The next month is going to be one of the toughest for any teacher looking for a job. The panels are only beginning to clear and advertisements are starting to trickle onto the recruitment web sites. Last year, approximately one thousand teachers were unable to secure positions in Ireland. While many were able to survive on maternity leave and other substitute work, there are another couple of thousand teachers entering the jobs market and there are very few jobs available.
As a principal, I tend to see a lot of job applications, particularly in the last few years. Like most other schools, mine receives hundreds of applications each year and we have to whittle them down to the interview stage. With competitiveness for positions at an all time high this year, how do you get your application to stand out, particularly now with standardised application forms? In this article, I’m going to share some ideas that I’ve heard, seen and even smelt! I’m no expert in this area but some of these tips might give you the edge over someone else and, at very least, give you an interview.
I guess I only really have one main tip. Tailor your application to each school. While I realise that most people may be applying for hundreds of positions, it is vital that your application looks like you care where you’re teaching. Let me explain further.
Firstly, I’d suggest you make sure you know what type of school you’re applying for, that is, the ethos. You wouldn’t believe the number of CVs I receive promising to uphold the Catholic ethos of my school. This would be great if I wasn’t principal of an Educate Together school. My chairperson loves being referred to a Reverend Chairperson! While the majority of positions in schools will be in schools with a Catholic ethos, be careful not to oversell yourself as someone you aren’t. I’m sure schools can see right through over-enthusiastic proclamations. Likewise, in a multi-denominational setting, make sure you understand that multi-denominationalism does not necessarily mean multi-culturalism. It really turns me off when I see someone saying that they would be perfectly suited to my school because they have worked in Asia or Africa with several different nationalities where nobody spoke English, etc. While that might be ok for some schools, not all multi-denominational schools are havens of multi-culturalism and diversity.
The School’s Talents
I also think it’s a good idea to try and mention something about the school that it might be well known for. For example, they may be well known for GAA or gardening or technology. Most schools have web sites so find out. However, don’t just write something bland that could fit into any template. For example, don’t write something like:
From your web site I can see that your school is an inclusive, welcoming and enjoyable place to work in. This is an atmosphere that would suit someone like me.
Be specific. Notice things that the school is proud of. For example:
From your web site, I see that your school has won several awards in chess. I have played chess for a number of years and would relish the opportunity to take part in the continuing success…
There must be something that the school does that you do, so find it out.
Why has the job been advertised?
Another idea is to find out why the job has been advertised. For example, if it is because of the school expanding, mention that you are excited to be applying for a growing school. If it’s for something else, tie it into the application somewhere.
Before standard application forms came out, it was not unusual for CVs to come in different colours, on scented paper or in oversized envelopes – just to stand out a little more than the others. Now the form makes it difficult to stand out from the rest. However, simply being different and interesting can have huge benefits. Have you ever won or done something unusual? I remember having my successes as a 14-year old on my CV until I got established as a teacher. When I was 14, I represented Ireland for chess. Apart from making me a nerd, it showed that I was able to take something and get good enough to play for my country. While other teachers may have other accolades such as playing GAA for their county, these small things can make a difference. I have seen some wonderful hobbies and interests on applications that have nothing to do with teaching.
The vast majority of applicants do sell themselves on their musical or sports abilities. Almost anyone who went to college in Ireland has a level one certificate in coaching something. Although, there’s no harm putting them on an application, try and find something else to stick down to make you stand out a bit more. One person made bookmarks and popped them into envelopes. These bookmarks said: “Also available for sub work, call XXX on 08…” Anyway, this applicant stood out and I’m sure, if nothing else, she got lots of sub work. And before you all start making bookmarks, it’s been done now so think different!
Spelling and Grammar
It’s always dodgy to write an article like this encouraging you to use perfect spelling and grammar as I have probably made several typos in this article. However, in a job application, I have heard of interview panels who will throw away applications with spelling and grammar errors. Common mistakes include these: “principle” instead of “principal”, “your” instead of “you’re”, “there” instead of “they’re” and “loose” instead of “lose.” Just be careful.
The main lesson here is to not give into the temptation of creating almost replica applications to schools. It is probably better to send out 5 really good applications to schools than 500 generic templates. It’s likely that some schools are going to get over a thousand applications for jobs this year so you are really going to have to tailor your application to get noticed.