What to do When Your Job Search is a Bust?

What to do When Your Job Search is a Bust?
5 (100%) 2 votes

This post is geared towards my friends in international education, but its lesson transfer across any industry.  So read on!

You’ve made up your mind.  You’ve had some good times and bad times here, but now it’s time to move on.  You’ve decided that it’s time to find a new job.

“Should be easy, right?”  You tell yourself as you search your computer for your old resume.

“What organization wouldn’t want me?”  You say reassuringly.

Next you begin to methodically scour the web for job listings, thoughtfully submitting resumes to jobs that meet your high standards, and quickly passing over the less prestigious organizations, because seriously who wants to live in Nigeria, right?  As days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, you calm your nerves reminding yourself,

Stuart Smalley“I’m a good person, I’m sure that’ll shine through, and I didn’t want those first few jobs I applied to anyway.  Plus there’s a job fair coming up, and once those school leaders see me in person they’ll be clamoring for me to sign a contract on the spot.”

Eventually, the big job fair comes and with crisp resumes in hand and dawning an even crisper suit you make your way through the hoards of competition.

“Pace yourself.”  You say, you don’t want to run out of steam before the wave of contracts arrive.

As Day 1 slips by you continue to find your inbox to be suspiciously empty of notices from the top schools or organization that most certainly should want you.  “Maybe they’ve got the wrong email?” You ponder.

It’s Day 2, and you’ve made a renewed effort to connect with the recruiters.  I guess if they’re too busy to come to me, I’ll have to go to them.  As you swim through the waves of gray and dark suits you find it challenging to pitch all that you can offer a school in the few seconds you have to do so.  Eventually, you land a few interviews, not necessarily with the schools in which you intended to meet, but “it’ll be good practice,” you tell yourself.

By the end of the day, you’re exhausted, you’ve shared all you can about yourself.  Your head is empty, and as it turns out so is your inbox.

By Day 3, reality starts to sink in that you might be going home without a job.  Countless jobs have been erased from the once overflowing online listings, and even the schools you so confidently passed up have found their happy recruits.  With head hung low you pack your suitcase and ask yourself “how could this happen?  What did I do wrong?”

Does this story sound familiar?  Maybe you experienced something like this over the last few weeks.  No matter what industry you’re in, recruitment fairs can be very humbling.  The story above isn’t too different from what I experienced a few years back as I plunged into my first international education leadership recruitment fair.

Although my wife and I had experienced some success at a recruitment fair as teachers, my first leadership fair in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia proved to be more challenging.  It occurred after an annual leadership conference, where I had had a chance to mingle with a number of school leaders.  I even gave a presentation at the conference, so I was hopeful that my odds would be higher than average.  Still, as I entered the first day I found myself surrounded by other leaders with much more experience and gray hair.  Eagerly, I emailed and bumped elbows with a few school heads, but I could tell things were not going well.  By the end of the first day, as I waited in line with ten other candidates to speak to a school head about one potential opening, I could sense the recruiters that day were not looking for an up-and-coming, inexperienced, but enthusiastic upstart leader.  With the next day set aside for interviews, which I had none lined up, I changed my flight and headed to the airport.  As you might imagine this was a pretty low moment.  Maybe you’re feeling this way today too.

So What Do I Do Now?

Remembering how difficult those days were back then, I thought I’d reach out to a few my friends in international school leadership to get their advice on what to do next if your recruitment season hasn’t been going as expected.

Here’s what they had to say:

“My theory is that the Asia fairs have changed for a school like ours. My concept of a hiring cycle is that the fall is used to gather up top international teachers who have been identified by current faculty or reached out to us. By the time [the Search Associates Job fair in] Bangkok teacher comes we have filled most of our positions. The second cycle of the season is the UNI fair which has many domestic teachers who are starting to look for an international career. They wouldn’t even think of Sept or Oct to be looking for a job. This fair is round two. I tell potential teachers that there is always a job to be had in late May and June as sudden repatriation, death, pregnancy, etc happen. If I was confident in my ability and the school I wanted had already filled their spots, I would roll the dice and keep contacting schools in May as positions open.”  –  Nick Kent, High School Principal Concordia International School Shanghai

“No vacancies, no advertisements, no shortlistings, no callbacks, no job for August, don’t panic, its only January. Staffing in international education can be conservatively described as ‘fluid’ or as one Head of School describes it, “I only ever feel as though I am halfway finished”. Every year we can count on hiring at least two to three teachers between February and August. No matter how well we had planned ahead or how early we started the hiring process, the unpredictable nature of international schools dictates that something will change and we will need to find a new member of staff. Stay positive, learn from your experiences with the hiring process from the front half of the school year, make appropriate changes to your resume or messaging and get back out there. As I sometimes say to my colleagues, “you only catch a fish when you line is in the water”. Adjust your lure, cast well and good luck.” – James Dalziel, Head of East Campus, United World College Singapore

The third round (April-June) is sometimes the best for many teachers or leaders as this is when schools have had last minute openings and are looking to fill them before school starts in August. It is also a good time for those that don’t necessarily have international experience. Once recommendation that I would make is to sign up for an international recruiting fair during the summer if you find yourself in this situation as the chances are greater in getting a job. – Paul Passamonte, Middle School Principal, Hong Kong International School

What Are You Selling?

Whether you realize it or not, when you apply or interview for a job you are trying to sell yourself to that organization.  I know a lot of us don’t like to think about it this way, but the reality is that for all the benefits and pay that you’ll receive, the school wants your expertise, depth, and personality, among others things.  To me, that starts to sounds like making a sale.  Of course, like anything when shopping, we don’t just buy the item, we buy the feeling that comes with buying something (if that was confusing you might want to read this line again and slower).  What this means is that in addition to being a qualified candidate you have to help the organization to feel what they would be getting.  An interview can help establish this, but to even get to that point you have to first help them feel who you are, and at the most basic level this starts through your resume and cover letter.

However, after going through a few rounds of hiring over the last few years, I’m amazed at how poorly we can all be at selling ourselves through our ratty old cover letters and resumes.  I don’t mean typos or spacing, but the actual format.  Have you stopped to think about what a future boss might be thinking when looking at your CV?  Let me show you some personal examples:

Here is my CV from a few years back when I was “testing the waters” for a job search:

Classic CV:

Think about what words you’d use to describe this resume?  Standard, boring, plain.  I like to also think that to some extent the CV shows that I’m qualified too, but it didn’t seem to matter that much, since recruiters weren’t too interested in what I was selling.


Now take a look at an example of the cover letter and resume I used in my last search.

Redesigned CV:

How would you describe this option?  Colorful, engaging, a family man.  Now even though the qualifications are similar on both CV’s (plus a year of expereince), what candidate would you rather sit down to discuss the possibility of them joining your organization?  I gotta say the redesigned version.

But how about some data?  Well in the year I sent out the first CV I submitted at least 15-20 resumes up to the end of December, without any “bites” or invitations to interview.  In the second version, I sent out about the same amount (at least within the similar time frame) and secured at least 6 interviews before January.  Of course, I had a year more experience, and was getting close to finishing a degree, but I like to think moving away from what looks like a DUI arrest mugshot and to a better layout and photo also helped.  Actually, I had a number of school leaders tell me that my resume caught their eye.

So How Did it All Turn Out?

Despite a discouraging start, I trekked through the recruitment season where I also travelled to one more fair, as well as visited a few schools.  By the end I had  interviewed at 10 different schools, both in person and at my kitchen table on Skype in my suit (sans pants).  Eventually, as the US recruitment season began to open up, I found my way to Honolulu, where I was given the opportunity to be the newest administrator at Punahou School.  From painful leadership conference to signed contract it took over 5 long months.  Along the way, I was continually encouraged by many of the leaders, even those at schools who told me “no,” to continue searching and that the right fit would eventually come forth.

The process was certainly painful, but also incredibly eye-opening as it forced me to think deeper about what I could provide a future employer.  It also helped when I began to look at other possibilities that I wasn’t originally considering (i.e. Independent schools in the US).  Lastly, it forced me to be creative as I stared into the deep abyss of looming unemployment.  You can read more about those discoveries by reading my post Leaping into the Abyss.

So are you stuck in the in-between these days?  Do you disagree with everything I’ve just wrote?  Either way, tell us about it in the comments below.  Or forward this post onto a friend or colleague who needs a post-fair pick me up.  If you’re new to Learn[ed]Leadership and you like interesting stuff then make sure to sign up for our free monthly (or so) newsletter by clicking here or in the fancy box to your top right.  Or if you want immediate updates, Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

Share This Post On


  1. I can’t get the CV’s to open so I can view them. Any chance you could email them to me?


    Chris Allen

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Chris,

      Sorry about that. Let me see if I can make a link to them on the post. I’ll link the CVs to the words “Classic CV” and “Redesigned CV.” See if that works. If not I’ll email them to you.


      Post a Reply
  2. This is a FANTASTIC article that everyone who is job searching should read whether they consider themselves an interview slayer or not. I have been watching the ebb and flow of international education jobs ever since I got into international teaching 16 years ago because I am a theatre teacher and theatre jobs are few and far in between. However, now that I am a recruiter, I believe the advice about not panicking is one of the best pieces of advice that you will get. I would also add, even if you think you have the ideal job in the bag, keep your head down and keep your feet moving forward until you sign a contract. NEVER let up until you have completed the process because lots of things could happen between the time you think you have the job in the bag and when the contract is signed. If it falls through, you want to have something just as good, as a backup. That can only happen if you keep moving until you sign.
    Good luck to everyone out there this hiring season.
    Mark Webber
    Teachers Latin America

    Post a Reply
  3. DO you by chance have a template, or can suggest a good one for building a resume like this? Thank you.

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!