Time your international recruitment right

When it comes to finding the right staff, it can feel like you’re up against the clock. We asked the experts when is the best time of year to advertise unfilled roles

Simon Lock

How to time your international recruitment right

When you ask international leaders about when to undertake recruitment, they will probably tell you that it’s usually a case of the sooner, the better.

But when you’re dealing with teachers who are travelling halfway across the globe for an interview, not to mention relocating for the job itself, things can get complicated and take time.

Yet with more international schools opening every year, the competition for great teachers is only set to increase, which means that timing your recruitment right can make all the difference.

So, when is the best time to recruit an international teacher? Does waiting till term three mean you’ve missed the boat? And is advertising in September a case of playing your cards too soon?

We spoke to some experts and took a look at data from Tes Jobs to see how the market changes during the year.

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This is the time to usher in new recruits and welcome back old faces. Occasionally you may be met with unexpected resignations, forcing you to enter the recruitment market a little earlier than anticipated.

Although the traditional route of placing an advert and then repeatedly refreshing your inbox may not bear fruit immediately, you still have options.

Mark Steed, principal and chief executive at Kellett School in Hong Kong, suggests that the way to remedy a first-term no-show is by tapping into your existing staff network.

“If I got a no-show in September, I would look for a trailing spouse,” says Steed. “That’s the usual way – you look within your own community.

"What you get is people coming out who think ‘I’ll just get the house and the kids sorted out. I’m not going to look for a job straightaway’, but they can usually be nudged over the line.”

According to Anna Moss, head of HR at the British School of Abu Dhabi, if this approach doesn’t get results, there’s no time to waste.

“At these times of year, if we have a very short lead time and advertising doesn’t yield any suitable candidates, we would ask recruitment agencies to help us,” she says.

Tes Jobs Insight: The number of candidates looking for international jobs spikes in September, as teachers return to jobs they perhaps aren’t happy with. It also sees an increase in job adverts posted. However, in terms of applications, it’s a relatively quiet month.


Having weathered the back-to-school storm, you’re now heading straight for the contract renewal typhoon. Although this is usually a quiet period in terms of actual staff movement, it is a busy time in terms of candidates seeing what’s out there.

For most international schools, final contract decisions will not be made until December or in the New Year, so is there any point in advertising during this period?

According to Liz Cloke, head of secondary at Tenby International School in Malaysia, some schools will ask teachers about their plans as early as November.

“Expat staff whose contracts are due will receive a letter from the principal at the beginning of November requesting an ‘early indication’ and requesting an answer by the end of the month,” she says.

By November, many teachers will have made a decision to move on, and the number in a position to apply will start to increase.

Steed claims the recruitment window for schools is getting “earlier and earlier”, and asks his teachers for a final decision on their contract renewals in early November. For senior staff, the conversations will probably have been concluded already.  

“The earlier you go with senior management, the better – you’ve got a huge advantage because then you get the pick of the field,” he says.

Dr Fiona Rogers, deputy chief executive and director of professional development and research at COBIS, has also witnessed this shift in recruitment activity.

“We do find that the recruitment season is moving earlier and earlier,” she says. “COBIS research from 2018 showed that 94 per cent of international school leaders found it ’somewhat’ or ‘very’ challenging to recruit the required quality of permanent teaching staff.

“With increasing teacher supply challenges, we see schools starting earlier, as well as schools that operate a continuous recruitment cycle, regardless of whether or not they have any current vacancies.”

Tes Jobs Insight: After January, October is the busiest month in terms of candidates looking at jobs. However, in terms of submitted applications, it’s at the quieter end of the scale.


While the weather in Europe cools down, the international jobs market really hots up. The majority of final decisions on contract renewals will be made and headteachers will know who is staying and whom they need to replace.

Rogers also flags December as the beginning of the peak recruitment season for British international schools.

“Schools will be planning ahead for the following academic year,” she says, “leaving sufficient time for visa applications, pre-employment checks and re-running campaigns if they don’t find the right person first time round.”

Steed advises getting job adverts out before Christmas, if possible.

“We try to get in early,” he says. “We have recruitment meetings planned in Hong Kong and in the UK in early January where we can meet potential candidates.

“The more organised you are, the better chance you’ve got of filling places. It can get pretty brutal later on, as people are more desperate for talent.”

Tes Jobs Insight: January is the busiest month of the year for international recruitment, both in terms of jobs being posted and candidate interest. At the end of December, while the buzz around the jobs board tails off as people take a break, the number of applications starts to increase as teachers have more time to focus on their career.


By the time February rolls round, you may be starting to panic if your vacancies aren’t pulling in the candidates you’d hoped for. For Cloke, this period is usually filled with 30-minute ”getting to know each other” Skype chats.

However, according to Rogers, international recruitment is still very much alive right up to March, and if you’re waiting on CVs at this point, it’s not the end of the world.  

“Many schools will continue recruiting through the spring term,” explains Rogers, “and possibly into the summer term as well. It partly depends on the notice period in a school’s contract.”

Tes Jobs Insight: After the January peak, the number of new international jobs posted drops off by 17 per cent in February, while the candidates looking for jobs only drops by nine per cent. So, if you haven’t found the right person yet, fear not, they may still be out there.


Easter marks the end of many school’s recruitment period but, for some, there is still work to be done. With fewer candidates available, Moss advises being very quick to respond.

“If you are still recruiting in April, this means that the remaining applicants are being snapped up and you can be pipped to the post unless you respond very quickly.”

Steed agrees and suggests that looking to the UK at this point is your most viable option.

“If you’re still recruiting in April or May, you’re desperate,” he says. “The UK is really handy. Recruiting from the UK is your best bet. You’re much less likely to get someone good internationally at that point. Schools could look to trade shows in the spring as a way to pick up good teachers on a term or half term’s notice.”

Tes Jobs Insight: The number of new vacancies tails off during this period and, by May, new roles drop to roughly half the level they reached in January. However, the number of candidates looking for jobs has only dropped by 17 per cent, so posting an advert later in the year doesn’t appear to be a waste of time.

How else can you get an edge when it comes to recruitment?

“COBIS research shows that schools are already taking steps to improve recruitment,” Rogers says. “This can be through things like improved marketing of the school, enhanced professional development and thinking about what makes their school, in a growing market, stand out.

“An increasing number of schools are also engaging with overseas initial teacher training,” she says. ”This approach can support a school’s own recruitment as well as growing the global teacher workforce.”

Find out more about tackling hard-to-fill roles; discover how one leader is using quality CPD to boost retention, or visit our For Schools blog for more recruitment insight.

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Simon Lock

Simon Lock

Simon Lock is Tes senior digital editor

Find me on Twitter @simon_lock_

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