Breaking into the ESL industry might seem like a daunting task if you have no prior experience, but it’s actually not very complicated.

The ESL industry is a seller’s market, meaning that there are many more available ESL positions waiting to be filled than there are teachers available to fill them. So you have the upper hand as the teacher – schools need you!

Let’s survey a step-by-step strategy you can use to get hired at a reputable school or institution and really kick your career into high gear.

Step 1: Get your CV in order

First things first: get your CV in order. Your resume is the first – and, if it’s subpar, likely the last – impression of yourself that you’ll present to employers. It’s essential that you make yourself as attractive as possible on paper so that you can move on to the interviewing stage of the recruitment process.

Here’s how to soup up your resume.

Step 1a: Finish Your Undergraduate Program

The most basic baseline credential that most employers require in a foreign ESL teacher is a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. An estimated 70% of ESL teachers worldwide hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, as college programs cost time and money, so I don’t mean to be flippant here. Completing your bachelor’s program is going to take a lot of work and financial investment, but it’ll be worth its while in the end if you want to up your value in the global ESL market.

An important caveat: as the above-cited statistic indicates, 30% of ESL teachers don’t have a bachelor’s degree, so it’s not a dealbreaker if you find the right school. If you really want to teach English as a foreign language but can’t or won’t get a bachelor’s degree first, you’re not totally out of luck.

Step 1b: Get TEFL certified

TEFL is an industry acronym that means “teaching English as a foreign language.” These days, TEFL certification is almost an essential credential.

Like a college degree, not having a TEFL certification won’t necessarily bar you from accessing decent ESL jobs, but it will be an impediment.

For more information about why TEFL certification matters and how to identify a legitimate TEFL course, check out our blog post on that topic.

Step 1c: Get a pro headshot (or just a good amateur one)

It might seem unusual for a US employer to ask for a headshot with a job application, but it’s common practice in the global ESL industry. Many employers explicitly request one to accompany your resume.

Luckily, you don’t need to spend time and money visiting a studio to get one. If you have a halfway-decent camera phone (which most people do these days) it’s possible to produce a passable DIY headshot.

Step 2: Locate Jobs

Now that you’ve got your CV touched up, you’re ready to impress your future boss, get hired, and start teaching in your ideal foreign destination. How does one best get their name and face out there to the right recruiters?

Step 2a: Identify a Recruiter/Placement Service

One way to go is to work with a reputable recruiting agency or exchange program like RVF International.

The operable word here is “reputable.” The web is full of both legitimate and scammer recruiting agencies alike. Sometimes, telling them apart is difficult.

If you decide to go the recruiter route, do your due diligence and investigate any agency before you make anything official. Try to seek out honest reviews from impartial third-party sources. Previous teachers are great resources to get the inside scoop.

Here are the major benefits of using a recruiter/placement service:

  • Agencies have pre-existing, established relationships with the schools where they place teachers
  • Most agencies will assist in the visa process
  • You will enjoy a built-in social support network – an invaluable commodity in a new country 

Agencies or placement services are most attractive for first-time teachers who have limited overseas experience.

Step 2b: Hit the Online Job Boards

If you would rather go solo and find your own ESL job, which many experienced teachers do, the best way to locate jobs is to hit the online job boards.

Here are a few of the best online job boards:

  • – the OG of international ESL job boards. You’ll find postings from literally every country imaginable, with an emphasis on Korea and China.
  • Craiglist. Surprisingly, Craiglist is an excellent resource for ID’ing ESL jobs. I found a legitimate position in Vietnam once through Craigslist.
  • LinkedIn. This is more of a niche market for ESL jobs, catering to the higher end of the industry like universities and international schools – probably not ideal for a first-time teacher.

Once you get your standard email pitch down in response to job listings, applying becomes a cinch. Just plug in the particular school or recruiter’s name, add your template, attach your resume, headshot, TEFL certification and/or other credentials, and hit send.

When things are flowing, it takes all of two minutes to identify and apply to a single job, so you can really scale up your job search after you get the routine down.

Step 2c: Pavement pounding

Believe it or not, once upon a time, people found work primarily by physically visiting potential future employers, introducing themselves, dropping off a copy of their resume, and going from there.

Obviously, this method is more time-consuming than finding jobs online, and it requires that you are physically proximate to the schools where you hope to teach, so it’s not logistically feasible in many circumstances, especially in the context of international ESL.

But it’s a huge advantage if you can pull it off, because it demonstrates both that you are already in the geographical area and that you are sincere enough in your quest to land employment that you’re willing to make the trip in person to the school.

Step 3: Nail your interview and/or demo lesson

After getting your resume out there, assuming that you have the baseline credentials, it’s virtually guaranteed that your applications will garner some interest.

The next step is generally an interview and/or a demo lesson.

For the interview portion of the process, make sure you’ve got answers to the basic formulaic questions you can expect, such as “why are you interested in teaching English to foreign learners?” and “what relevant past experience do you have?”

For the demo lesson – a brief “demonstration lesson” that schools use to evaluate candidates’ potential — take a look at this helpful instructional video to prepare.

Step 4: Sign your contract and make your travel arrangements

You’ve put your resume out there, you got some love, you aced your demo/interview, and now it’s time to ink your signature on the dotted line and take off!

Contact RVF International for more valuable info

All that we do is help emerging leaders in the ESL industry establish themselves and get started on their exciting new careers. To learn more about the work we do, contact RVF International.

Ben Bartee is a Bangkok-based American journalist, grant writer, political essayist, researcher, travel blogger, and amateur philosopher. Contact him on Linkedin and check out his Portfolio.