This week I had the pleasure of leading a session for a group of student teachers on application writing and interviews. It was refreshing to work with a group of aspiring teachers, full of passion, enthusiasm and anticipation for what lies ahead. It is a privilege to work with young people day-in, day-out and as a headteacher I believe it is crucial to convey this positivity to the future members of our profession. Below are some of the tips and tricks I discussed.
Do your research
Before you begin to fill in application forms and write letters, be sure to thoroughly research the specific job that is advertised, the school itself, and the nature of the local community. It is important that the school, its values, and the community it serves 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 get a greater insight into what the school is all about.
Arrange a visit
I would highly recommend making the effort to visit the school, 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 is a group that you can work with. Visiting 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. If you do arrange a visit, ensure you have prepared appropriate questions to ask – this demonstrates that you are serious about the application. 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 I have read so many letters with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the first paragraph. The best way of getting instant rejection, though, is forgetting to change the name of the school from a previous application. This is unforgivable. The applicants whose letters are personalised to the school and the specifics of the job description are the ones that stand out.
The opening paragraph should state the position being applied for and the school name. Your current position and the reasons you are interested can be mentioned here, along with a strong statement outlining 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. Successful letters of application will finish strongly with a clear statement of your intent, describing how you would go about succeeding in the position. Be passionate, use emotive words and demonstrate your desire to improve the life chances of the students at the school.
The interview day
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. Standard tasks involve teaching a lesson, student panels, group discussions, presentations and of course the formal interview. More recently I have used lesson planning and marking/assessment tasks as part of teacher recruitment processes and these have been extremely useful to judge the quality of candidates. The final interview is often the aspect that causes applicants the most concern as they feel under pressure and apprehensive. The most important thing however is to simply be yourself. Demonstrate to the panel that you are passionate about working with young people and that you can add value to the school by not only providing excellent teaching, but also a strong commitment to enriching the lives of the student through extra-curricular activities.
- SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his third year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.