When applying for a new job, you may be competing with tens or hundreds of other applicants in a race for the role.
The HR manager or headteacher recruiting for the job will be scrutinising every detail of your application to make sure they are bringing in the right people for interview.
The application form is the first hurdle you have to get over and sets the first impression of you as a person in the recruiter’s mind.
The personal statement presents the perfect opportunity to show you are an exceptional candidate, understand teaching and know the school you are applying to.
It is not an easy task and is a tricky thing to get right. It requires being concise and clear – it shouldn’t be too long or read like a list.
You should talk about yourself and your professional achievements, while at the same time apply those experiences to the school itself.
We spoke to Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, about what goes into the perfect personal statement. Here's what he said:
What does a great teaching personal statement look like?
"In general, I would say no longer than two sides of A4 – typescript. It needs to be well structured and linked to the specific school. It will need to include a number of key areas, including behavioural management, educational philosophy, subject expertise, pedagogy, personal organisation and skills and enrichment activities that the candidate can bring."
What should it contain?
"I would recommend that candidates include three elements in each of the key areas:
- What their beliefs/philosophy/approach is – i.e., the theory
- Their experience in that area
- How they would use that experience in the school they are applying to and specific to the job they are applying for
The statement should also include something personal in terms of their outside interests to indicate that they live an interesting and well-balanced life."
What are school leaders looking to read in a good personal statement?
"They will want to see something of the person’s character come through. It must not be just a list of achievements or repeat of the CV. It needs to be well-written, error-free and mention the school they are applying for – but not too many times. It should read as if it has been specifically written for the school and job they are applying for. I would be looking for something similar to the approach I have indicated above, covering all of the key areas and indicating that they have a vocation for working with young people. Somehow I would like to see a ‘generosity of spirit’ come through in the statement."
How can a candidate stand out in a personal statement?
"A good personal statement needs to include something of the person themselves. It has to make the reader believe that the candidate has something special without bragging or appearing arrogant – but something a bit above what other candidates may offer. A really good introduction and ending are important, and it's worth spending a great deal of time crafting those sections of the statement. Hook the reader in at the beginning and finish on a high note so that they want to meet the person and explore what has been written."
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How to get shortlisted for a teaching job * * * BASIC ADVICE * * *
To get shortlisted, you need to write an application that impresses the school so much that they are anxious to meet you because they think you will make a very positive contribution to their school and to the success of their pupils.
When writing a job application, therefore, remember the golden rule of writing to impress the recruiting headteacher, not just writing about yourself. It has to be about what they need and want, to meet their requirements. Not about your convenience, your wish to work at a school near your home, or your need to progress your career. So remember the school’s point of view!
You probably know all this, but it can be helpful sometimes to refresh your memory. And remember: this is just my view, others may have different ideas! But I would be happy to receive any application that was clearly set out, thoughtful and actually relevant to my post at my school, rather than one that seemed a carbon-copy that you had sent off to fifty different schools. We all want to be loved for ourselves.
And of course, the very big issue: no headteacher wants to receive an application that is just a re-hash of someone else’s. I understand that there are now local authorities who are using software to identify similarities in applications. The sort of software that is used by UCAS to see if the personal statement is not all that personal after all.
So don’t ask me or anyone for a model letter or statement, don’t share your letter with anyone else.
If we get two applications with an identical couple of sentences, we don’t know which of you wrote it first, so we bin them both.
Write your own!
So how to write it?
Aims of a job application
- To get selected for interview
- To influence the panel in your favour before they even set eyes on you
- Not to get you sacked when you start the job… it must be honest
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth!
Elements of a job application
- an application form with every bit filled in, no "See letter"
- an application letter OR supporting statement. Not both but certainly one of them.
- a cover letter ONLY if you do a supporting statement. See below
- an Executive summary. If there's a space on the form, put it in there; if not, put it at the end of your letter so that it gets printed out automatically. More on this below.
The application form
- Legible - type it if possible. If it has to be handwritten, photocopy it and practice, and use dark ink, preferably black
- Get the details correct
- Fill it all in. Yes, all of it! Don’t leave anything blank. Write N/A where appropriate
- Don’t say “see letter”
- Don’t leave the current salary blank if they ask for it
- Follow the instructions - especially for the chronological order of your employment history. It often says Most recent first
- Do not have any unexplained blank periods in your employment history. Safeguarding advice leads us to consider whether you were doing something you don’t want us to know about if you leave a gap. Were you detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure?
The curriculum vitæ
What curriculum vitæ? In theory you should not need one for applying for a post in a maintained school in England and Wales, since the statutory guidance to these schools is that they should not ask for one.
Independent schools, international schools and now academies and free schools aren’t tied to this, of course, and some of them do ask for a curriculum vitæ.
But unless you get specifically asked for one, don’t send one. So don’t waste time preparing one to send off, although you should have a working cv to help you fill in application forms.
Get ready for the application season!
The letter or statement
What do you send with your application form? There are three possibilities:
- A supporting statement - I prefer not to call it a personal statement, as that encourages you to make it about you, instead of focussing on the school
- A letter of application
- A covering letter - sometimes called a cover letter.
In theory - I emphasise this - in theory they are different, and you would never have all three.
A letter of application and a supporting statement are the same thing, except that one starts "Dear Mr Smith" and t'other doesn't. (So don't do both!)
A covering letter is just that: it is a letter that acts as a sort of envelope, covering what you are sending off. It is a technical term and is used when you have a statement instead of a letter of application (so don´t do both!). It goes something like this:
Dear Mr Smith
Teacher of mathematics at Gasworks High School for Girls
I have pleasure in applying for the above post and enclose my completed application form, supporting statement with summary, and Equal Opportunities Form.
The confusing thing is that sometimes the school doesn't understand what a covering letter actually is, and so they ask you to write a covering letter when in fact they mean a letter of application, so you need to keep your wits about you! No one ever asks you to write a real covering letter; it's just a courtesy. So if they ask for one, they mean a letter of application.
When you are writing your statement or letter, follow this advice:
- Two sides A4 in a normal-sized type with normal-width margins
- Carry out their instructions
- No more than two pages means one and a half to two pages, not just one paragraph
- Handwritten if they ask, but typed unless they specifically ask for handwritten
- Address any issues they ask you to, don’t just ignore them
- Make it specific to this post in this school
- Wring value out of every sentence you put in, cut the waffle
- Tell them why they need you, not why you need them
- Make it specific to their job description, addressing their needs
- Make it as structured as a good student essay
- Make it easy to read
- Get it professionally typed at least once unless you are an ace at laying out documents. A professional layout always looks better
Sample opening paragraph of a letter
I wish to be considered for this position and enclose… I am attracted to this post as a development of my role as…… in which I have direct responsibility for … I have been concerned especially with…… I now feel ready to extend this experience of ….. and ….. into another school. School XXX is of particular interest to me because of its ……… (Don’t say because you live nearby)
Three or four main sections, possibly five or six for a leadership post. I would actually put headings in the letter, to make the structure clear; typical ones for a Senior Leadership post could be:
- Current and recent experience
- Other achievements relevant to your post
- The priorities of your post
- The future of XXX school
If, and I emphasise the if, if these sections are appropriate for you, this is what you could include:
Current and recent experience
Say what you are doing, but in structured fashion: curriculum role, pastoral role, managerial role, extra-curricular, contact with parents/ other schools, experience of budgeting, etc.
Other achievements relevant to your post
Responsibilities/ contributions in previous posts; any outside activities that show skills relevant to teaching and managing children and colleagues; any specific training done.
The priorities of your post
What you think the post is about, based on the clues that they give you. What do they need you to do? How would you fulfil this? This is your chance to show them that they need you.
The future of XXX school
This is relevant specifically for leadership level posts, showing that you have an understanding of the type of school it is, the context that it is working in, and how you could contribute to its development.
A completely different structure might suit you better. You might, when applying for a teaching rather than a leadership role, wish to have sections about your philosophy of education, how you put this into effect in your teaching practice, how you have been supporting every pupil to success, with examples, and what you would hope to contribute to the new school. That could make a good letter.
You might even base it on the major headings of the Teachers' Standards
The executive summary
- Remember the primary aim - to get shortlisted; make it easy for them to select you
- It will also concentrate your mind in writing a good application letter by reminding you of all your strengths
- Based on: person specification, job purpose or description
- Show both their requirements and how you match up to them
- Do it in table form, showing their points and how you comply
- Must always fit on just one side of A4. The idea is that they can see at a glance everything about you that fits their requirements. One-side only.
An example executive summary is shown below - it relates to a leadership post, but something very similar can be done for a classroom teaching post. Use their job description, or if there isn't one, the Teachers' Standards. (N.B. this table is not quite as neat as it should be as the formatting has not transferred very well to the web page. Make yours better!)
John Smith, applicant for post of Headteacher
My skills and experience
· Leadership of others
· Deputy Head at Gasworks High
· Led team that was awarded top grade in Ofsted Inspection, 2011
· Led successful team planning new curriculum for 165 sixth formers
· Understanding others
· Investor in People Assessor, April 2012: “Gasworks staff hold you in high esteem and appreciate you as a supportive and caring Deputy Head”
· Drive for Improvement
· GCSE A*-C rose from 46% to 68% in three years
· Planning and thinking ahead
· Managed operational and strategic planning cycles in LeafyLane Comprehensive
· Contribute to setting and achieving of strategic objectives in Gasworks High
· Understanding the school as a business
· Successful in-depth experience of: budget management; financial planning; monitoring of monthly management accounts; efficiency gains through resource management; income generation; managing change; personnel issues; use of management information to support decision-making
· Management of change: new delivery methods, introduction of target-setting in LeafyLane Comprehensive
· Member of five regional and national curriculum development bodies
· At LeafyLane Comprehensive, received three promotions after I identified a need & filled it
· Sat, without preparation, GCSE mock exams in Maths, English Language and IT and publicised my results to staff
· Cognitive ability
· High scores in verbal reasoning and numeracy tests
· Leadership of School and SMT
· Contribution to Management Committees: Senior Leadership Team; Curriculum Management Group; IT Strategy Group; Quality Committee; Academic Board
· Educational standards throughout the school
· Responsible for student achievement; awarded two-increment salary increase by Board of Governors in recognition of my contribution to the raising of standards
· Staff appointment, training and other staffing matters
· Chaired eight appointment panels this year
· Manage the Performance Management Scheme in Gasworks High
· Recruitment and discipline of pupils
· Responsible for 180 new enrolments per year, including links with feeders
· Manage all student matters including discipline, recommendation for exclusion
· Organisation, policies and procedures
· Chair Curriculum Management Group, the major policy development forum
· Devised procedures for: Trips and Visits, Child Protection, Appointments etc.
· Health and Safety
· Good level of awareness of Health & Safety, Employment Legislation, Equal Opportunities, Child Protection and other parameters in which a School, as a business, must operate.
· Relations with County Hall
· Experienced at external relations
· Address Chamber of Commerce, Business Education Partnership, Town Councillors, LEA Inspectors, Central Careers staff, etc
If there's a space on the form, put the executive summary in there; if not, put it at the end of your letter, as the third page, so that it gets printed out automatically
The important thing is that the left-hand column is exactly what they are looking for because it comes from their person spec and job details. How can they fail to shortlist you if you tick all their boxes with highly relevant examples showing excellent experience?
If the personal specification is very long, then you need to do the following:
- Prioritise. What are the most important things for them? If short of space, leave out things that can be seen easily from the application form, e.g. QTS
- Condense. On the example above, there was a whole sentence for their requirements, these have been cut down to the essential words, so that they fit in a narrow column and leave more room for your evidence
- Combine. Often there are similar requirements that you can put together
I know that what you would all really, really like would be for me to show you an example executive summary for a NQT, or a teacher on mainscale.
But the problem there is that these have very similar job descriptions, so if I did, it would be hard for you to put in an application without just saying more or less what I do . . . which could lead to a head receiving similar applications.
So, as with the letter of application, for the Executive Summary, I say: write your own. Sorry!
Here are some more tips on Executive Summaries:
Why you should always include an E.S. in an application
Person Spec too long - how do I do an E.S.? And where do I put it? *** Beginners start here ***
Step-by-step: How to write an E.S. *** More basic advice ***
Executive summaries - where to start when no person specification
Blank E.S. Pro-forma for job applications
Final dos and don’ts
- Don’t correct errors on their forms
- Don’t use staples on your application – they will need to photocopy it
- Have your name on each page of your statement or letter.
- Check that you have got the name of the right school.
- And then check it again!
And now read How NOT to get shortlisted