Tagged: story

How I got my first college job in Korea (kind of)

“In Canada we don’t put our grade point average on our resumes.”

My blood boiled. That was it, I was done taking his shit. I knew I wasn’t going to get the job anyway and I’d had enough getting pushed around by that jerk. I’d felt attacked for the whole interview. He was a bully and I simply wasn’t going to take it any longer. I smiled with satisfaction and said, “Well, maybe if your grades were as good as mine you would.” He didn’t really have much of a response to that one. Dr. Kim and Ms. Park seemed to appreciate my response and I think I noticed a faint smile from Dr. Kim.

A week later Dr. Kim was calling me and asking me if I had time to teach Spanish to his colleague’s son who was enrolled in a middle school in the states and would be back in Korea for the summer. 2 weeks later Dr. Kim was emailing me and asking if I could fill in for an ill teacher at the university. Just 4 weeks later Dr. Kim was introducing me to his high school classmate, a professor at a technical college down the street. I had an ally. About a month after that I was signing a contract to work at the technical college. The intro from Dr. Kim was probably the most important part. Much more important than my resume, GPA or not. This is the short version of how I got my first college/university job in Korea. I was 23.

I am not sure if the above story offers much in the way of advice for people looking to land a university job in Korea. I guess the most important lesson is the one that everyone already knows. Connections are important. After all these years I still firmly believe that not backing down in the interview endeared me to Dr. Kim. Just for clarity and for the record I am not suggesting interviewees be aggressive in interviews. I am just saying that sometimes being yourself might earn points with the right people.

In the story above, the original job I was applying for was a 6 week summer camp position for university students in an immersion program run by the university.** This was back in 2001 and such immersion programs were relatively new in Korea. Prior to the interview, I thought I had a decent chance to get the job and thought I would be a pretty good fit. The Director of the camp (The Canadian mentioned above)*** didn’t seem to think so. He said he was looking for people with first aid skills, drama skills, music skills and was also apparently looking for people with more than a year of experience. Looking back on this, I would have to say, “Fair enough” as I was very inexperienced.  I’d also have to wonder why they wasted everyone’s time by having me go through the process of interviewing if I was not going to be seriously considered for the position. Why have someone come in for an interview only to pick holes in their resume the whole time? Why attack the applicant, his (albeit at the time limited) credentials and his motivation for applying? I still don’t know what it was all about but I am pretty happy with how things worked out in the end.

yonam halls of academia

a hall of academia

*The timing didn’t work out with the Spanish tutoring or the filling in for the sick teacher. In fact, I was offered a full-time contract to replace the sick teacher but I was already under contract somewhere else. I believe I wrote something like, “If I am the person you think I am, I can’t really leave mid-contract” as I declined the offer by email.

**I actually ended up working on the camp for 3 of the six weeks that summer. It was pretty awkweird when I showed up in the third week knowing that the Director did not want to hire me at all. I was extremely motivated to do a good job. I had a great time and made some lifelong friends. In addition, I did the camp many times later (maybe 5 or 6 more times).

***I feel it must be noted that the Director got sacked part way through the camp. I don’t have all the facts but I believe it involved things like, lying, drinking, staying up all night with students, and a complete lack of honor, shame, professionalism and sense.

Actual tips: 

I realized that some people might have clicked on this link for tips rather than just a random story from a random guy. So, I thought sharing a few tips might be the polite thing to do. It would be rude not to. These tips are not offered as an expert but just some thoughts that came to mind.  It seems the job market is quite tight these days with lots of applicants for limited jobs. This means employers are getting a stack of resumes and need to whittle it down quickly. Here is my best advice in no particular order.

  1. Cast a wide net.
    By this I mean apply to as many places as possible. By this I mean you might want to think about places other than Seoul or Busan.
  2. Be flexible.
    Especially in terms of times and, as above, locations.
  3. Place yourself in the “team player” light and don’t ask for special treatment at the start.
    I think that lots of times universities are looking for someone that will fit in and not cause trouble and be a headache. Be that person. Do what you can to show that you will not be a pain in the butt. Making special requests before even being hired is not recommended.
  4. Try to get other university or similar experience.
    Round out your resume by teaching adults if possible.
  5. Set yourself apart from other applicants.
    I don’t think simply being a member of a professional or semi-professional organization is likely to mean much (though I have heard stories to the contrary) but I do think there are things you can do to get a leg up on the competition. Have some skills or experiences listed that will make you a more attractive candidate for the position you are applying for. (Sorry this is so vague, I don’t really have a great suggestion for this—perhaps someone will leave a gem in the comments.)
  6. Prepare a portfolio that you can share in a moment’s notice.
    Extra points for something flashy and digital.
  7. Follow the application procedures exactly as listed if you want the job.
    This is regardless of how silly they might seem. If they want you to snail mail stuff, do so. If the procedures are too silly or onerous perhaps you don’t want to work there enough. My sense is that sometimes such policies are set in order to weed out the type of people that might not follow instructions or be team players.
  8. Be prepared for interviews that might not exactly fit your idea of professional.
    Questions that could be illegal, unethical or just plain strange in your home country might be asked.
  9. Try to tailor your resume/cover letter to the institution you are applying to.
    A bit of research and extra effort can go a long way. I think this is standard advice for any job but it is amazing how often people seemingly apply for a job different than the one being offered. Show that you know where you applying and what they do there.
  10. For God’s sake, share a professional picture.
    This means no alcohol or effects of it, other people, or excessive skin. C’mon guys.
  11. Eliminate all typos on your documents.
    Have a friend check! Reviewers are people and people are people. People usually want to make their own jobs easier. Don’t let silly typos be a good excuse to be rejected.
  12. Get a reference from a Korean person.
    Experience indicates it is much more valued than one from a fellow foreigner.
    I would also say that it can’t hurt to be on friendly terms with the person that might answer the phone when called by potential new employers. I have heard numerous stories of assistant to assistant chats making or breaking someone’s chances at a job.
  13. If in doubt, be overly respectful in your wording.
    Better, in my view, to be overly formal than overly casual. Don’t give them a reason to bin you on the basis of your (perceived lack of) manners.
  14. Don’t take rejection personally.
    Lotta applications. It’s not you, it’s them. 
  15. It is much easier to sort out whilst in country.
    Skype interviews seem to be much more the exception than the rule. If at all possible, be in Korea while searching for a job.
  16. Be sure of the reasons you are looking for a uni position.
    This is to say that it is not always a better “gig” and you might want to be totally certain this is what you want. Sometimes it is not really worth it.
  17. Connections. Connections. Connections. And connections, again.
    I mentioned the importance of connections, right?
  18. Have your documents as ready to go as possible.
    It seems like fortune favors those that are prepared. This relates to the portfolio mentioned above but there is more to it as well. Preparation includes having all your ducks in a row in terms of documents.
  19. Face-to-face document drop offs? Follow up emails? Follow up phone calls?
    I just don’t know about these. I have heard good things but I also think they could be annoying and a hassle for the person dealing with the hiring.
  20. Others (and disagreements) in the comments?
    I am sure there are lots of pieces of advice that I missed here as well as some that people might disagree with. I am happy to read both!