13 April 2015
Don't repeat these mistakes
Too often, shortlisting panels see CVs that simply repeat much of the information on the application form without adding anything to substantially boost the appeal of the candidate. The other general mistake is to leave blank spaces on the "personal details" section of the application form apart from the words "see CV".
Unfortunately for the candidate, this is often interpreted as laziness. It may be more work but the letter, CV and application form should not only be tailored to fit the post but integrated together to give an attractive package where key attributes and experienced are reinforced rather than just repeated.
Think about the message this gives out to those that shortlist: if this candidate has gone to the trouble to prepare these three documents in a such a fashion, the chances are they will operate in a similarly diligent way in post.
This works in reverse, too. It is easy to spot the applicant who rattles the CV off his hard drive, dashes through the application form and puts together an identikit letter without any attempt to personalise the details. When 16 applicants have to be whittled down to a shortlist of five, these rarely make the first hurdle.
The perfect application form
Before you sit down to complete the form, gather together all of the factual information you need to complete the purely factual sections of the form. If you have never completed one of these before, you may well be surprised how long it takes to dig out the information required. You may well arrive at a list of facts that you need to research in order to ensure accuracy, for example the number on roll at your present school, your exam grades and your precise current salary. This is one very good reason why you should not complete such a form on the eve of the deadline! Resist the temptation to leave some sections blank - it suggests a lack of precision
Some application forms require more than factual information. They may require you to write a paragraph on "other relevant interests, abilities or experience", "your views on comprehensive education," or "key events and experiences in your personal development". Tackle these sections in the same careful, structured way that you would your letter of application. Always write them out in rough beforehand and carefully think through how your audience will perceive your comments. These sections are often your opportunity to show that you have a bit of "breadth" about you - do you interests show that you have a life outside teaching? If so, this will put you in good stead to cope with the stresses and strains of the job. In addition to a sound grasp of the job's technicalities, do you have a firm ideological viewpoint in line with the school's ethos?
The application form always includes a section to fill in details about your referees. It may do sound obvious, but do always ask your referees permission before you put their details down (even if they are your headteacher). As well as being good manners, many will require you to brief them about the post before they write your reference. If you use someone regularly for this purpose (and they are not your immediate line manager) you may wish to keep them up to date with your career every six months or so. A copy of your latest CV should suffice. Always put down your line manager for a reference because it looks suspicious not to do so. Try to avoid pure "character references" because a good account of your work will include reference to your character anyway.
A different slant on curriculum vitae
CVs are absolutely vital. Most employers are mainly interested in what you've done, not what you think you could do. Tailor your CV to each job, mking sure to highlight relevant experience. If you've none, don't waste evryone' time.
The usual form of CV is an information-packed document that is identical for every post you apply for. If by this time you have completed an application form and written your letter then you will have a good idea of the main points you wish to stress at the heart of your application. Why not slightly adapt the usual format of CV to make it an attention-grabbing restatement of your core values and expertise? Suggested sections include
A chronological career summary with dates and a sentence or two on promotions, qualifications, key experiences and other milestones that have shaped your character and built your career.
A longer section on "special experience and expertise" that highlights perhaps the three or four key elements of your application. These may include (for a deputy head's job) "whole-school leadership and administration", "curriculum development", monitoring, evaluation and review" and "research into good practice". Write a sentence or two of description before bullet-pointing your achievements. This is the section where you can tailor the headings to fit your experience and the job description.
If you have given any INSET courses, then list them here.
If the application form has not asked for a list of relevant INSET, you may choose to give a selective list here. Why not make it a bit different by writing a sentence on the impact the course had on your work?
Once again, if the application form doesn't ask you about your outside interests, slip it in here. If you can insert a humorous comment or two (careful - get a friend to check it) then this will usually go down well with the shortlisting panel. I always say that I have an irrational attachment to Tottenham Hotspur. This was picked up on (positively!) in the final interview for my current post.
It is much less effort to print off the usual letter, photocopy the standard CV and rattle off a few paragraphs of an application letter. On the other hand, top jobs don't go to those that just reproduce the status quo. If an application is worth doing, it is worth doing well - so set aside a weekend and go for it. The above tips might give you some guidance for producing a package that sets you apart from the rest.
Recent blog posts