Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to find work in Kharkov


Tomorrow's my first day of work and just like last year, I'm kinda nervous. And haha, just like last time it's rent collection day again, except this time our landlady is a fresh-faced twenty year old who's really sweet and undemanding. Score one point for the new apartment!

This fall I'll be working about the same amount as I did in the spring. My schedule currently has 13 class hours on it but undoubtedly something will be subtracted and other things will be added. The biggest change is the addition of a few IT companies, which means more daytime hours (vs. evenings).

When I first started in the EFL scene here in fall 2011, it was to work at one language school, roughly exchanging 30 hours a week for about a grand per month.

It wasn't until spring 2012 that my first private student appeared. (And then disappeared.)

That December I got my first independent position at an IT company, teaching 2 hours a week.

And then suddenly, this year, it was like a switch was flipped.

In February, D and I took on our first online proofreading tasks, which continue to show up periodically in my inbox to this day.

In March, I left the secure paycheck of the school, dropping down to just a couple hours a week there, and began with 2 private students.

By May, it was 5 private students, 1 private speaking club, the IT company, and one class at the school. Now it's 5 private students and 3 IT companies.

By the way, as far as teaching English goes, my current schedule is a light schedule. Most people work more than that. I've turned down and postponed lots of offers to keep time open for writing on this blog (am. the. slowest. writer. ever!) and designing awesome lessons.

Кит offers to help out with lesson planning!

Since it's fall and the English schools in Kharkov are frantically hiring, there have been a flurry of emails from all over the world asking about what it's like to teach/work here. Here's a couple of the most common questions. If you've got another question, just drop me a line in the comments below!

When is the best time to get a teaching job in Kharkov?

Plan to contact English schools in July and August as they start to plan their fall schedule. Most schools will just take you as you are, but some (American English Center and possibly International House) prefer training or offer it themselves so it's best to get in touch with them earlier to accommodate the training schedule.

metro ad for Green Forest,one of Kharkov's numerous English schools 

That said, the majority of schools are continually on the prowl for a teacher or two. Don't worry too much if you show up at another time of year.

Do I need training to teach English in Kharkov?

Short answer- no.
The long answer- still no.

There's a huge demand for English in this city, as well as elsewhere throughout the country. If you've got any kind of certification (TEFL, CELTA, etc.) or experience, you'll able to make more money or work at a fancier school, but not having it won't necessarily stop you.

more skills = more bank!

In fact, such a large number of untrained people fall into English teaching that some Ukrainian English teachers have a bit of a grudge.

Imagine going to all the effort of studying a brand new language for years, mastering all its grammatical formulas and complexities...
...and suddenly some other person shows up and magically enchants all your students with just the sound of their voice. That sucks. And that person can't even provide an example of the future perfect continuous tense while you could write a freakin' book on it! Not really fair, is it?

One school hired me to come visit their classes a couple of times a semester for the students to get some speaking practice. During one of the classes, students asked me what I did. When I replied that I was an English teacher, the regular teacher immediately jumped in and said "She doesn't mean that. She means she's a native speaker."
"No," I said, "I'm a teacher."
"No," she fired back, "You're a native speaker. I'm a teacher."

I don't think she meant to be rude, I think she was just defending her territory. It's pretty easy to get paid for 'teaching English' while doing nothing more than just leading a running monologue in class. If you're funny or energetic enough, most people don't even mind. I'm not either of those things though, so I've invested time into getting hard skills. I get where she's coming from, though... it probably doesn't equal all the English phonetics and sentence fragments that she's had drilled into her. And there's such a discrepancy in pay- Green Forest's vacancy page, for example, offers $5 - $12/hour for a Ukrainian teacher while shelling out $15/hour for a foreigner.

(Native English speakers: if you want to teach in Ukraine, educate yourself on the English language and prepare activities for your classes. Please, please, please don't show up hungover, collapse into a chair, and ask the students, "So, what do you guys want to talk about today?" Not everyone teaching here does that, but it's unfortunately common enough.)

What other kinds of jobs are available?

Foreigners in Kharkov tend to fall into a few groups:
  • foreign students (mainly from Africa and Asia)
  • helping hands (Peace Corps, missionaries, LDS, charity work, etc)
  • business expats (arriving here [perhaps reluctantly?] at the request of an international company)
  • English teachers (usually the scruffiest of all the groups)
There are a handful of other things that bring people here. Love is one, of course : ) Awww.... but a lot of the lovers have a bank account elsewhere and can focus on their search for a soulmate without having to roll up their sleeves.

So, out of these four groups of foreigners, how does one find work?

The foreign students work wherever they can, if they need to. I know one English school that offers 50uah/hour to anyone who claims English as a native language, so Indian and African students occasionally turn up in a class or two there. Another option (but not for the faint of heart)- working at a market.

The most financially comfortable option is to get sent here. This obviously takes a little planning but some of those business expats are, like Chris Brown says, gettin' paper!

There are occasional other jobs that pop up, mainly in the IT field. I've seen ads for recruiters, phone support, and sales. One interview I had was for a mysterious company that wanted native speakers to answer customer service calls during U.S. business hours.

Our proofreading job happened after I put my resume on one of the ".ua" sites. Two companies got in touch. Currently we're still proofreading translated documents for one of them. It's not enough money to live off, but it's a little extra each month.

Should I just show up? Should I look for a job before arriving?

It takes a lot of guts to just show up, doesn't it? If you want to look for something before you get here, try work.ua or rabota.ua and enter your skill set in the search box. I've just now run a search on work.ua using the keyword "English". Almost 3 dozen jobs turned up, ranging from school administrator to accountant, manager to biologist. The only thing is- both websites are in Ukrainian/Russian (although some job ads appear in English). This is just one of many barriers you'll face if you don't know the language yet. As of this moment, it is possible to register and post your resume on these sites for free, so you might consider doing that and seeing if anyone is interested.

One more thing: it's a boost if you have English and another marketable skill. It's like back in university- the people who study Japanese and economics trump those who just study Japanese. (Says the girl who thought "Spanish and business? No, let's do Spanish and Russian instead!" :p Oops.)

I'm hearing about more and more people who just show up and start looking. Two guys- one Canadian, one American- got programming jobs at IT companies that way. Another just got here and has already made the rounds at over a dozen English schools, picking up employment. They had/have one BIG factor in their favor...

You know how everyone nowadays is saying "network, network, network!"?

That is SO true here in Ukraine.
If you're a stranger asking for something, it's going to be tough.
If you've met people and made connections, the world will open up for you.
It's a universal truth, of course, but it's even more so here. Favoritism, nepotism, all the fun things that Americans love to sue each other over, all that is par for the course in these parts. So if you're applying from abroad you've got two strikes against you:

1) No one knows you (yet).
2) No one likes you (yet).

New school year preparations in a Ukrainian elementary school.

It's not impossible to get hired from afar, but it's certainly not as easy as it would be if you were already here. Again, if you've met people and made connections, the world will be much more likely to open up for you.

For example, take my IT company teaching gigs.

Last summer I asked a well-connected teacher (a Ukrainian woman) if she knew of any IT companies that were hiring English teachers. Ha, she scoffed at me. Those jobs were all snatched up ages ago.

But that's not so. You just have to know someone who knows someone.

My first IT offer came via an ex-student who worked in HR and had gotten hired at a new company. They decided to look for a native speaker, the HR department got tasked with the job, and she sent me a message on vk. As for the next company, well...[deep breath] I met a man on the internet who came to visit his girlfriend in Kharkov and introduced me to a Ukrainian guy whose wife's sister works in HR at the company in question. [phew!] And the third job? ; ) well... D started working there and introduced me to the owner last winter.

Remember when I mentioned that it was like a switch had flipped this year, that suddenly lots of people were interested in my skills? I think it was the point at which my social network here reached critical mass. That never could have happened without actually being in Ukraine. So, in a nutshell- I got hired before arriving, but it took creating a life here to find the good stuff. You might consider taking what you can find just to make a soft landing and then spreading your wings once you've truly settled in.

Anyway, so there's my two cents for you. If you've got your own experience to share, or have any questions, drop me a line below : ) And as always, thank you for reading!


  1. I think that's the cutest picture of KNT ever! And ugh, Chris Brown? He is evil

    1. Haha, Кит actually posed there for two photos- this cute one and an evil one, more evil than Chris Brown :p

  2. So how does the visa situation typically work out? Do you just work illegally and leave the country every 6 months, or will some schools go ahead and give you a work visa? Some aspects of teaching there are VERY unlike in Russia, where practically no one will touch you without certification and experience (excluding privates and some speaking club type arrangements) and getting a visa through a company is critical for getting work (which is why so many people enter the country via the big McEnglish schools), not to mention getting into the country. I just remembered that I had an acquaintance who was working illegally in Ukraine, got arrested, was in jail for a bit, had most of his money/possessions stolen by the police, then was kicked out of the country.

    1. It's different for everyone. Some people get visas through company/school support or other ways (marriage, etc). A lot of people leave the country before their 90 days is up and then return. It is totally different from Russia's super-strict enforcement of things, but Ukraine seems to be (slowly) headed in that direction too. Wow, that is some horror story about your acquaintance! Did he get arrested for working or was it for something else?

    2. For working illegally! As I understood it, the school got on someone's radar (for tax reasons, I believe?) and they just cracked down on all the teachers there. But I don't actually have a lot of sympathy for him because he's a bit of a scumbag.

  3. hello i am student in kharkiv and know very basic russian can i still get a job?