How to make your application stand out

“Make it easy for us to shortlist you”, is a commonly heard, heartfelt plea from governors to head teacher candidates. The majority of governors are volunteers and will appreciate an application that succinctly covers all the key points and the following pointers will stand you in good stead.

Ensure you and the school are right for each other

  “One recent applicant didn’t visit our school and failed to give a reason why not. It signalled to me that this was not a serious candidate” Pam Henderson, chair of governors at Morley Memorial, Cambridge.

Check that this is a school where you can make your mark as head teacher. First of all, read the advertisement thoroughly and check you meet all criteria. If the specification in the advertisement is unclear or vague, it may signal that the governors have not done their homework and may not bode well for the future. Equally, if you fail to take the opportunity to visit the school on the advertised open days, it’s a signal to recruiters that are not a serious candidate. Finally, do your research, get on the internet and skim through the OfSTED report. You will unearth valuable information about particular challenges and whether it is the right school for you.

Write a cover letter

“We pay great attention to a cover letter – it is absolutely essential. Think of it as a personal introduction “. Helen Drake, chair of governors, Martin Primary School.

Providing a cover letter to accompany your application is good business practice and if you received a personal letter with your candidate pack, it’s plain good manners. Your letter should be two or three paragraphs and no longer than a single page. It’s an immediate introduction and an enticement to read your application. The letter should briefly explain:

  • Why you’re applying
  • Why this school
  • Why at this time in your career
  • Confirm that you are available for interview on the advertised dates

Provide evidence

“Governors can only shortlist on what they read in your application – they can’t read between the lines”.

The bulk of your application will constitute filing in the standard application form and personal statement. You should approach this systematically, addressing each of the points in turn. It’s not enough to make a bald statement such as ‘I am a good communicator’: demonstrating with. Likewise it’s no use listing the courses you have attended; you need to show the outcomes of your personal development and how it has the benefited the school – in other words that you offer value for money.

Allocate sufficient time

“We have received applications that were so poorly communicated that we couldn’t understand what they were trying to convey”. reports one governor.

A rushed ‘night before’ application will show, usually in a sloppy, poorly communicated end product. Time is money and the time that you skimp on your application may mean more time spent by the recruiters who have to pore over your application trying to discern its meaning. Don’t forget that governors are volunteers with day jobs and it’s common sense, as well as courtesy, to provide information that is easy to digest.

Proof read your application

“If I had a ncikel for erevy tmie soemone missplet a wrod or got the wrnog name of the shcool on their applicatoin, I would be a very wealhty man”, writes Michael Watson, Recruitment Director of TES Prime

 According to psychologists, as long as the first and last letters of a word are spelt correctly, the word can be recognised.  But governors won’t buy that.  Get it right first time because ‘first impressions last.  Applications are too often riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, report recruiters. And, for someone who is applying for the top post in a learning establishment, it’s not a good personal recommendation. Pay particular attention to the spellings of names and the form of address. A Dr should not be addressed as Mr. or Mrs and likewise. A Ms. Should not morph into Ms. As well as spell checking your application on the word processor, enlist a friend or trusted colleague to read through your application and letter as even computers get it wrong sometimes.


With thanks to Helen Drake, chair of governors, Martin Primary School, Pam Henderson, chair of governors, Morley Memorial, Michael Watson, Recruitment Director of TES Prime