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Job application clangers

Recently I had the privilege of looking over job applications to shortlist applicants for interview. I don't get to do this very often so it was interesting to see how it's done. With almost 30 applications for the job I thought it would take ages to whittle it down to 4 or 5. However, I was surprised that it took well less than an hour and often it was simple mistakes that put serious question marks over otherwise reasonable applications. In a competitive market you need to make sure an application will get through the initial "sift" so it is more likely to be read fully.

Therefore, I thought I'd make a note of a few common "clangers" that put an application closer to the bottom of the pile. None of the things listed below would instantly lead to the dismissal of an application but the moment alarm bells are rung it becomes less likely that an application will be shortlisted. I hope these may be helpful for anyone applying for a teaching job in future!

Your covering letter is a letter!

Many of us email job applications these days. However, even if you email an application your covering letter is still a "letter". Therefore it should have your address in the top right hand corner with the date. It should end with "Yours Sincerely" and your name. This is a basic bit of ettiquette which, if not adhered to, can make you look less professional.

Get the form of address right...

Following on from the last point it's important that your letter is addressed properly. You'll almost certainly know to whom the letter is to be directed. Unless the advert explicitly says to write to someone else you'll be writing to the head teacher. If you don't know the head teacher's name then look it up on the school's website or phone to find out! Your letter should then start "Dear Mr(s) [or even Dr/Revd - try to get this right]..."

Applications I read were addressed to "Dear Sir or Madam" (lazy), "Dear Mr(s) " (slapdash), "Dear colleague" (you're not my colleague - this sounds rather presumptuous). If you don't get this right (at a time when it is assumed you are doing the best you can to impress) it leaves the person reading wondering what else you might get wrong.

Spell check and proof-read

Teaching is a profession. Part of being a professional is being able to communicate clearly. If your application contains typos, bad grammar, awkward sentences or meaningless statements then you look less professional. At the very least you ought to proof-read your application to check these; I find that reading out loud helps me to find many errors. Obviously writing an application can be a rather involving process and sometimes it is hard to spot one's own mistakes so get someone you trust to proof-read too. Most people are glad to do these things and are flattered to be asked. If you really can't find anyone to do it then email me and I'll do it myself! I hate to see decent applications let down by silly mistakes.

Keep it tight

A covering letter is not the same as your life story. Two pages of size 12 A4 should be plenty to sell yourself. If you write more you should be damned sure that it's captivating stuff otherwise you look like a waffler; no-one wants to waste their time with a waffler. A covering letter should be enough to grab attention and make the employer think you'd be worth talking to in interview. Don't say everything you could possibly say otherwise there'd be nothing to talk about!

(On a similar note don't cut it too short either. Saying, "Please find enclosed my application" does not constitute a covering letter).

Avoid "elephants in the corner"

Plenty of people apply for jobs in unusual circumstances; there's nothing wrong with this. You may be a deputy head in a school wanting to spend more time with your family and so you're applying for a standard teaching job. You may have only been in your current job for one year and are looking to move. You may have come into teaching late and be looking for a change. You may be looking to side-step into a different kind of role.

Whatever your circumstances you need to be aware if your application might be considered "unusual" in any way. If this is the case then your letter ought to address this. This doesn't mean you have to explain in detail about your family circumstances or your position in your current school. It does mean that you need to at least acknowledge that your application raises questions. If you leave an "elephant in the corner" it may look like you have something to hide.

Back up what you say with evidence

This is basic Level 5 stuff. Explain! If you say, "I believe in inclusive education" then great! You should at least try to back this up with some evidence. What have you done to put this into practice? Do you promote the use of ICT in your lessons? Prove it. If you don't do this then your application can look wooly.

These are all things I noticed today which, I'm afraid, meant that a lot of applications (that I'm sure people had spent a lot of time working on) ended up being sidelined. I hope this helps anyone thinking of applying for a teaching job!

Anyone else got any tips, advice or pet peeves when it comes to job applications?

Posted by Mike

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