An NQT guide to landing your first job

The time has finally come to seek out serious real-life employment. But how can you make sure your employability comes across on paper and at interview? Here are our top tips

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You’ve found it! The school of your dreams. Your perfect match. You’re certain that this is the place that you want to start your teaching career and you’re desperate to get that job. But how are you going to ensure that you’re the winning candidate? How can you stand out from the crowd, beat all those experienced teachers and show the panel that you’re the one that they want? Read on for our top advice.

How do I complete a teaching job application?

  • Read the job advert carefully. Some schools ask you to fill in the standard application form for their county council but others (especially academies or church schools) will have their own application forms. If you fill in the wrong form, you’ll be out of the running before anyone’s even read it.

  • Now check the job and person specifications, and make a list of all the essential and desirable qualities they are looking for. You need to prove that you have those qualities by mentioning or referencing them in your application to ensure that you make the shortlist. Don’t worry that you don’t have years of teaching experience; be creative and pull in examples from other areas. 

  • Teaching job applications usually consist of filling in an application form and providing a supporting personal statement in which you should go into greater detail (more on this below). When completing the form, you should be clear and concise, saving detail for the letter.
  • If there are any gaps in your employment history, note them and explain why this is the case. Don’t worry about your lack of teaching experience – you’re a student teacher and schools know that your experience is limited to your teaching practices. Remember, you may have gained valuable transferrable skills or interests from your other jobs.
  • Check the form for spelling and grammatical errors before you submit it. Also ensure that you have answered every question, ticked every box and signed everything.

Who should I use as my referees?

  • Referees should know you in a professional capacity. Your line manager and one other (senior) colleague from one of your placement schools would be ideal.
  • It is preferable to use at least one referee from your current placement school, as not doing so hints that there could be wider issues.
  • Never use a relative or spouse as a referee, and ensure that the person you have chosen knows you well enough to give you a full reference.

How do I write a good covering letter/personal statement?

  • Keep to the point: the covering letter should be no more than two sides of A4.
  • Start with a strong statement outlining why you want to apply for this job at this school. For example, if the school has a particular strength or focus, state how you could contribute to this or what you like about it.
  • Show that you’ve done your research. Scour the school website for information and, if you visited the school ahead of time, refer to anything interesting you came across during your visit. Use this to demonstrate how the school’s vision aligns with yours.
  • Share your greatest hits. Pull out some great achievements, interests and experiences from your CV and link them to requirements in the job description.
  • Write a bespoke letter. A generic letter with only the school’s name changed for every job application just will not cut it. You can keep the structure the same every time, but you need to tailor the content to fit each individual school. Yes, it takes time and effort, but you will be saving time in the end as you are likely to get a job sooner if you do this.
  • Let your personality and enthusiasm shine; schools want to employ individuals, so show them who you are.
  • Now check it and check it again.

How do I prepare for a teaching interview?

  • Teaching interviews are often all-day affairs. You should be prepared to be in the school for the majority of the school day and to be touring the school, meeting staff and pupils, teaching an interview lesson and being interviewed by a panel.
  • You will need to bring a copy of your application form and personal statement, your interview lesson plans and any resources you will need for your lesson. You can also bring a portfolio of your best lesson observations and examples of teaching work, although this is not essential.
  • Have a good look at the school website the night before to familiarise yourself with any helpful information, then re-read your personal statement to remind yourself why you’re perfect for the job.
  • Prepare a couple of questions to ask at the end of your interview.
  • On the day, be on time, look happy to be there and be ready for anything.

What if I’m up against more experienced candidates? 

  • Don’t let others’ experience rattle you. As an NQT, you have a lot going for you: You’re fresh and enthusiastic, you haven’t acquired any bad habits yet, you’re not set in your ways and you’ve just been trained in the latest education techniques.
  • Remember that you’ve been invited to interview because the panel liked your application. If they definitely wanted an experienced teacher, they wouldn’t be interviewing an NQT.
  • Sometimes a school will be specifically looking for an NQT to fill a position. This may be a budgeting matter (NQTs are cheaper) or a way of keeping things fresh. You are not automatically the worst option just because you’re newly qualified.

What should I wear to an interview?

  • It is not essential to wear a suit to interview, but a shirt, tie and jacket are the most appropriate choices for men. A smart dress, or trousers/a skirt and a shirt are acceptable choices for women.
  • Make sure your footwear is clean and appropriate (no flip-flops, please).
  • Leave the comedy ties and novelty socks at home.
  • Keep make-up and accessories discreet and professional. You want your personality to shine, not your clothing.

How do I teach an interview lesson?

  • Read the brief. You are likely to be given a subject and a learning objective to teach and a time limit. It is important to stick to these. If you’re given a free rein, choose something that plays to your strengths and lets your passion for the subject shine through.
  • Keep it simple. You need to be able to set up and clear away quickly. You’ll also need to bring your own resources with you, so don’t overcomplicate things.
  • Think outside the box: think of ways to bring the learning objective to life. Creativity is nearly always appreciated.
  • Show progress. This is hard to do in a 20-minute lesson, but using careful questioning or asking pupils what they have learnt and writing their responses on the board should do it.
  • Demonstrate rapport. Your ability to build relationships with pupils will be scrutinised, so smile and talk with the students rather than at them. Memorising a couple of names at the start and using them throughout gives the pupils, and the panel, the impression that you’re building relationships already.
  • Be reflective and be prepared to talk about what went well (and what didn’t) in your interview. Don’t panic if the lesson went badly – your response to that and how you say you’d follow it up can still make a great impression.

Lisa Jarmin is an early-years teacher and freelance journalist