Should I Use A TEFL Recruiter? (Are They All Crooks?)

By TedKarma
(This is the latest in a series of posts by experienced EFL Teacher TedKarma. He has worked in Korea and Saudi Arabia, and is currently in Thailand)

Tough issue. I used one for my first job. And this was back when many recruiters charged as much as US$500 for placement. (Pre-Internet they could get away with that!) Even though I had been in the Peace Corps, I was not an EFL teacher in the PC, I still had no idea where to start. So, I used one – and it worked out.
Was my first placement problem free? Hell no! I lived in eight places in the first eight months (from literally a closet to a shared apartment, to finally – a nice new apartment). My first school got out of the TEFL business and left me essentially unemployed in a strange land. But, my recruiter handled it all and actually got me upgraded to a college job. All of a sudden I went from one week of vacation per year – to four months paid vacation! Wow!
Was I Lucky?

Yes and no. I was patient and dealt with my recruiter in a reasonable way. I asked for their assistance. I didn’t demand it, swear at them, call them crooks and criminals, or demand an investigation! Many others did react in such ways. Because I was reasonable – and behaved in a culturally appropriate way – my recruiter tried hard to solve my problems and – in the end – did a great job.
Western Assertiveness
Can be your greatest downfall. Other cultures deal with problems in different ways. Try to learn the most appropriate way to get things done – to get the things done that you want done. I always knew what I wanted, what I needed, but I used their cultural behavior to get it done. Overassertive behavior would not have worked. I got what I wanted, many others didn’t. I don’t care who is right or who is wrong. I just want done what I need to have done. Period. Follow the cultural rules. They work.
My Favorite Phrases
What did I say for getting things done – even when it wasn’t my fault and I knew someone was jacking me around? “I’m sorry I am such a problem – can you help me with this?” Another one that works well is, “What would you do if you had this problem?” Swallow your pride. Life overseas is more like a fun cultural game. Learn how to play it – so YOU win. It is fun and challenging to figure out.
The “What would you do . . .” question got me a driver’s license in Taiwan, seconds after a clerk told me it was impossible – as my USA license had expired a few days before. I asked her the question – she stamped the forms – and gave me my license! Getting angry and assertive would not have worked.
Recruiter or Not?
Up to you. Check them out – ask on TEFL message boards, like those at Dave’s ESL Cafe. BUT – check out the employer just as you would if you found the job yourself. Because a recruiter finds you a job, does not mean you have to take it! Check out every angle.

Would I use one again?
Sure, if I thought it would help me find what I wanted.
Do most people overseas agree with me? No.

Check out – a great place for newbies to start