Tips for applicants applying for jobs

By James Tibbles

One of my favourite things as Headteacher is recruitment and it is this time of year when applications go into overdrive. As I am currently going through this process, I thought it would be a good idea to share some suggestions and tips for applicants to avoid.

Essentially, applying for a job is a competition. Albeit, one where the rules are not necessarily made explicit. Every Headteacher will be looking for different things from their applicants, but one thing is certain - candidates need to make themselves stand out for the correct reasons.

1. Visit the school. I cannot stress this enough. Not only will this give your prospective employer a chance to meet with you informally but, more importantly, it gives you a chance to check the school out and consider whether this would be the right school for you. I have shortlisted people whose applications were not great but made a very good impression when I met them. I very rarely shortlist people I have not met so if there are times when a visit isn't possible - call and ask to speak to the Headteacher.

2. The dreaded application form. While shortlisting last week, I commented that universities need to spend more time with their students on how to write a personal statement. For a start, your personal statement should be personalised to the school and not read as if you've sent the same form to ten other schools. I habitually bin all forms that don't even mention the name of my school. I cannot speak for all Headteachers but I want to know two things, why do you want to work at my school? What can you offer my school that others cannot? For extra brownie points, talk about your visit - it shows me that you were actually paying attention and not just wandering around, going through the motions. 

3. Proof-read the application. I recently heard of one person who had over 100 applicants for a job and got his two teenage daughters to go through and identify spelling and grammatical mistakes. These applications went straight in the 'no' pile.  Whilst I don’t condone the method, this example does highlight the need to proof-read carefully!  I can forgive getting 'practice' and 'practise' the wrong way around (I do it myself on occasion). I won't forgive lack of capital letters, simple spelling mistakes and sentences that just don't make sense, e.g. the applicant who wrote that she exploited children! I'm still not sure what she meant to say.

4. Although not always possible, I always like to see teachers teach in their own setting before interview. This can be very revealing. I will take the opportunity to look through books and at displays in the classroom. Don't do anything that isn't normal classroom practice, the children will drop you in it (a lesson I learnt the hard way in 2008 - thanks Joe!), but don't play it too safe. I've lost track of how many descriptive writing lessons I've seen.

5. Any lesson where you don't 'play safe' has the inherent risk of going wrong. For me, this is part of the craft of teaching. Show that you are capable of developing and critically reflect on your lesson. Expect to be asked how your lesson went. If you are not asked, bring it up. Don't go to town; a couple of things that you're really pleased with and something you'd like to develop. A favourite question of mine is: if you were to teach the lesson again, what would you do differently?

6. Finally, consider your conduct and appearance on the day. Don't wear jeans, don't complain about your current school in the staffroom and certainly don't say anything negative about the pupils at your current school.

7. Finally, do not get disheartened if you are unsuccessful. As I mentioned before, it is a competitive process. Ask for feedback and reflect upon it. 

I hope that this is useful; it may be that it will only be useful to those candidates applying to my school, in which case I look forward to never seeing another descriptive writing lesson again!

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