Saturday 1 May 2010

Negotiating Your Contract

The first thing that you do is to make sure that you thank the employer for their job offer. You can find ways to thank the employer in how to accept / reject a job offer. While you are negotiating your contract ask to be put in touch with current or past teachers.

If a school refuses to put you in contact with their teachers, that’s not a good sign. Move on to the next school. You should find out the answers to these basic questions before signing your contract.

Negotiating your contract is just one of many job hunting strategies out there. Here are some good tips on contract negotiation. If you do negotiate, make sure you have a stellar CV or you probably won't get what you want. Getting your your dream job is hard to do, but not impossible.

One important thing to consider is that while most employers expect you to negotiate, some don't want to negotiate and will withdraw their job offer. First, if this happens to you, it's probably for the best. These types of employers simply want to find teachers who will teach for the lowest salary and benefits. (Of course, if you get a spectacular contract, with a high salary offer and great benefits, you shouldn't push your luck and ask for more. You should, however, clarify any vague items).

Second, it's best to have a back up plan. Don't stop applying for positions or talking with potential employers until you have a contract AND visa (although some employers in some countries won't get visas).

Third, make sure you do some research. Talking to other teachers and looking on forums, such as ESL Cafe and ELT World, and country specific forums (try searching for "the name of the country" and "expat") are good places to start. You need to know how much what salary and benefits are given to teachers working in an institute/school/university in X country makes.

The information below will help you find out which things should be negotiated and how to go about clarifying your contract. You can also find useful information in Salary Negotiations and College Grad.

Negotiating or Clarifying?
Once you get a contract and have decided to accept their job offer, it's time to negotiate and/or clarify your contract. Don't make the mistake and think that contracts are written in stone. Contracts are an offer, once you get a contract, you should make a counter offer. If you're thinking of rejecting a job offer due to salary, try negotiating first. There are other things besides money to consider, and you should take them into account when you negotiate.

Even if the contract has a great salary and benefits, make sure that you look over the contract carefully and clarify any vague items. If you don't understand something, ask your future employer to clarify, and then put the explanation into the contract.

Things to Consider When Negotiating
Once you know what to consider when negotiating, it's time to ask for a better deal. Here are some things that are often negotiated. In general, the Middle East and Asia tend to offer more benefits than other areas. If you're trying to figure out where to teach, look at what's the best country?

Salary. Obviously salary is one of the first things people look at when they get a job offer, but there are also other things to consider. If you want to negotiate your salary, you should know the average salary for the country and position you will be in. Talking to other teachers and looking on forums, such as ESL Cafe and country specific forums (try searching for "the name of the country" and "expat") are good places to start. You need to know how much teachers are paid in the country that you are looking at and you need to know how much a teacher with your qualifications and experience should earn.

The more qualifications and experience you have, the more room you have to negotiate. For example, in the advertisement it says teachers are paid 1000-2000 USD. You are an experienced teacher with five years experience and they have only offered you 1100 USD. You could say something like "I have a question regarding the salary. In the contract it says that I will receive 1100 USD, however, I feel that my five years experience, participation in national conferences, and being head teacher at my current position would make me eligible for a higher salary." Try not to name a salary, sometimes they will offer you a much higher salary than you expected it. When they come back with an offer, then you can make a counteroffer. While sometimes employers have a chart to determine salary, like with a BA you'll earn, with a BA + TEFL cert you'll earn Y, etc, other times they don't and are just trying to get you to work for them as cheaply as you can.

With that being said, you'll have to remember that money's not everything. If you manage your money with a budget and are able to supplement your teaching income, then you should do pretty well. Who you work with, potential for professional growth, pay rises and other benefits, such as the ability to travel, are also important. The majority of teachers would rather work in a great teaching environment with ok pay, then at a school with an ok environment and great pay. Remember that a bad environment can cause stress and burn out.

Hours. Figure out how many teaching hours and how many prep/office hours are in your contract. A contract that has a high salary might also have many hours. While some people don't mind working long hours, others are more concerned about having free time to study the local language or just relax. While teaching hours are usually fixed, you might be able to negotiate your office hours.

Also make sure that you have a fixed number of guaranteed teaching hours, especially if you are paid by the hour. Find out about working on the weekends. If you have the weekend off from teaching, you shouldn't have to go to meetings or unpaid training events or try to convince parents to send their kids to your school. If you do have to work on the weekend, make sure your contract states that you will be paid extra.

Insurance. Some employers offer insurance and the type of insurance they offer can cary greatly. Find out what percentage of the monthly fee they pay for, what it covers exactly (dental, accidents, death, annual check up, vaccinations, emergencies, etc), and how much of the medical fees are covered each time you go to a doctor.

Pension. If you get to contribute to a pension fund, find out if your employer will match your contributions. Also find out how you get your money back once you leave the country.

Flight Allowance. If you are offered a flight, try to put a clause in your contract that offers you either a flight back to your home country or cash in lieu of a flight. If you decide to stay in the country after your contract finishes and don't go home, you will lose your flight. So it's best to put the either - or clause in. And make sure you state how much you will be paid for your flight, when you will be paid (try to get half your flight paid for halfway into the contract and the other half at the end) and in what currency.

Anther thing to consider are if you are paid for a round trip or a one way ticket. Also, see hoe many flights you have per contract. If you have a two year contract, try to get two round trip tickets.

Some employers will pay for flights up front, though this doesn't happen this often. If it does, and you do not finish your contract, you will more than likely have to pay the school back for your flight.

Housing or a Housing Allowance. If you are offered a place to live, find out what is included. Ask for a specific list of furniture and find out about things such as if you have hot water all the time and whether water or electricity is ever cut. (I've lived in a couple of places that cut off the water for half the day.) Don't expect things such as bath tubs or dishwashers. Both are luxury items in many countries. Most places are too small to have a bathtub and dishwashers use too much electricity.

You should expect to have the following basic items when you are provided with housing: bed, pillow, bedding, desk with a chair, closet or dresser, table with chairs, bathroom with hot water, fridge, stove (with gas if necessary), and a TV with a DVD player. If you can get the following, that would be great: pots, pans, microwave, cutlery, plates, bowls, glasses, cooking utensils, dustpan and broom, vacuum, or drinking water.

Sometimes you are offered a housing allowance if you choose not to live in the provided housing. If they do, find out if they give you the money and when, or if they pay the owners directly. If you do decide to find your own housing, make sure your housing allowance will cover the majority of your rent. Although you will probably have to pay for some of the rent of out your pocket, you don't want the majority of your salary going towards your rent. Some countries, mainly in Asia, ask for key money. Key money can range from one month to one year of rent in advance. Some employers will help with key money, other won't. The bottom line is make sure that if you don't accept the provided housing that you can afford to pay the rent.

Utilities Allowance. If you live in provided housing, some employers will offer to pay up to a certain amount of your utilites. If they do, find out if they give you the money and when, or if they pay the utilities companies directly.

Free/Discounted Lunches or a Food Allowance. Sometimes you are offered free lunches or discounted lunches during weekdays when school is in session. The quality of the food can vary greatly, but if it's good, it can help cut down on monthly costs. If the school offers you free or discounted lunches, and you don't want to eat at their cafeteria, find out of they can give you a food allowance instead.

Free Transportation or a Transportation Allowance. If you live on campus or within wakling distance of the school, then daily transportation won't be much of a problem. However, you could try to get transportation for the weekend, especially if you're going to be living in the country or a remote area. Sometimes you might be able to get bus tickets to a big city between once a week to once a month.

If you live off campus or far from school, try to get a transportation allowance to help cover the cost of getting to and from school. While you can't expect the school to pay for taxis, you might be able to get them to pay for buses. And you might not be able to get them to completely pay for your daily transport to and from school, they might be willing to pay for a portion of it.

Number of Different Classes. While most teachers are only concerned with the number of hours they teach, you also need to consider the number of different classes you teach and how often they met. If you have 20 teaching hours and have to teach 10 different classes, it's very different than having 20 hours and only 3 different classes. Try to get the least number of different classes that you can.

Teaching Assistant. While many teachers don't like having a co-teacher, some like having an assistant. An assistant can help you make copies, write quizzes/tests, grade papers, cut out things, or decorate bulletin boards.

Paid schooling. Even if you don't have children, some employers will pay you to go back to school and further your education. Paying part of your expenses greatly helps. If they can't afford that, ask if they'll pay for you to attend local conferences. If you have school aged children and don't homeschool them, they're going to have to go to school. Ask your employer if they cover part or all of those costs.

Opportunities for Extra Money. Some schools don't let you work at other institutes or even teach private classes, thus taking away the chance to make extra money. If you can, try to have your contract say that you can teach private students as long as they are not students at the school.

There are other ways to make extra money as well. Although some teachers don't like to teach summer or winter camps due to stress, others like them because they're a chance to make extra money. However, some schools make camps mandatory and although you'll work more hours, they won't pay you more. If your school has a camp, see if you can negotiate for extra money for teaching it.

Overtime is another way to make money. Teaching more hours is a good way to earn a bit of extra money. If you are asked to put in extra teaching hours, make sure that it states in your contract that you will get paid extra. Some schools try to make you work more hours and don't pay you overtime because the hours you work are during the school hours. Have your contract state that if you work over X hours a week, you will get paid X per hour. Make sure it says per week, otherwise you could work many hours in one week and only a few in the next.

Paid Training. While the majority of schools often have meetings, some also have training sessions. These many vary from a couple times a week to a couple times a semester. Granted, you probably will learn something useful at these training sessions, they can be held afterschool or on the weekend, taking time away from your free time. If you do have to go to training sessions, make sure that you don't have to pay for anything. In addition, you might want to try to negotiate a bit of extra pay since you are putting in extra hours at work.

Freebies. There are lots of non-monetary benefits that schools can offer you. Language lessons are just the start. If your school offers these, find out where you will take them (whether at an institute or whether another teacher at the school will teach you). And find out of they're free or how much discount the school will give you.

Nowadays the majority of schools have free internet access at the school, but you should also find out if you will have free/discounted internet access at your house. Free/Discounted access to gyms, pools, or libraries are also great perks that are nice to have.

Visa costs can add up. While many schools pay for all and any visa costs that incur in the country, only some of them will pay for costs that incur outside of the country. Make sure your contract is specific about what it covers.

Unused sick days might be exchange for a bonus. If you are given X amount of sick days, find out what happens if you don't use them by the time your contract finishes. The same might be true for unused vacation days. (But I would still encourage you to take a vacation, it's nice to get away, and you'll come back refreshed and less stressed.). One thing must be said about vacation days, make sure that they really are vacation days. In some countries, you might be asked to make up holidays. That means that although you will get Labour Day off, the next week you might have to work an extra hour a day to make up for the lost hours.

Tax-free Salary. Taxes can take a huge chunk out of your salary. Although you are often allowed a certain amount of tax-free salary, the remaining amount can be taxed at rates as high as 30%. Find out if the school pays your taxes, instead of taking them out of your salary. Another trick some schools use is state that your salary is lower than it actually is (making sure this amount is within the tax-free salary range) and then pay you the rest in cash. While this can work nicely for both you and the school. You have to be able to trust the school will pay you the rest in cash.

Bonuses. There are usually two types of bonuses that are given: performance and non-performance bonuses. If you are entitled to bonuses, find out who the school awards them to and when they are given.

Performance bonuses can be extra money given based on the number of returning students, test scores, or student feedback. Chances are if you stay at the same school for a while you will get the chance to move up and get a better position. When you are given a higher position and more responsibility, make sure that you get extra pay or more benefits for the extra work that you will be putting in. Non-performance bonuses can be for Christmas, the end of the year, and for completing your contract.

Relocation Allowance. While many countries may be cheap to live in, you will have to bring some money to help with start up costs. Even if your have food and housing provided, there are often little extras that you have to buy. These little things can add up quickly. If you can get the school to provide you with a relocation allowance, that will help a lot. Institutes may give a couple hundred dollars, while international schools may give you an extra month's salary and pay for extra luggage and give you an allowance to ship items as well (up to a certain amount).

Clarifying Your Contract
Basically, by clarifying your contract, you are making sure that both you and your employer interprete your contract in the same way. More than likely there will be some things that you don't understand in your contract. If you have questions, email your employer and have them answer your questions, then put their answers into your contract.

Clarifying your contract is usually less stressful than trying to negotiate. Make sure you know the answers to these basic questions before signing your contract. Listing your questions makes it easier for the person to respond. Remember to be polite when you ask your questions. First list the items that you want to clarify and then bring up the items you want to negotiate.

Once you have finished negotiating and clarifying anything you don't understand, send your new contract to your employer. If your employer has any objection to the changes, then you will have to edit your contract again. Once they are also satisfied with the changes, then you can sign your contract and either mail, fax or scan it back to them. Then they should also send you a copy with their signature and start any visa paperwork, if necessary.


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