So a couple weeks ago I landed two jobs in one week – both of them working strictly online through specific platforms. So now I want to share a little bit (actually, a lot) about searching for and landing that elusive online job.
My specific jobs (and in case you’re counting, I’m now working with three companies) are all based on teaching English and supporting English learners. So that’s the experience I’ll be speaking to. There are some general truths that will carry over if you’re looking at other industries online.
Teaching English is a huge online industry simply because the internet is such an excellent way to connect teachers of a language with learners while everybody has the benefit of staying comfortably in their home.
English is the dominant language of business so if you are a native English speaker you have a crazy advantage as many around the world are scrambling to learn our language in order to maximize their business, work and travel opportunities. I have spoken with people from France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, India, and China. They are all different age groups and their reasons for learning English range from personal interest and a sense that it would just be good to know, to learning for academic pursuits like attending an international University to learning for travel and work.
There are a lot of companies out there that you can teach with – hence why I work with three. It’s a good thing for both teachers and learners that there are so many platforms with similar services and job opportunities because it drives each of them to be competitive.
So, Where do I apply?
There are a few different ways that you can apply. You can research individual companies and apply directly to them or you can seek a recruitment group that will consider your resume and suggests companies you may be a good fit for.
I caution that free websites where you send your qualifications and they match you are probably not worth your time. I tried it and they sent me an email saying they thought I’d be a good match for a company that was already on my resume.
That was the only company they sent me a notification for, despite the fact that I am a good fit for many companies. Furthermore, they do not support you through the application process.
So really, you’re no further ahead than if you found the company on your own.
It sounds too simple to be true but I recommend starting the way I did: Google search “Teaching English Online” and consider what companies come up.
You want to understand their target client in order to determine if they are a good match for you. For example, one of my companies targets students in China exclusively. China is 12 hours ahead of me so if I want to teach them in their preferred time, after dinner and through the evening, I need to get up and start teaching around four or five in the morning.
I don’t mind but I do encourage people who want to do this kind of work to consider how time zones may impact their schedule and availability to work.
Other companies I work for target students around the world. They have stronger demand from some regions and therefore still have hours where they highlight demand. However, because they do invite students from all over to learn on their platforms they are able to provide some opportunity to work throughout the day for me.
Company requirements range from preferring a long list of certifications to only requiring that English is your native language.
In summary for where to apply:
- Research companies yourself
- Understand the impact of their target clients and timezones for your schedule
- Do you meet their requirements
The Application Process
How many people would love to work online? And why is that?
Because many people consider working online or from home to mean that the work is easy, low commitment, and open to anybody.
Therefore companies looking to hire English teachers and other online contractors are working hard and developing processes to discourage non-serious applicants.
Assume that competition is tough and ensure that your resume and application answers include relevant keywords. If you’re applying to teach English for example, you should be the kind of candidate that can have the words “teach, taught, tutor, children, adults, learners, English” on their resume.
Assume that your first challenge is to be filtered through an algorithm and use appropriate language accordingly. Don’t write something that would only matter to a human reviewer or a human reviewer may never see it filtered through the system. Straight forward, clear language that relates to the position responsibilities is best.
Furthermore, be prepared for multiple interview and training stages. You’re going to have to jump through some hoops. Jumping through hoops both demonstrates your seriousness about and commitment to the position and provides additional assessment opportunities for the company to feel confident they are hiring contractors who are a good fit.
In this process, one of the keys to success is staying organized. Many companies will have developed their own platform that you would be working through and from the interview onwards they will be trying to teach you to effectively use this platform to meet their performance goals. You want to have clear notes on how to use the platform, all related requirements, and what the performance standards are.
Save any documents they provide you during the process all together in one folder; the documents may be provided through email and through the training platform so collect them in one place where you can access them at a moments notice.
Most online companies I have worked with, from transcription to teaching, rate contractors on a 5 star or 5 point system. Most consider 4.85 and higher to be a generally acceptable range for contractors performance. Aim higher, always, but especially aim for 4.88-4.95 if you are seeking advancement and bonus opportunities.
The most successful contractors are the ones who treat their opportunities with the same respect, commitment and care that they would be expected to give in a formal office environment. They follow instructions to the letter, follow up on all recommendations (If the company says that something is helpful but not required successful contractors are the ones who go ahead and follow that recommendation!), attend workshops and access all the support offered to them and they take pride in doing good work.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter where you’re working – a more traditional environment, somewhere with a startup vibe, remotely for a brick and mortar company or strictly online – every company favors employees who work hard.
Be that worker.
Developing a Career
I wrote a while ago about diversifying yourself. I want to reiterate that the downfalls of working online necessitate diversity and maintaining contracts or opportunities with multiple companies.
To most online companies you are an independent contractor. That basically code for them not owing you anything. No overtime – no matter how much you work, no sick leave, maternity leave or any other leave expected in most Western work environments, no health or wellness benefits, no paid vacation, and no guarantee of work or pay. You work as much or as little as you want within the limits of how much work they have. If students don’t sign up for classes my wide open availability means next to nothing. I might open eight, or even 10 hours of availability in a day and still only work 2-4 hours. The company I work for doesn’t owe me anything for available hours that go unbooked. The deal is that I work, they pay me, and in all other aspects, I am responsible for myself.
Many people are attracted to working online because of the “set your own schedule” ability and the idea that it is flexible. As I mentioned above though, don’t expect to be paid for any time that you aren’t actively working. You don’t have to open your availability if you don’t want to – but you are going to end up wanting to work as much as possible because otherwise you’re not getting paid.
The Impact of Policy and Culture
There is generally some understanding of uncontrollable circumstances. For example, a large windstorm took down some power lines near my home and left me without power for 24 hours one weekend. I messaged my company and was forgiven for canceling my classes because the circumstances were beyond my control and beyond what I can reasonably be expected to cope with while maintaining quality work.
I add the caveat about coping while maintaining a reasonable level of quality in your work because if your online employer is based in another culture you may find they have a different level of tolerance for personal issues than you’ve come to expect.
Some workplaces in Canada have very open and lenient policies for things like sick leave and mental health, for example. You can not expect this from an online company.
Realize this: Your manager might support you staying home from work because of that wicked head cold but it isn’t because they feel bad for you – they just don’t want you getting them sick. When you work from home your head cold doesn’t affect anyone else. My sick days with my companies are extremely limited. Not feeling well is not a reason to not work when you work at home in your PJs.
Even more prominent – mental health and what should be done for people struggling with mental health issues is a cultural knowledge. In Canada, we have a very empathetic attitude about mental health. Most workplaces recognize it as a genuine concern and have varying levels of support. I know many companies still fail their employees completely, however, most have good and improving policies.
When working for a company based in a culture like China, I have found that mental health is considered a nonfactor. It falls under looking after yourself, which is considered separate from your work life and not their responsibility.
Harsh – yes, very much so. However, it is a sacrifice that comes with developing a career that ignores physical borders. You must work fluidly between cultures and learn to meet expectations that differ from what would be expected of you if you worked strictly within your own culture.
Working from home has its own unique set of benefits – there’s absolutely no doubt about that, for me. However, those benefits mean mentally letting go of the benefits we may have expected from a more traditional workplace. It’s a personal decision to favor one set of benefits and deficits over the other and figure out what kind of career is going to bring you the most satisfaction.