After offering my time to support those applying for new roles, I thought a short blog with some general pointers might be helpful. I have blogged previously about Head of Department interviews, and dedicated an entire section in my book about how to ensure that a school is right for you, but both were wholly reliant on being able to actually visit a school, so this is written with our current context in mind.
I used to work for a leading high street bank in senior management, responsible for the recruitment and retention of staff, and so this collection of advice is a culmination of my experience there, but also my experience of being on both sides of the table at interview in schools, and more recently, conducting a series of interviews remotely.
Start with why. The first question often posed to candidates at interview will be, ‘why this school?’ or ‘talk us through what led you to apply?’ because the school want to ascertain that you have considered that this is the school for you, but also, that you know what their school is all about. If you haven’t cast an eye over the website and Ofsted report, do so before putting this opening paragraph together, because it is fundamental that you are applying for a school that sounds like somewhere you would like to work, and that you would feel part of their collective journey. I mention in #StopTalkingAboutWellbeing’s section ‘Scoping out Schools’ which I wrote about here that finding the school for you is like buying a house, and in the present climate, you are buying a house without viewing it first- this comes with it’s own challenges. That doesn’t mean it isn’t for you! Don’t be tempted to try and copy and paste from a previous application; the time you save is hardly worth then trying to make it bespoke to the role that you are applying for.
Be succinct to the specification itself. It is all too tempting to use the covering letter/personal statement spot to declare every course, CPD, book, initiative you’ve ever completed/read/led, but there needs to be somewhat of a systematic response to the format that you use to ensure that your reader takes away the key highlights of your capabilities. Look at the requirements of the role, and cluster them into three key areas: for example:
Becomes three subheadings: Teaching practice and professional development, whole school contribution and student care. The specification points can then be clustered so that as you write your statement, you consider them within the remit of that heading. You will have some remaining, but they will usually be aspects that would only come through at interview or within an observation- behaviour management, for instance. By clustering the spec together and categorising, it indicates that you have not only understood the specification as a whole, but have interpreted it as your own when providing examples.
Use a transparent, evidence-linked approach when writing your response. Think: Element, example, execution, impact. Which element of the job specification are you going to highlight, can you provide an example of this, how did you undertake it or what did you do, and what was the impact. Close each loop of these examples with linking it back to the role, or the school, to ensure that your application is bespoke and personalised.
Teaching Practice and professional development: I have a thorough and developed understanding of the English curriculum. As a teacher who prides themselves on reflecting upon practice in the classroom so that I can refine my approach, a key component of this has been developing my subject knowledge in areas of the curriculum to ensure that I continue to refine and improve as an expert. I recently attended a professional development session that explored strategies to teach Macbeth, a key text on the programme of study, which I was then able to use to teach Year 10 last year to create a more conceptualised understanding of the way in which Lady Macbeth is presented. This had incredible impact, resulting in a 0.58 progress score for the class at the end of Year 11 for the Macbeth question, but more importantly, a developed understanding of Shakespeare’s intentions. I would welcome the opportunity to share this systematic approach to upskilling myself as a teacher with the rest of the team at (such and such) school.
Use I, not we. Whilst some of your working examples may have meant working as part of a team, unless you are highlighting your capacity to obtain staff buy-in, I would avoid using we, and get comfortable with singing your praises. The interviewer is interested in your strengths and experiences, particularly if you are applying for a role that requires leadership of initiatives within school. We tend to play down our achievements by making them collective, and on the whole, that’s effective team membership, but now is not the time for it. Sing your praises! And on that note:
Use verbs with assertion. ‘I executed…. I led…. I initiated… I investigated….I coordinated… I coached… I directed.. etc. etc. etc. Let the assertive verbs lead your sentences to outline what you have done, how you set about such a task, and the impact that occurred as a result. Again, this is an opportunity to showcase the successes of your career, or experience within other careers, to date.
Ultimately, you were providing a series of ways for those looking to employ you to quickly ascertain your key strengths, how we;ll you can contextualise them with real-life scenarios, and why you are interested in working at their school. Hope it helps and very best of luck!