How to get shortlisted for a teaching job * * * BASIC ADVICE * * *
To get shortlisted, you need to write an application that impresses the school so much that they are anxious to meet you because they think you will make a very positive contribution to their school and to the success of their pupils.
When writing a job application, therefore, remember the golden rule of writing to impress the recruiting headteacher, not just writing about yourself. It has to be about what they need and want, to meet their requirements. Not about your convenience, your wish to work at a school near your home, or your need to progress your career. So remember the school’s point of view!
You probably know all this, but it can be helpful sometimes to refresh your memory. And remember: this is just my view, others may have different ideas! But I would be happy to receive any application that was clearly set out, thoughtful and actually relevant to my post at my school, rather than one that seemed a carbon-copy that you had sent off to fifty different schools. We all want to be loved for ourselves.
And of course, the very big issue: no headteacher wants to receive an application that is just a re-hash of someone else’s. I understand that there are now local authorities who are using software to identify similarities in applications. The sort of software that is used by UCAS to see if the personal statement is not all that personal after all.
So don’t ask me or anyone for a model letter or statement, don’t share your letter with anyone else.
If we get two applications with an identical couple of sentences, we don’t know which of you wrote it first, so we bin them both.
Write your own!
So how to write it?
Aims of a job application
- To get selected for interview
- To influence the panel in your favour before they even set eyes on you
- Not to get you sacked when you start the job… it must be honest
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth!
Elements of a job application
- an application form with every bit filled in, no "See letter"
- an application letter OR supporting statement. Not both but certainly one of them.
- a cover letter ONLY if you do a supporting statement. See below
- an Executive summary. If there's a space on the form, put it in there; if not, put it at the end of your letter so that it gets printed out automatically. More on this below.
The application form
- Legible - type it if possible. If it has to be handwritten, photocopy it and practice, and use dark ink, preferably black
- Get the details correct
- Fill it all in. Yes, all of it! Don’t leave anything blank. Write N/A where appropriate
- Don’t say “see letter”
- Don’t leave the current salary blank if they ask for it
- Follow the instructions - especially for the chronological order of your employment history. It often says Most recent first
- Do not have any unexplained blank periods in your employment history. Safeguarding advice leads us to consider whether you were doing something you don’t want us to know about if you leave a gap. Were you detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure?
The curriculum vitæ
What curriculum vitæ? In theory you should not need one for applying for a post in a maintained school in England and Wales, since the statutory guidance to these schools is that they should not ask for one.
Independent schools, international schools and now academies and free schools aren’t tied to this, of course, and some of them do ask for a curriculum vitæ.
But unless you get specifically asked for one, don’t send one. So don’t waste time preparing one to send off, although you should have a working cv to help you fill in application forms.
Get ready for the application season!
The letter or statement
What do you send with your application form? There are three possibilities:
- A supporting statement - I prefer not to call it a personal statement, as that encourages you to make it about you, instead of focussing on the school
- A letter of application
- A covering letter - sometimes called a cover letter.
In theory - I emphasise this - in theory they are different, and you would never have all three.
A letter of application and a supporting statement are the same thing, except that one starts "Dear Mr Smith" and t'other doesn't. (So don't do both!)
A covering letter is just that: it is a letter that acts as a sort of envelope, covering what you are sending off. It is a technical term and is used when you have a statement instead of a letter of application (so don´t do both!). It goes something like this:
Dear Mr Smith
Teacher of mathematics at Gasworks High School for Girls
I have pleasure in applying for the above post and enclose my completed application form, supporting statement with summary, and Equal Opportunities Form.
The confusing thing is that sometimes the school doesn't understand what a covering letter actually is, and so they ask you to write a covering letter when in fact they mean a letter of application, so you need to keep your wits about you! No one ever asks you to write a real covering letter; it's just a courtesy. So if they ask for one, they mean a letter of application.
When you are writing your statement or letter, follow this advice:
- Two sides A4 in a normal-sized type with normal-width margins
- Carry out their instructions
- No more than two pages means one and a half to two pages, not just one paragraph
- Handwritten if they ask, but typed unless they specifically ask for handwritten
- Address any issues they ask you to, don’t just ignore them
- Make it specific to this post in this school
- Wring value out of every sentence you put in, cut the waffle
- Tell them why they need you, not why you need them
- Make it specific to their job description, addressing their needs
- Make it as structured as a good student essay
- Make it easy to read
- Get it professionally typed at least once unless you are an ace at laying out documents. A professional layout always looks better
Sample opening paragraph of a letter
I wish to be considered for this position and enclose… I am attracted to this post as a development of my role as…… in which I have direct responsibility for … I have been concerned especially with…… I now feel ready to extend this experience of ….. and ….. into another school. School XXX is of particular interest to me because of its ……… (Don’t say because you live nearby)
Three or four main sections, possibly five or six for a leadership post. I would actually put headings in the letter, to make the structure clear; typical ones for a Senior Leadership post could be:
- Current and recent experience
- Other achievements relevant to your post
- The priorities of your post
- The future of XXX school
If, and I emphasise the if, if these sections are appropriate for you, this is what you could include:
Current and recent experience
Say what you are doing, but in structured fashion: curriculum role, pastoral role, managerial role, extra-curricular, contact with parents/ other schools, experience of budgeting, etc.
Other achievements relevant to your post
Responsibilities/ contributions in previous posts; any outside activities that show skills relevant to teaching and managing children and colleagues; any specific training done.
The priorities of your post
What you think the post is about, based on the clues that they give you. What do they need you to do? How would you fulfil this? This is your chance to show them that they need you.
The future of XXX school
This is relevant specifically for leadership level posts, showing that you have an understanding of the type of school it is, the context that it is working in, and how you could contribute to its development.
A completely different structure might suit you better. You might, when applying for a teaching rather than a leadership role, wish to have sections about your philosophy of education, how you put this into effect in your teaching practice, how you have been supporting every pupil to success, with examples, and what you would hope to contribute to the new school. That could make a good letter.
You might even base it on the major headings of the Teachers' Standards
The executive summary
- Remember the primary aim - to get shortlisted; make it easy for them to select you
- It will also concentrate your mind in writing a good application letter by reminding you of all your strengths
- Based on: person specification, job purpose or description
- Show both their requirements and how you match up to them
- Do it in table form, showing their points and how you comply
- Must always fit on just one side of A4. The idea is that they can see at a glance everything about you that fits their requirements. One-side only.
An example executive summary is shown below - it relates to a leadership post, but something very similar can be done for a classroom teaching post. Use their job description, or if there isn't one, the Teachers' Standards. (N.B. this table is not quite as neat as it should be as the formatting has not transferred very well to the web page. Make yours better!)
John Smith, applicant for post of Headteacher
My skills and experience
· Leadership of others
· Deputy Head at Gasworks High
· Led team that was awarded top grade in Ofsted Inspection, 2011
· Led successful team planning new curriculum for 165 sixth formers
· Understanding others
· Investor in People Assessor, April 2012: “Gasworks staff hold you in high esteem and appreciate you as a supportive and caring Deputy Head”
· Drive for Improvement
· GCSE A*-C rose from 46% to 68% in three years
· Planning and thinking ahead
· Managed operational and strategic planning cycles in LeafyLane Comprehensive
· Contribute to setting and achieving of strategic objectives in Gasworks High
· Understanding the school as a business
· Successful in-depth experience of: budget management; financial planning; monitoring of monthly management accounts; efficiency gains through resource management; income generation; managing change; personnel issues; use of management information to support decision-making
· Management of change: new delivery methods, introduction of target-setting in LeafyLane Comprehensive
· Member of five regional and national curriculum development bodies
· At LeafyLane Comprehensive, received three promotions after I identified a need & filled it
· Sat, without preparation, GCSE mock exams in Maths, English Language and IT and publicised my results to staff
· Cognitive ability
· High scores in verbal reasoning and numeracy tests
· Leadership of School and SMT
· Contribution to Management Committees: Senior Leadership Team; Curriculum Management Group; IT Strategy Group; Quality Committee; Academic Board
· Educational standards throughout the school
· Responsible for student achievement; awarded two-increment salary increase by Board of Governors in recognition of my contribution to the raising of standards
· Staff appointment, training and other staffing matters
· Chaired eight appointment panels this year
· Manage the Performance Management Scheme in Gasworks High
· Recruitment and discipline of pupils
· Responsible for 180 new enrolments per year, including links with feeders
· Manage all student matters including discipline, recommendation for exclusion
· Organisation, policies and procedures
· Chair Curriculum Management Group, the major policy development forum
· Devised procedures for: Trips and Visits, Child Protection, Appointments etc.
· Health and Safety
· Good level of awareness of Health & Safety, Employment Legislation, Equal Opportunities, Child Protection and other parameters in which a School, as a business, must operate.
· Relations with County Hall
· Experienced at external relations
· Address Chamber of Commerce, Business Education Partnership, Town Councillors, LEA Inspectors, Central Careers staff, etc
If there's a space on the form, put the executive summary in there; if not, put it at the end of your letter, as the third page, so that it gets printed out automatically
The important thing is that the left-hand column is exactly what they are looking for because it comes from their person spec and job details. How can they fail to shortlist you if you tick all their boxes with highly relevant examples showing excellent experience?
If the personal specification is very long, then you need to do the following:
- Prioritise. What are the most important things for them? If short of space, leave out things that can be seen easily from the application form, e.g. QTS
- Condense. On the example above, there was a whole sentence for their requirements, these have been cut down to the essential words, so that they fit in a narrow column and leave more room for your evidence
- Combine. Often there are similar requirements that you can put together
I know that what you would all really, really like would be for me to show you an example executive summary for a NQT, or a teacher on mainscale.
But the problem there is that these have very similar job descriptions, so if I did, it would be hard for you to put in an application without just saying more or less what I do . . . which could lead to a head receiving similar applications.
So, as with the letter of application, for the Executive Summary, I say: write your own. Sorry!
Here are some more tips on Executive Summaries:
Why you should always include an E.S. in an application
Person Spec too long - how do I do an E.S.? And where do I put it? *** Beginners start here ***
Step-by-step: How to write an E.S. *** More basic advice ***
Executive summaries - where to start when no person specification
Blank E.S. Pro-forma for job applications
Final dos and don’ts
- Don’t correct errors on their forms
- Don’t use staples on your application – they will need to photocopy it
- Have your name on each page of your statement or letter.
- Check that you have got the name of the right school.
- And then check it again!
And now read How NOT to get shortlisted
1999 seems a long time ago – but it was then that I made my first application for a headship. It was a bit of a false start as I actually withdrew the application after visiting the school. This is no reflection on the school, which was excellent, but I hadn't fully thought through uprooting my whole family and moving to a different part of the country.
My next applications were more considered. After not getting through to the second day for the first post I interviewed for, I was the only person taken through to the second day at St. Mary's Catholic College, where I have served as headteacher for the last 13 years. Here is my advice for those applying for the first time.
Make sure your vision matches the school
It's interesting to reflect back on the only two experiences I have of being interviewed for a headship. The feedback from the first school was that they thought I was far too radical in my thinking and not in touch with reality. They may have been right. At St. Mary's, however, they were looking for a leader who would help develop a new vision for the school and lead it into the 21st century.
This isn't about good school/bad school or good applicant/bad applicant – it is about matching your vision and aspirations with those of the school and governors that you will be working for. If the two aren't aligned it will be like being in a boat with everyone rowing in a different direction – meaning the governors and headteacher are in for a torrid time. Governing bodies aren't always confident in articulating their own vision, but they do know an engaging and inspiring one when they hear it. If you can't articulate your vision to a friend or relative – or to yourself in the mirror – you are not yet ready to lead a school.
You can't ever be truly prepared – but you'll learn
With the exception of vision, I think that you have to accept that there is no preparation for headship quite like actually being a headteacher. You need a good knowledge of how schools work; an awareness of the structures and systems that ensure good order and high standards of teaching & learning; the ability to work with and influence people and an abundance of resilience.
What I knew about premises and finance when I became a headteacher, you could write on the back of an envelope – and a not very big one at that. And yet, over the past 13 years, I have had overall responsibility for £30m of capital building programmes and £80m of recurrent funding. Another worry for applicants can be personnel issues that go beyond the difficult conversation into formal procedures. Outside of a few difficult meetings where I had been alongside the headteacher as a "professional development opportunity", again my experience was limited. Remember to follow the policy, make sure you have a good HR provider and be calm and balanced in your approach. You will grow in confidence with experience in time.
Headship is a team game
I hope we have eventually given up on the myth of the heroic headteacher who gallops in to save the day single-handed. Headship is now more about the team than simply the individual. Make sure you meet the senior leadership team of the school you are applying for, and consider whether this is a group you can work with. I would tend to keep it social and just get a feel for the group and start to build the relationships. Most of all, be yourself; this is what you bring to genuine and authentic leadership, and it has already got you to deputy headship.
Make fewer but better applications
A few high quality applications are more likely to succeed that trying to send in a generic application for lots of headships. This is a major decision and you have to get it right. Research the school well, visit it prior to applying if you can and make sure the application is totally tailored to the school. We recently appointed three assistant headteachers at St. Mary's. All of them, along with a number of other potential applicants, visited the school before applying and took the time to write highly personalised letters. These are the people you want working at your school, these are the type of people you want leading your school.
This is likely to be a pretty gruelling few days with a series of panel interviews, data tasks and presentations. I was successfully interviewed for the executive headship of St. Mary's Catholic College and Christ the King Catholic Primary School earlier this year, but I had no idea how many other candidates would be invited for interview. The poor governors may have had to listen to presentations all afternoon. I wanted to make the point that, if we wanted to be outstanding, we were going to have to do something different and that the skills I had acquired as a secondary headteacher would be transferable to the executive headteacher role.
The opening two minutes of my presentation was a card sort of the characteristics of outstanding primary and secondary schools taken from two Ofsted documents. It was only after they had sorted them into a couple of groups and noticed all the repetition that I explained where they had come from. I was doing something different while showing them my skills are transferable.
Please don't fall into the trap of gimmicks, but look for the opportunity to let your light shine out from the crowd. If you're not successful then maybe it just wasn't the job for you. Remember to learn from each experience and keep a record of questions asked and tasks given.
And good luck – I hope the right school is out there for you.
Stephen Tierney is executive headteacher at Christ the King Catholic Primary School & St Mary's Catholic College. Previously he was headteacher of St. Mary's Catholic College, Blackpool for the past 13 years. He blogs at Leading Learner and tweets as @LeadingLearner