Question from a reader: school gives bad references?

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A reader writes in:

I’m having a problem. I’m trying to find a new job in [city redacted], but no hagwon owner will hire me without speaking to my previous school about why I left early. (They stopped paying me on time and I gave them notice and left 2 months before my contract was up. It was an amicable separation.) However, it seems that [hagwon name redacted] is giving me a bad reputation or something, because once I give the recruiter info on my school, I don’t hear back from the recruiter. And, I figure I can’t exactly lie and say I’ve never been to Korea, because they will see that I’ve been there before once I try to apply for a second visa.

Thanks for any advice!


I actually had some similar issues with a school I previously worked for. The next school I worked at was with adults, and they were primarily interested in my experience teaching computer classes to adults (which I had done back in the states). After leaving job B, job C was a bit trickier because of the same problem: job A wouldn’t give a fair reference. I told the recruiter I got fired at the 11 month mark (true), and that I wrote the school a letter threatening to sic the Labor Board on them (also true). I also mentioned that if there were some problem with my teaching ability performance, it would’ve come up at SOME point in the 11 months I was there. That pleased them enough to keep things going, and a school offered me a position.

After getting job C, I cut the school in job A off my resume completely. I say that I’ve been in Korea for X years, and will show all my jobs in Korea except for that one. When / if a recruiter asks, I say that my first experience in Korea was not a good one (got paid late occasionally, very little support, got released at the 11 month mark), and that I wrote them a letter threatening to sic the Labor Board on them. If pressed, I’ll say it was a hagwon in western Gyeonggi-do, which is as specific as I’ll get. They’ll see from the fact I’m still here that it was the school, not me, that’s screwing around. There might be some pay rate difference between showing, say 2 years and 3 years of experience, but for the most part hagwon pay is pretty standard for most experienced E-2 teachers.

In your case, I would simply state your working experience, being vague about the school’s name or location. If a recruiter wants to verify things or get all investigative, they can call Immigration to confirm dates (I’m under the impression that recruiters and/or employers have access to Immigration data, either legitimately or otherwise). I’d emphasize the fact that you’re already here, documentation in hand (you do have your documentation in hand, right?), and ready to go for the next school. The fact that you’re already here saves the school the couple million won in flying you over – a sizable sum of money the school might be happy to save. You might also call up the recruiter that stopped contacting you and get their side of the story.

There’s very little benefit toward confronting the school, and there’s really no way to ‘force’ a good reference. For all the talk about libel and slander in this country, I’m not aware of a libel lawsuit ever filed by a foreigner, even in a case where actual reputation damage was done. There’s also no evidence here – how does a court know the school wasn’t just following some hiring guideline? Maybe it just didn’t like your picture – completely unfair, but an uphill legal battle at best.

Readers, have you ever received a undeserved / unfair reference? How did you work around it?


Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2011
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.



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