Do I Need a Recruiter to Teach Abroad in China?

So what EXACTLY is a recruiter, and do I need one to teach abroad in China? 

Who are all these people offering to find me jobs in China for FREE??! How do I know who to trust??

Do you want to find an awesome job teaching abroad in China? Here's how to work with a recruiter to find your dream job and work abroad in China! #china #expat #teachabroad #recruiter

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I get it, the concept of working with a recruiter to find a job in China is a strange one. You’ve got all these weird middlemen coming out nowhere offering to help you find a job in China because…. why?

Well, today I’m going to cover anything and everything you could ever want to know about using recruiters to find a job teaching abroad in China: Who they are, why they’re helping you, and if you can actually trust them!

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What is a Recruiter?

Long story short: recruiters are basically head hunters for schools in China. They work with a few different schools or training centers to find qualified foreign teachers for their vacant positions. They also typically help with the visa paperwork and getting you ready to arrive in China.

Recruiters are freelance businesses that are paid a commission by the school to find you. They do a lot of upfront work connecting you with the school and are usually only paid after you arrive in China and last for a few months.

The reason why they help you find a job in China for free is because they ARE getting paid, just not by you!

teach abroad in China

Why Do Chinese Schools Work With Recruiters?

Now I’m sure you’re wondering WHY. Why don’t the schools just hire foreign teachers themselves? Why are there these weird middlemen getting involved?

Well, some schools can afford to hire an HR person who deals with recruiting and hiring foreign staff. Many bigger training center chains have a TEAM of people! But if you run a school with only 1-5 foreign teachers (aka a lot of public schools in China), it doesn’t make sense to hire and train someone for this position.

Knowing where to find good qualified foreign teachers is hard (especially since there are TONS of other schools who want those teachers too). Managing the visa process for China is also super difficult, and many schools just do not want to deal with it.

Schools that work with recruiters have decided it’s just much easier for them to have a curated portfolio of qualified teachers they can contact and interview, rather than having to sift through hundreds of unqualified applicants. The recruiters can do this filtering process for them, and will only send them teachers that they think would be a good fit.

teaching in China

Do I NEED to Work with a Recruiter to Find a Job in China?

While it is possible to apply directly to some schools in China, a large percentage of positions ONLY work with recruiters and other placement programs.

Sure, it’s completely possible to find a great school by applying directly. For example, my old college counseling job used to work with recruiters, but they now have an HR manager who is responsible for placing foreign teachers in all of the different chain centers around China. However, it only makes sense to have her working there BECAUSE that company is a chain with a few different centers scattered throughout China.

If you really want to work at a public school or even an international school, I would definitely look into working with a recruiter. Most public schools in China do not hire directly, and even if they do post in a Facebook group or job board, it can be REALLY difficult to know if the school is a high-quality job because they probably won’t have any reviews online.

Grab Your Teach Abroad Guide!

My main advice is: Don’t be afraid of working with recruiters! There are some great positions out there that you can only find by working with a recruiter. You just have to be sure that the recruiter you’re working for is legit. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to that in this post!)

Apply directly, use recruiters.. do both! There’s no rule saying you can only apply to one job or work with one person. Apply around and then see which position is right for you.

Jingshan Park

Working in Beijing!

Can I Trust Recruiters in China?

Firstly, it is very important to remember that recruiters are paid by the SCHOOL, not by YOU. Which means they work for the school, not for you. It might feel like recruiters are working for you. but if you’re not paying them, then you’re not their #1 priority.

So if these recruiters are making money off you, how do you know if you can trust them?

teach in china recruiter

Work with a Recruiter that Values Their Reputation

If I’m a recruiter, it might be tempting to just throw teachers at the schools that pay me the most, no matter the quality. (Fun Fact: Not every school pays recruiters the same amount!). However, a GOOD recruiter will value their reputation over a higher paycheck.

If a recruiter values their career long-term, they will be super picky about the schools that they work with and will ensure that you have a great experience so that you will hopefully leave them a good review, tell all your friends, and they’ll get more business in the future. If you screw over every teacher that comes your way, that’s not really a good business model.

Chinese cafeteria food

A typical lunch in the cafeteria

Tip #1: Do Your Research!

Never work with someone without doing your research first! Look at their website. Is it clear and professional looking? Speaking from personal experience, I own THREE websites and these days it’s really not that hard to make your website look decent.

Read through the whole website. Get a feel for who you’re working with, and then google for reviews of that recruiter. Is there other information online? Have other people worked with them and written about it?

Read travel and teach abroad blogs. Look for people mentioning them on Youtube. Look at review websites and see how they’re ranked!

You’ll also want to research the schools they send you once you start working together. Where are the schools located? Are there any reviews online? Can you get photos? Is there a current teacher you can speak to?

Just do your research!

Chinese Public School

Tip #2: Check for Bad Reviews and Consistent Complaints

Not every review will always be positive (s*** happens), but look for major red flags or consistent complaints. If a recruiter sends someone to a school that is NOTHING like what the recruiter promised: red flag. If the recruiter pushes someone into going to a school that wasn’t legally allowed to hire them: red flag. If the recruiter is placing teachers at schools that don’t pay on time: giant red flag.

Look for people saying the recruiter pushed them into teaching on a tourist visa, signing contracts that weren’t legit or lying to them about how a school was going to be.

You should also look for consistent complaints. If EVERYONE is saying a recruiter is pushy, maybe don’t work with that person. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, and there’s always another recruiter around the corner that will be happy to work with you.

college counselor China

Working as a college counselor

3 Red Flags When Working With a Recruiter in China

In addition to doing your research and looking for bad reviews, here are a few major red flags to look for in your personal communication with your recruiter.

Red Flag #1: Too Pushy

If a recruiter is really pushing a job on you that’s not the right fit, chances are, it’s because that job is paying them the highest commission. If a recruiter just really seems to not be taking your own wants and needs into consideration and keeps pushing jobs on you that you don’t like, it’s time to find someone else.

Red Flag #2: Asking For Money

We’ve already established that recruiters are paid by the school, so there is NO REASON you should ever give recruiters money!!! Do not pay a recruiter, teach abroad program, or anyone else money to help you find a job. You’re already doing them a favor by existing. If someone wants money to find you a job, it’s either a teach abroad scam or they’re just completely taking advantage of you.

Grab Your Teach Abroad Guide!

find a job teaching in China

Red Flag #3: You Feel Uncomfortable

For whatever reason, if you just don’t feel comfortable, walk away! Some recruiters like to guilt applicants into taking contracts they don’t love because “we’ve already done so much work and they really want you blah blah blah“. NO. If you don’t love a job or a contract, keep applying. If they try to push you or rush you, walk away.

PRO TIP: This is why I do recommend applying for jobs around 5 months in advance so you have plenty of time if you decide to work with someone else. If you’re applying in July for a September start, things actually are super rushed so recruiters tend to be pushier. It takes a solid month (AT LEAST) to get your visa in order, so apply early because you don’t want to be scrambling around at the last minute.

Ameson Year in China

My school’s main road in “factoryville”

Don’t Be Afraid to be a Little Picky

Sure, be open to new cities and job titles, or different age ranges, but if something is completely NOT what you want, you need to stand up for yourself! It can be so easy to let schools or recruiters bulldoze you into accepting a position that’s not right for you.

People will guilt you, pressure you, push you, and try to convince you to take jobs that are not great. There’s so much competition for good teachers in China, a lot of these schools and recruiters are desperate.

So many of us first-year teachers just want an adventure, and we don’t want to be too picky. We think, “Oh, it’s not about the salary, it’s about the experience!“. We don’t want to be difficult, so we just take the first job that comes our way and get all excited about our upcoming adventure.

But news flash: If you really want to be in a city and you’re placed on a factory-lined highway in the middle of nowhere where you’re the only foreigner for miles, you’re not going to have that fun expat experience you were dreaming of! (Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…)

Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and be a little picky with your salary, job type, or location. You want to make sure that your job makes you happy otherwise you’re in for a miserable year.

University of Nottingham

Put your best foot forward!

Preliminary Recruiter Interviews

Most recruiters will conduct a casual interview with you when you first apply to work with them. Think of it as somewhere between an informal business lunch and a job interview. While it may feel casual, you do want to dress professionally and sell yourself at this meeting for one major reason: getting access to your recruiter’s best jobs.

Recruiters typically have an arsenal of jobs, some of which are better than others. The best, highest-paid jobs are obviously the most competitive, and recruiters are only going to send you to those positions if they think you can make the cut. Sometimes the requirements are strict (2+ years of teaching experience or an advanced degree), but your recruiter might send you their way even if you DON’T meet the requirements if you come across really well in the interview.

These recruiters do work for the schools and they don’t want to piss a school off by sending an unqualified applicant their way. So in addition to being a little picky about the schools they work with, good recruiters can also be a bit picky about the teachers they place! So definitely put your best foot forward so that your recruiter will show you the top tier jobs.

TEFL training Shanghai

Orientation for my teach abroad program!

Recruiters vs. Teach Abroad Programs: What’s the Difference

Now if you’ve been around for a while, you probably know I’m NOT a huge fan of Teach Abroad Programs. I used one my first year teaching in China, and I do not recommend using them for MANY reasons…

However, if you’re new to the teach abroad game, it can actually be pretty difficult to tell the difference, so let me break it down for you!

Recruiters prioritize job placement, Teach Abroad Programs prioritize the PROGRAM. 

So what does that mean? Well, when you work with a recruiter, they might have a quick interview with you, but then they’ll immediately get to the job placement. What kind of job do you want? Where do you want to live? Recruiters work with you to help find a job that’s right for YOU and you actually have a lot of say in what position you accept, AND you can negotiate!

Teach Abroad Programs typically throw a lot of freebies at you, and leave the job placement until the absolute last second. Once you interview, you’re accepted to the PROGRAM, you’ll typically join a Facebook group, and start forming a community with other teachers. Then you’ll probably submit a preference list so that you can be assigned a school.

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What’s the issue with this? Well, teach abroad programs don’t really give you much of a say in you’re placement. You’re just assigned to a school (which may or may not be what you want) at the absolute last second once you’ve already been sucked into the program community. You don’t want to seem like a quitter, so you take this (potentially subpar) job.

Teach abroad programs typically also offer low salaries across the board, with everyone making around 6,000 RMB per month no matter what city you’re in (which is criminal if you’re in Beijing or Shanghai!). There’s no room to negotiate since everyone gets the same package, even if you’re in a really expensive city.

Work in China

Secret Recruiters: How You Can Work With a Recruiter Without Knowing!

There are a few ways that you might actually be working with a recruiter without even realizing it! While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s important to at least be aware of who you’re working with and why they’re helping you.

Job Board Websites That Are Recruiters

When many of us google about jobs in China, a lot of these Job Boards pop up with a bunch of different jobs to choose from. However, many of these job boards are actually recruiters! You might think you’re actually applying directly, but really, you’re applying to work with a recruiter who will send your resume to that job and a few more.

The way that you can tell if you’re applying directly or working with a recruiter is to see who emails you about setting up an interview. For example, if you go to Career China’s job board and apply to a job there, you’ll get an email from Carrer China, NOT the specific school you applied to. This is because Career China is actually a recruiter!

There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but it’s just important to be aware of who you’re actually working with!

teaching english china

My coworkers in Ningbo

TEFL Program Job Placement

Many TEFL providers also offer “free” job placement to their TEFL graduates. Yay, they’ll help you find a job for free??!! Of course, they’ll help you find a job. They’re recruiters!

Speaking from personal experience, it’s very easy to become a part-time recruiter. Schools in China will just contact you out of the blue and offer you money to help place teachers there. You don’t even need to help with the visa, they just want you to send them resumes.

Because of this, it makes sense for TEFL providers to do some recruiting because they already have a ton of teachers that are looking for jobs.

Now you can definitely work with a TEFL provider to help you find a job, but just be aware that they are actually making money off of you. The job placement is not a freebie or something you paid for as part of a package with your TEFL. They’re recruiters and they make money if you show up.

recruiter in china

Work With Me: Unbiased Job Placement and Guidance

If you’re looking for a recruiter who works for YOU and not the schools, you can always work with me! As part of my Teach Abroad Squad course and community, I offer job placement assistance.

In addition to the full online course and Facebook community, members of the Teach Abroad Squad get access to my curated Approved Jobs List, which is an awesome list of schools and recruiters that have been fully vetted by me. They all pay well and on time, offer great benefits, and have excellent reviews.

Not only does Teach Abroad Squad help you narrow down your job search and ensure you don’t get scammed, but we also have multiple lessons on signing and negotiating contracts. In TAS I analyze three real-life contracts on the screen showing you what I like and don’t like about each of the positions. You even have a downloadable Good Job’s Checklist to make sure the position meets all your needs!

TAS will also teach you how to negotiate for an extra $3,500 USD per year with our contract negotiation lesson. Talk about getting your money’s worth!

If this sounds amazing to you, then you definitely want to join Teach Abroad Squad!

I open up TAS to new members every few months, so the best way to know about future course openings is to get on the Teach Abroad Squad Waitlist. Once you’re on the list you’ll be the first to know about any course openings, as well as awesome free training and opportunities for free 1-1 strategy calls with me!

Join the Teach Abroad Squad Waitlist!

teach abroad China coworkers

Any Questions About Working With Recruiters?

Do you have any major questions or concerns about working with recruiters to find an amazing job teaching abroad in China? Be sure to leave a comment here and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

I also run a free Facebook group for people who want to teach abroad in China: China Teach Abroad Community. I’m in there every day answering questions, so I highly suggest joining if you want some more teach abroad guidance!

Join the Community!

Do you need to work with a recruiter when you teach abroad in China? Nervous about finding a great job in China? This post walks you through how to work with recruiters to find an amazing job! #china #teachabroad #recruiter #expat

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Are you working with a recruiter to teach abroad in China? Have you used a recruiter in the past? Let us know in the comments!

Do I Need a Recruiter to Teach Abroad in China?



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

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