12 April 2015
As a frequent recipient of teaching job applications, I can easily spot the candidate who has gone the extra mile in compiling their letter, CV and application form.
In return, selection panels make the reasonable assumption that the person who has taken extra care and attention in these aspects of their preparation will apply similar skills and attributes to the job itself.
So how do you put together an application that makes such an impact on the shortlisting panel? The first article in this series of five will give you some pointers on sensible preparation and structuring your letter of application.
Do your homework
It is easily to spot the generic application that runs off the word processor without any attempt to relate skills and experience to the unique circumstances of the school. In order to avoid this you need as much relevant information as you can. All of which can be gleaned from a variety of sources.
1. Ask to visit the school
Make sure you do this even if they do not offer you the opportunity in their initial advert. Ring the school and don't be put off if the secretary responds negatively. Ask to speak to the headteacher who may well be more flexible. At the very least this move shows you have some initiative. If you do visit don't take too long because the person that guides you round will probably be pushed for time. Take a list of essential questions that need answering and present yourself as enthusiastic, knowledgeable and meagre to offer your own opinions (at this stage).
2. Check up on their latest OFSTED report
This is available on the internet at the OFSTED site. The relevance of the report is inversely proportional to its age, but even a four-year old report should give you a flavour of the school that builds up your background picture of its strengths and weaknesses.
3. Check up on recent exam results
The school may well supply these with their pack of information, probably in the standard format given out with the annual report to parents. It will be very useful for you to analyse these for yourself and an essential part of this is the percentage of students taking free school meals. If this information is not provided, you might consider ringing up the school to ask. It enables you to compare exam results against the statistics and utilise information provided in the DfES's Autumn Package of statistics.
4. Scrutinise the information that comes from the school
It is instructive to see just what they supply. After all, it will be what they consider to be of most value. You will probably get the prospectus but this is invariably a bland document of limited value; the website will only give you the PR slant. Try to glean background facts from any newsletters, reports or policies they might include.
5. Attend a school function
How close do you live to the school? It might be worth checking up to see whether the school has a public function before the initial application needs to be in. You'll certainly hit the jackpot if the open evening for prospective parents is in this period, because this allows you to ask a whole manner of relevant questions.
Even a public concert by the sixth form wind band allows you include relevant comments about student commitment and valuing excellence in your letter of application.
Remember, however, that staff you meet on these occasions might well meet you again if you are called to interview. Don't use jargon that belies your true identity - some might take the opinion that doing this kind of thing means that you are trying rather too hard. But then again they're not after a job, are they?
Structuring your letter
Once you have gathered your background information you're ready to write your letter. These are the basic rules about presentation:
- No more than two sides of A4. If you cannot be this concise then you run the danger of boring the person who reads the applications. Have a sense of audience here. They will probably be hard-pressed to read and make judgements in the time that they have set-aside. So, make your points crisply and remember - if they want more detail they can always invite you to interview. At the other extreme, don't do less than one side. This hints that you have little of substance to offer - or worse still, couldn't be bothered to write more.
- Always use a word processor, in most cases it is far neater than a hand-written response.
- A 10-point font size is the smallest acceptable. This is after all the size that most newspapers and magazines use and it is perfectly readable.
- Reduce the margins to 1.5cm. You save a lot of space this way.
- In the strict sense this is not a "letter" - so don't waste valuable space putting your address at the top. If they want this they can read the application form.
When it comes to content, give yourself about 10 paragraphs and think through the themes that each should illustrate. This is likely to be different for each application, but for a head of year post such a list might include the following:
- Past relevant experience
- Current job description and notable achievements
- Role of the head of year - pastoral care
- Role of the head of year - monitoring student progress
- Leading a team of tutors
- The role of the form tutor
- Notable features of pastoral care in the school
- Statement of your personal values in education
Once you have decided on the themes you can then write the letter. These four points will help:
1. Introducing each paragraph
You need to compose a first line to the paragraph that sums up its theme. The remaining eight or so lines then provide the detail. This shows that you think systematically as well as making it easy to read.
2. It's not just what you've done
One of the biggest problems encountered by letter-writers is the need to avoid the repeated mention of "I". What's more, many application letters have a tendency to be a mere historical list of past achievements - without any projection into the future. Don't just tell the shortlisting panel what you've done: make sure it emphasises the skills and experience that you have subsequently acquired that could be applied to new situations - such as the new job you are applying for.
3. Incorporating school details
It is sensible to include a specific paragraph about the school, drawing out anything that attracts your attention in particular. Don't, however, leave such references to this section alone - try to incorporate relevant comments in the other paragraphs too. Every time you refer to the school's specifics, it highlights the fact you have taken the time and trouble to personalise your application.
4. Enlisting a proofreader
Not all of us have a crisp turn of phrase or a sound grasp of grammar. Find someone who likes you enough you enough to be deadly honest about spellings, punctuation and clarity.
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