Teaching job application howlers

Regulars on the TES forums, many of them current or former heads, explain what really drives appointments committees crazy when it comes to job applications. Make sure you avoid these howlers…

Theogriff – former headteacher and careers expert on the jobseeking forum 

“Some applicants just don’t give themselves a proper chance. They do daft things that just annoy the appointments committee such as:
• Documents sent without the name on each sheet. You need to have your name in the bottom margin on every sheet. There was even one supporting statement without any name on it at all.
• Documents sent in non-professional font (Comic sans), or in tiny font - one was 7.5 points.
• An application letter sent in the body of the email, instead of as an attached document. How messy does that look when printed out?
• No letter, nor a supporting statement, just an application form
• Career history given with years but no months. We need to know exactly when, to check there wasn’t a nine-month prison sentence somewhere.
• Daft email addresses. Who’s going to want to employ someone who chooses to be known as BigBadBoy@hotmail.com or DizzyBlonde@yahoo.co.uk or 7pintsanight@aol.com
• Daft names given to the files you’re sending us: My_Lucky_CV.doc . Or one with the wrong school in the filename: appl_for_Eton.doc. Give your documents a name that includes YOUR name: TheoGriff_CV.doc, TheoGriff_application.doc
• Not giving your current headteacher as a referee. One applicant actually didn’t give current head’s details and didn’t put the name of the current school in the application – instead they just put Primary School - presumably to prevent us contacting the head.
• The multi-coloured application, with a photo of daughter at Valentine’s Day Ball (no, I couldn’t see the relevance of it either), or logos of every place you had ever been associated with neatly pasted in at the appropriate point.
Just remember that the aim of an application is to impress the selection committee so that they actually want to meet you, not to give full rein to the expression of your personality. Just as you dress up for the interview, you dress up your application.  Remember this - first impressions do count.

Zanne3, an experienced teacher who has applied for many positions

“With over 35 years in the profession I have applied for many positions. It has always been necessary to fill in an application form in black ink, use a font and script that a potential employer can read and to be very professional. That means no shortcuts, plan well ahead, do a draft. Photocopy the form and write out a copy by hand. It is important to have no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Then you can type it out.

For your CV it’s good to have a full version and an abridged one. It’s necessary to fill out an application form for every post in the UK. If you apply abroad you need a professional photograph too. As for referees you must include your last headteacher. If however that is not always possible you must explain why. My last headteacher hardly spoke English but I would still include her, plus previous referees from UK..”

Spursgirl, managed a primary pool

“I suggest the following points:

  • Read the application form thoroughly, and either photocopy or print off a second copy
  • Fill it in in rough
  • Number additional pages and put your name on them
  • Don’t try to squash information into small places - use additional sheets
  • NQTs- don’t forget to add the course you’re studying now that leads to QTS

Tailor your application to the job you’re applying for. When I was managing a primary pool I once received an application with a six-page personal statement, four of which were dedicated to the applicant’s career in banking. He didn’t get to his teaching placements until page five. The pool received 500 applications for 150 places, I read every single one thoroughly, but the ones that it was easier to extract the relevant information from were seen much more favourably.

Craig Duncan, regularly interviewer

“For goodness sake READ THROUGH THE FORM/LETTER before you send it. I have read countless applications in recent years which are littered with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and ‘missing’ information…straight on the ‘discard’ pile, if you cannot get it right on your form you are not working in my school

I would also recommend making specific reference to the school and its context when writing the covering letter as there’s nothing worse than reading a bland, generic letter. I even read one application where the applicant had not bothered to edit a previous application so there were references to a different school in the application for my school – unbelievable!”  

jphammond, experienced teacher

“How your application is regarded relies more often than not on how desperate the employer is. If there are 1,000 applicants for one job, the person sifting through them will be looking for excuses to chuck out those which do not appear to have a hope of fitting in with the ethos of the place, never mind the ability to do the job.

If the job has been open for months and they only get one candidate, he/she could possibly apply on loo paper with a felt tip and they would get an interview. Supply and demand.

Apply as if you knew there were 50 other candidates for the job and you stand a chance of getting over the first hurdle. This means following, to the letter, all instructions given, spelling everything absolutely right, using proper modes of address, a sensible font, a sensible colour etc, etc.

It’s OK to be “chill man” about it, but hippies do not tend to get employed in state schools, except in areas where they are ultra-desperate.

Wrongly spelled address? The envelope may not get opened.

Writing goes outside the boxes? Discarded.  

“write in black ink” - write in blue at your peril, (it does not photocopy well on many machines).

If your application looks slapdash then it will be assumed you are slapdash. Isn’t it obvious? Take your application seriously and you will be taken seriously. Letting your own particular philosophical beliefs get in the way may get in the way of you getting a job. All Headmasters and Headmistresses started at the bottom once, so give them credit for some intelligence. And no, I am not a Head but I know people who are!  

Emilyharvey, moved to teaching from sales and marketing

“Teaching is like any other profession - in order to get a foot through the door with any potential interviewers you have to give the best possible impression from the start. In fact, with the increasing number of people coming into teaching at the moment it’s getting trickier and trickier to really stand out from the crowd.

I see it like this: you might like Comic Sans, but you’ll live without it in your application form. However, if your potential employer hates the font (who knew there was such strong emotion surrounding a font choice!?!) then you’ll be fast tracked to the ‘round filing cabinet’.

I worked in sales and marketing before becoming a teacher, and there are lots of similarities to doing a job application. I’m happy in my current job, but I would always personalise the covering letter right at the top with something very specific to the school (i.e. commenting that I agree with their named core values and why) that they have stated on the website. It instantly shows that I have bothered to do my research on their school and am not mail-merging my application; and it is also a quick and easy way to both enhance my suitability for the post and hopefully stand out from the other 100 generic applications.

Better a few fantastic applications than lots of half-hearted ones!