Finding the right ESL job is a little different than finding a job in another field. Especially since there is a good chance you will be looking for a job from overseas without ever meeting anyone in person or setting foot in the school where you will be working, it’s important to know what to look for in your first ESL job.

Here are a few of the most important things to consider when you are applying for ESL jobs:

They have a low teacher turnover

Entry-level ESL jobs don’t have a lot of room for advancement, so it’s rare for teachers to stay for more than a year or two at the same job. Relatively high turnover, compared to other industries, is normal in these jobs. But if a school has had a number of teachers leave without even finishing their one-year contracts, or has never had a teacher resign a contract for a second year, it’s not a good indication about how they treat their employees.

They offer benefits and salary comparable to other schools in the area

You should look through a lot of job ads to get a sense of what is normal compensation in that area. Anything significantly lower than the norm is not worth your time, and anything significantly higher is either too good to be true, or requires certifications and experience that a brand new ESL teacher isn’t going to have.

They sponsor your work visa

Legally working in most countries means getting a work visa and/or resident permit. In most cases, these documents are linked to your school. Any school that won’t or can’t sponsor you for a visa is essentially asking you to work illegally and putting you in a position where you have no legal recourse if they rip you off or don’t live up to their promises. Make sure, too, that they are sponsoring the right kind of visa for you. Some schools will tell you to come over on a travel or business visa, which would still mean you are working illegally – but getting you this kind of visa easier, cheaper, and less paperwork for them.

You can see pictures of the school and talk to a current teacher there

It’s extremely important that the school is willing to send you recent photos of the school, and that you are able to talk to a current teacher there (or at least one who worked there within the last year). Schools that have nothing to hide will be proud to show off their school and classrooms, and will be happy to put you in touch with a current or recent teacher to get some inside information about what working there is like. If they don’t have a teacher they’re willing to let you talk to, it’s totally fair to take it to mean they don’t have any teachers who’d encourage you to go there.

There are no stipulations on your salary

Sometimes schools will link your salary to your attendance or your reviews from your students. They are really good at making this sound like something that will benefit you, but don’t be fooled. It’s really a way for them to pay you less than what they agreed upon because you didn’t meet some criteria or other. As long as you show up and do the work expected of you, you should be guaranteed your hourly wage regardless of your attendance record, student reviews, or anything else.

They offer some sort of training…

Even if you have a TEFL and some teaching experience, it takes time to get to know a school’s curriculum and methods. You don’t want a school to just throw you in front of a classroom with no idea what you’re doing. They should incorporate at least a few days of observations and on the job training into the start of your positions.

…but the training doesn’t last forever or come with lower pay

However, schools will often use “training” or “probationary” periods as an excuse to pay you a lower wage. You’ll still be doing the exact same work as a full ESL teacher, but during a 2 or 3 month “trial” or “probationary period,” you’ll only be paid half of the salary you were promised. Particularly shady schools will find some reason or other to extend this period, to keep you working for significantly lower wages.

You have a good feeling about working for them

Yeah, yeah, this is a little vague and wishy-washy, but it’s important. Your subconscious picks up on a lot of things that you don’t consciously notice, and if it’s giving you the willies about a particular school, it’s probably onto something. Don’t rationalize your way into a position that you don’t feel good about