schools you're interested in.

Start researching and contacting schools

All schools have different methods of their recruitment process. Some are more elaborate than others. For each school that you're interested in do the following:

  • thoroughly research their website - approaches to teaching & learning, curriculum, mission statement, etc. You do not want to be caught in a situation where you don't know how to match your skills to the school when a recruiter asks you to (and trust me, THEY WILL ask you this question).
  • if you want to send them an application - FOLLOW the instructions on their 'employment' page. If applications are sent via email - I also cc: the principal of that section
  • DO NOT take it personal if schools don't respond - they receive so many applications in the course of a recruiting cycle. You just never know.

Practice your interviewing skills and prepare questions for schools

Have a friend, preferrably a teacher and someone who is good at asking interview questions, practice with you. This will help you gain a sense of confidence for when it's time to do the real thing. Also, have good questions prepared to ask a recruiter.  In my experience, recruiters have told me they were quite impressed with my thoughtful questions because it made them feel I was interested in the school and getting a good picture of how I could fit in with their program.

Interview attire

Dress to impress. Men: suits or shirt/tie and slacks. Women: skirt/slacks with a nice blouse or a nice dress. Comfortable, but professional shoes. You might be walking (or running) a lot to the recruiters' rooms for the interviews. Grooming, make up, jewelry, and mani/pedi should be on the light side.

Here's what I brought for this past fair run:

  • 4 blouses
  • 2 pairs of slacks
  • 1 dress
  • 2 pairs of shoes - loafers and oxfords

I went to the Bangkok fair so I made sure whatever I wore would be appropriate for the humidity.  Lastly, make sure you arrive at your hotel early enough for you - or the hotel staff - to press your things.  I forgot to pick up my shirts from the laundry room the night before AND was nearly late to my 2nd interview/offer discussion. Thankfully I was not late but don't let that be you.

Buy blank note cards for Thank You notes

After each of your initial interviews at the fair, it is important to slip a thank you note to the recruiter. This is similar to the thank you emails you might send after a Skype interview,etc. but remember that the job fair is not your normal interview experience. Things move FAST. During my last fair experience, I had an initial interview with two school admin on Friday afternoon and received details of an offer that evening. Having blank greeting cards on hand are a very nice way to thank the recruiter(s) for the opportunity to interview - especially when they have only a limited number of slots for interviews on any given fair weekend.

Okay so you've registered for a fair, you've got your CV/philosophy statement ready to go, and you're groomed, prepped, packed and got the blank note cards in your bag....stay tuned for SURVIVING THE JOB FAIR PART 2!