Ten years ago, if you successfully completed your PGCE or GTP course and gained qualified teacher status, the likelihood was that you would be able to get a teaching job, even in competitive subjects like PE, DT and the arts.
What a difference a decade can make! Teacher training has evolved into the recently formed Schools Direct programme and securing a permanent teaching post is a real challenge for those entering the profession.
Pressure on pensions has meant that many teachers will have to work longer and increased significance on students achieving the combination of English Baccalaureate subjects is squeezing some of the more creative subjects out of the curriculum.
This, along with many other factors, has significantly increased competition for jobs. At this point during the academic year, trainee teachers will be actively searching for that all-important first job, seconds in department may be looking to step up to lead a team, and middle leaders might aspire to join senior leadership teams.
Judging by recent years when I have led recruitment processes, receiving between 60 and 80 applications for both NQT and senior leadership posts is not uncommon. So how do you make your application stand out and secure an interview?
Here is my guide to getting an interview for mainscale, middle leader and senior leadership posts – and how to succeed if you get one!
Before you begin to fill in application forms and start writing letters, be sure to thoroughly research the specific job that is advertised, the school itself, and the nature of the local community that the school services.
It is important that the role, the school and its values, as well as the community are suited to you and your philosophies. Simply reading the last Ofsted report (although recommended) is not enough. Explore the website, read newspaper articles, examine the prospectus to gain a greater insight into what the school is all about.
Arrange a visit
Everyone involved in education is invariably extremely busy, so taking the time to visit a school is not always possible. If you can though, I would highly recommend making the effort to visit, especially during a normal school day.
Not only will you get a feel for what the school is like, but also you can gauge whether the team you are applying to join is a group of people that you can work with.
This becomes increasingly important as you apply for positions with greater responsibility, so if you are applying for middle or senior leadership positions make every effort to visit before submitting an application. It is always a good way of making a positive first impression and finding out some specifics that will aid you in personalising your letter of application too.
If you do arrange a visit, ensure you have prepared a series of appropriate questions to ask. This demonstrates that you are serious about the application but it also shows that you are keen to discover whether the school, its ethos and current situation is suitable for you.
Be open and honest with your current employer about requesting time off to visit a school. Line managers should be committed to developing their staff professionally, so although they may be disappointed that you are looking elsewhere, they should take the time to support you in moving your career forwards.
Letter of application
Getting the basics right might be stating the blindingly obvious, but it avoids your letter instantly going in the “no” pile.
I have read so many letters of application where there are spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the first paragraph, and although I will continue to read the remaining letter and application, it certainly does not impress!
The best way of getting instant rejection though is forgetting to change the name of school from a previous application. This is unforgivable. Which leads directly onto the most important part of a letter of application – personalising the letter.
When a school receives a high volume of applications, the applicants whose letters are personalised to the school and the specifics of the job description are the ones that stand out.
The short-listing process, where the requirement is to cut 80 applications down to a maximum of eight, is extremely tough, so make sure your letter clearly demonstrates that you have done your homework.
Schools will increasingly identify a specific issue that applicants should address in their letter, and this is commonly linked to middle and senior leadership posts. Even if there is not such a specific request though, the successful applicant will take the time to write a highly personalised letter.
There is no set letter order or structure, but it is important that the letter contains paragraphs that are structured logically. I would suggest the following order:
The opening paragraph: should state the position being applied for and the school name. Your current position and the reasons why you are interested can be mentioned here, along with a strong statement outlining clearly why you are an excellent candidate.
Following this: you should go on to explain how your skills, abilities and experiences will enable you to successfully complete the aspects of the job description as advertised. This is where you can make your letter stand out from the rest by ensuring that you tailor your attributes and experiences to the specifics you have learned about the school and this particular role.
Big finish: Successful letters of application will finish strongly with a clear statement of your intent, describing how you would go about succeeding in the position. This is your final chance to sell yourself and make the shortlisting cut, so be passionate, use emotive words and demonstrate your desire to improve the life chances of the students at the school.
What should you avoid? First, you should be careful in the language that you use, unless you want to avoid an Apprentice-style grilling during an interview because of a silly throwaway remark or meaningless piece of jargon that you used in the letter. Additionally, simply re-using the same letter you always use and changing the name of an institution using the “find and replace” feature in Word will not get you an interview!
The interview day
Be prepared to be pushed to your professional limits on the day. A panel has to be certain they are appointing the right person so their processes will be rigorous and relentless.
First impressions are key, so be as respectful and positive with the cleaners and receptionists as you would be with the students and headteacher. Anyone that you interact with on the day may be asked their opinion of you, so remember you are always on show!
Standard interview day tasks involve teaching a lesson (this should be the easiest and most enjoyable part), in-tray exercises (written tasks that require your response to a series of scenarios), student panels, group discussions, presentations and of course the formal interview.
The final interview is often the aspect that causes applicants the most concern as they feel under pressure and apprehensive. The best piece of advice I was ever given for refining interview techniques was to remember the acronym T.E.A. – Theory, Experience, Application.
First, in response to a question give your theory on the topic and then back this up with an example of how you have experienced a similar scenario. Then apply this experience to the specifics of the school and the post that you are applying for. It doesn’t work for every single question asked, but it does allow you to concisely frame your answers and it helps to avoid waffling.
The most important thing however is to simply be yourself. We often get carried away with the minutiae of a process when interviewing candidates, but most professionals will recognise that personality, emotional intelligence, resilience and positivity are equally as important, if not more so, as understanding the finer details of advanced pedagogical theories or knowing every educational acronym on the planet!
Ben Solly is vice-principal at Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. You can follow him on Twitter @ben_solly.