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How to write an outstanding job application

Everyone dreads those personal statement boxes on the job application form but we’ve all had to write ‘em and, if we’re in employment, they’ve clearly done the trick. Why would anyone literate need a guide to writing job applications?

Well, as an English teacher I certainly consider myself to be more than merely functionally literate and I some of the feedback on my ability to write a letter of application I had last year was very hard to hear.

The head teacher of a school at which I’d applied to become an assistant head told me the reason I wasn’t called for interview was because he’d been put off by my application letter. He didn’t like my writing style and thought it wasn’t specific enough. In particular he disliked the fact that I’d put several phrases in ‘inverted commas’ and used too many italics.

What do you do with this kind of criticism? Should I write it off as the views of one individual and stay true to myself, or should I take on board the advice offered wholesale? This sounds like a trite rhetorical question, but for a few weeks I felt really torn. I know it’s impossible to second guess exactly what someone else wants to hear and even if you could, you’d probably regret it, but still: if only there was a winning formula.

A few weeks later, I attended a course rune by  Hays Leadership  called Aspiring Leaders. I had very little idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to discover the thrust of the course was on securing and succeeding at interviews for school leadership positions. Perfect.

The advice was that applicants should use the National Standards for Headship to structure their applications. A copy of these can be downloaded   here .

The standards are:

  • shaping the future
  • leading learning and teaching
  • developing self and working with others
  • managing the organisation
  • securing accountability and
  • strengthening community.

I am ashamed to say, I knew nothing about these standards beforehand and it made perfect sense to demonstrate my understanding of these qualities in any application. The course leader went through what they each meant and I would recommend reading through them and making some detailed notes before beginning the application process.

Some schools design their job description and person specification around these standards which makes it very straightforward to construct your application. Others don’t. The advice offered in these cases is to work out which parts of the person spec/job description apply to which standards. So, if you’re asked to demonstrate  “ Courageous and committed leadership through effective role modeling”  you would slot this into your ‘managing the organisation’ section and, “ A significant contributor to strategic thinking and development”  would come under ‘shaping the future’ .  I’d advise putting the whole lot into a speadsheet to work out exactly what should go where.

The other important piece of advice is to make sure that for each of the standards you have a clear example which shows the  context  you are working in, what your  vision  was or is, the  actions  you have taken to implement your vision and the  impact  they have had (CVAI).  By doing this you avoid wooly hypothetical statements.

All of this was, needless to say, extraordinarily helpful. The next two applications I completed resulted in being offered an interview. One head told me that my application was “outstanding” and one of the best she had ever read! Sadly I didn’t get either job but that doesn’t matter. I now know how to write a leadership application and am confident that when the next job comes along I stand a very good chance of being interviewed for it.

Whilst this advice is aimed at leadership applications, the CVAI structure should be used in all applications and interviews whether you’re an NQT or a headteacher.

Another useful post on writing job applications from Simon Warburton here .

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This is excellent advice. We have a free job application at our site. Though it was designed for employers, it may be useful for your viewers as you can download and practice filling it out before you actually go in and fill out a real job application.

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[…] How to write an outstanding job application […]

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This is great info for those that really need it, thanks for adding!

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Job tips for teachers: how to write a winning application

Helen sadler, art and design teacher, hammersmith and fulham.

It's the personal statement that will get you short listed: The application form is standard, it's the personal statement that will get you short listed. No more than two sides of A4 it should show how and why you teach and who you are as a person. It should not be a list.

Always read the specification, if it says you are required to teach A-level and you don't or don't mention a willingness to learn it shows you haven't read it. If you are applying for a job in a different area to where you live explain why. Check who the application needs to be sent to, don't just send it to the headteacher. It sounds obvious but make sure you get their name right.

Gaps in employment make it look like you're hiding something, whatever the reason highlight all the positives for gaps. If you have worked in a different sector think about the transferable skills you have. Be honest, don't be tempted to change that D to a C in your qualifications. If you get the job they WILL check.

If interviewed you will be questioned using your personal statement. Don't say you do certain things in the statement but then can't give real examples when interviewed. Be enthusiastic about your subject, why do you teach it, what do you enjoy. Include hobbies on your personal statement, it makes you a more rounded person. But don't include 'socialising with friends' as basically it means getting wasted.

If you only have your training experience include all the schools you have trained in, say what you have learnt, how they are different, what you enjoyed. You could be up against teachers with years of experience. Use any particularly good comments from observations in your personal statement. This is really useful if you are a NQT. Don't be negative about any previous schools.

Chris Hildrew, deputy head teacher, Chew Valley School , Bristol

Successful applicants explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school: When sifting through a pile of applications I can usually halve the pile by getting rid of those making basic mistakes. These include poorly proofread or inaccurate letters (there's nothing quite so off-putting as finding the wrong school or head teacher's name left over from the previous time that letter was used), application forms incorrectly completed, and those who feel obliged to include more than is asked for.

I don't want to see your CV unless I've asked for one. I don't want to see a portfolio of PowerPoint presentations you've developed. I don't want a testimonial from your summer job behind the bar in the student union. I want what I've asked for please - letter and form. Form and letter. Thank you.

Straight to the top of the pile go those whose letters explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school. Also a winner are those who show exactly how they fit the person specification not only through what they've already done but what they'd like to do next. Above all, though, I like to know exactly why the applicant is a teacher in the first place. A good application will get you the interview; a good interview will get you the job.

Doug Belshaw, former teacher and senior leader and author of #getthatjob

Be selective, rather than scattergun: One of the best things you can do when applying for jobs is to be selective. It's easy to get desperate, either because of money or stress, but it's important to make sure that you've done your homework on what you might be letting yourself in for. Read everything you can online and, if the deadline's far enough away, phone the school and ask them to send you anything (newsletters, for example) that aren't on their website.

There's two benefits to going deep rather than employing a scattergun approach. First, you'll be sure that it's the kind of place you can work. And second, you'll have done 'due diligence' and be in a better position than other candidates to show how you'd fit right in. At interview and on the application you can use examples from the school's recent history to show how you could make an impact straight away.

Finally, be an enlarged version of yourself both on paper (and at interview). It's the best advice I ever received for 'performing' in the classroom and it stood me in very good stead when snagging a job that rocketed me from classroom teacher straight to senior management.

Peter Lee, assistant vice principal, Q3 Academy , Birmingham

Make your application personal to the school and write about why you love teaching: As part of my role I read through numerous written application as part of the job application process. Here are some of my top tips.

Make sure your application is personal to the school – i.e. quote from the Ofsted report, latest exam results, ethos and so on If your application sounds like you've generated a whole host and it's not personal to the school then it's likely to remain at the bottom of the pile Visit the school before handing the application form in – that way you can get a real feel for the school Check spelling and give to another person to proofread any SPAG errors Make sure there are no gaps in your employment history Explain what you will bring that is extra if successful – so what skills can you bring / what extra-curricular opportunities would you be willing to offer? Be positive – write about why you love teaching List any areas in which you have added value – i.e. specific class residuals/meeting whole school or departmental targets

Kirstie Thomas, head of history, Lewis School , Pengam, South Wales

Look at what the school's needs and have ideas for addressing them: I recently had to appoint a new teacher, the main criteria the school was looking for was what else could that teacher offer, and many applications did not make the shortlist as they did not explicitly say what I was looking for. Applicants need to include the other subjects they are able to teach; NQTs should look at doing a secondary subject to improve their initial letter.

An awareness of current educational practice is good but do not write in great depth and waste time and space about it. Have a vision for after school or lunchtime clubs; something they have done or if an NQT something they would like to do, it could be linked to curriculum or an additional free choice, but they should look at school needs and try to offer something interesting and different.

Any previous work although unconnected to education can be phrased in such a way that it gives a sense of transferable skills. Most importantly, the letters should be spell checked and proofread. With a literacy agenda in school I disregarded three letters that were full of basic spelling mistakes and seemed rushed and were poorly written.

Sally Law, principal teacher of English, Marr College , Troon

Show off your vocabulary and try to make applications interesting to read: I appointed two new English teachers this season and had a few gripes with applications. The most irritating, and surprising, problem was the applicants' seeming lack of vocabulary. For English teachers this isn't good although I think it stems from applicants thinking they must use the current jargon so the same words just keep popping up over and over again.

So I would say be a bit more flexible with vocabulary although not to the point of overdoing it with the thesaurus. If there was one more thing it would be to vary sentence structure too and absolutely avoid starting every sentence with 'I'.

John Bull, year 5 teacher, Thursfield Primary School, Stoke-on-Trent

Visit a school before you apply: Headteachers get many applications from many individuals. It is the responsibility of the applicant to make the headteacher want to meet them by making their application stand out. Sometimes that might be in creative ways, like changing the colour of the fonts for different parts of the CV. Not being too effusive is also a good tip. Be positive but not overconfident. Expect the headteacher to want to see you, by writing this as an end paragraph 'I look forward to meeting you at interview.' Always visit a school before you apply. You might not be right for them as well as them not being right for you.

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  1. How to write an outstanding job application

    Perfect. The advice was that applicants should use the National Standards for Headship to structure their applications. A copy of these can be downloaded here. The standards are: shaping the future. leading learning and teaching. developing self and working with others. managing the organisation.

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  3. Job tips for teachers: how to write a winning application

    Be positive but not overconfident. Expect the headteacher to want to see you, by writing this as an end paragraph 'I look forward to meeting you at interview.'. Always visit a school before you ...