How to get shortlisted for a teaching job

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 head wishes to receive an application that is just a re-hash of some-one else’s. There are too many requests on the forum for an application letter or personal statement to be shared with others. Don’t do it – if we get two applications with an identical couple of sentences, we bin them both.  Write your own!

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

Elements of a job application:

  • Application Form
  • CV - if required. Government advice to schools is not to ask for this, but a few schools still do.
  • Letter or “statement in support”
  • Executive summary to show how you comply with the criteria (this is explained below)

The application form:

  • Photocopy it and practise
  • Legible - type it if possible
  • Dark ink, preferably black
  • Get the details correct
  • Fill it all in. Yes, all of it!  Don’t leave anything blank
  • Don’t say “see CV
  • Don’t leave the current salary blank if they ask for it
  • Follow the instructions - especially for the chronological order of your employment history

The curriculum vitæ:  (If needed – Only send one if the school specifically asks for it.  Nowadays it is only a few schools, mainly independents, who haven’t yet taken on board government advice not to ask for CVs)

  • Normally recent first - don’t begin with your A-levels or GCSEs
  • Proper emphasis - write more on relevant experience and most recent, less on eg being a school prefect or member of the Children of Mary (I have seen it)
  • Don’t just give job title - explain what were your major responsibilities and successes
  • “Bury” less favourable information by putting on left of page
  • Explain any unusual things such as why you have a two-year gap in your employment history; we shall assume that you were doing something you don’t want us to know about if you leave a gap!

The letter or statement

  • Carry out the 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 hand-written
  • 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 unless you are an ace at laying out documents. A professional lay-out 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 near it!)

Internal structure:
Three or four main sections. I would actually put headings in the letter, to make the structure clear; typical ones could be:

  • Current and recent experience
  • Other achievements relevant to your post
  • The priorities of your post
  • The future of XXX school

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 management level posts, showing that you have an understanding of the type of school that it is, the context that it is working in, and how you could contribute to its development

The executive summary. The what?

  • Remember the primary aim - to get shortlisted; make it easy for them to select you
  • Will also concentrate your mind in writing a good application letter by reminding you of all your strengths
  • Based on: person specification, job purpose
  • Show both their requirements and how you match up to them
  • Do it in table form, showing their points (good Hons degree) and how you comply: (BSc II(a) Bio London)
  • 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 senior management post, but something very similar can be done for a teaching post. 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 short-list you if you tick all their boxes?


John Smith


      Your requirements      My experience
  • Leadership of others
  • Deputy Head at Gasworks High
  • Led team that was awarded top grade in Ofsted Inspection, 2004
  • Led successful team planning Curriculum 2000 for 165 sixth formers
  • Understanding others
  • Investor in People Assessor, April 2004: “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
  • Influencing
  • Management of change: new delivery methods, introduction of target-setting in LeafyLane Comprehensive
  • Member of five regional and national curriculum development bodies
  • Confidence
  • 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

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
  • Check you have got the name of the right school.
  • And then check it again!

    Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking