This year, more teachers found international positions online than through the more traditional recruitment fairs which have dominated in the past. In this article Camilla Cook, an experienced international teacher, assesses the pros and cons of ‘fairs’ and asks whether recruitment fairs are still worth attending in this ‘online era’.

So, the question you may ask yourself is: “Should I attend international teacher recruitment fairs?”

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I have been an international teacher for almost a decade now and have taught in South America and Europe and will be making the move to Asia this August. I have attended recruitment fairs in the past, but this time, following a friend’s recommendation, I decided to try the ‘online approach’.

It ended up being faster, easier and significantly cheaper, but there are clearly advantages and disadvantages of each approach and I thought it would be useful to share my experiences with likeminded teachers.

Job fairs have long been touted by some recruiters to be the best way of securing an international teaching role, but how do teachers feel about them? As the number of English-medium International Schools increases globally and more jobs become available, is it time for us to question this method of recruitment, or are they to be championed as the best way to find the perfect role in a complicated market?

There is little doubt that meeting face to face for a proper interview is the most effective way to make informed decisions, both as recruiters and candidates. However, in our industry, geographical constraints make this ideal situation very hard to achieve. So large-scale recruitment fairs have come to serve as the watering holes at which people gather to meet each other. Are these watering holes the best way to ensure that teachers end up where they most want to teach?

Many schools in one place
Since many international schools still attend fairs, they offer an unparalleled opportunity for us to engage with a number of different organisations in one day. Schools put on presentations for teachers that can be illuminating and useful as a guide in the decision-making process.

Network with other teachers
Teachers have the chance to mingle with many of their peers. This means that fairs are a networking opportunity like no other. They provide teachers with the chance to mix with colleagues from all over the world in a neutral space and hear about one another’s experiences.

Get it over and done with!
The other real positive is that, providing you are successful, you can get the recruitment process done in one fell swoop, rather than having it extended over many weeks. This makes it a neat solution, and one that hopefully means that you can win some time back for doing the work you really care about in school.

However, there are a number of counter arguments to attending recruitment fairs.

Is still worth it?
Firstly, attending a recruitment fair can add up to an extremely costly experience. The bills for fights, hotel and food are footed by the visiting teacher and can cost thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of success. There is also the need to take time out from school, leaving your classes to be covered by someone else. If many teachers from the same school take time out to attend a fair, this could potentially have a very real impact on students’ learning that week.

Get in early
As the new schools open annually across the world, demand for teachers increases year on year. Clever schools don’t wait for the fairs to recruit their new teachers. They advertise online as soon as they know what positions are available, and often will have filled the slots by the time the fairs come around. They are, after all, looking to fill positions with the best teachers possible – they owe that to their students. This means positions initially advertised at fairs are often already filled by the time teachers arrive making the experience increasingly frustrating and pointless. They earlier you can connect with a school, the greater your chances of finding the right job.

Enough stress!
Fairs can also be a very stressful process for teachers. Although you will be aware of which jobs are available and can tailor your interview preparation accordingly, the position you wanted might be filled. You may feel pressurised into taking a job on the spot, and one that you are not sure you want. In the worst instance, you could walk away without any offers at all.

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So are these fairs a necessary challenge for teachers? Something to be accepted as a quirk of the international recruitment scene? My experience taught me that it certainly is possible to avoid them altogether and rely on the quickening speeds of the internet to carry you through the tricky process of recruitment.

Both have their advantages and I won’t rule out attending fairs in the future. But I will try online routes early to find out first.

Virtually all schools are now using their own online application forms for the first stage of the process so that makes things easy. There are also more platforms like Teacher Horizons designed for teachers to explore jobs. When it comes to the interview, online services such as Skype have opened up the possibility for effective real-time conversations between recruiters and candidates. They also provide more flexibility since there need be fewer time constraints. When being recruited for my most recent role, I spoke to the Head teacher and Head of Secondary via Skype a total of four times on different occasions. This extended interaction gave them the chance to evaluate my suitability for the role collaboratively, over time, and from different perspectives, something that couldn’t be done in the heat of a job fair.

And might it be possible to do more with virtual fairs? Mass Skype meet-ups could allow schools and teachers the opportunity to focus on recruitment all at once and on a level playing field.

It seems to me that with a little creative thinking there may be scope for recruiters to make the process more consistent and fair, and for teachers to take back some control over the paths that our lives take. After all, the students are the most important stakeholders in our sector, and it’s only right that they have the best (and happiest!) teachers in their classrooms.

Camilla Cook is an English teacher from the UK. She has taught in London, El Salvador and secured her latest position at the Prem school in Chiang Mai in Thailand through Teacher Horizons

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Written by Camilla Cook
a British teacher who has taught in London and El Salvador. She will be moving to Chiang Mai to become Head of English at PREM in August this year.
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