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Don't underestimate the benefits of being yourself

David Wright answers all the practical questions surrounding the bewildering business of finding a job, writing a CV and being successful on the day.

In my role as a First Appointments Officer, with the brief to advise student-teachers on getting a job, I found masses of advice available. But I also found most of the advice condescending, confusing, and contradictory. Much of the guidance seemed to consist of encouragement to hide the fact that you are yourself, and helpful hints on how to pretend you are someone else.

This seemed useful advice for a drama class, but complete nonsense for an interview for a teaching post. We have excellent student-teachers in the United Kingdom, and I wanted to encourage them to be themselves. After much pen-chewing, this is what I came up with.


Where do I find job adverts?

The Times Educational Supplement, every Friday; the Guardian education pages every Tuesday; local papers; vacancy bulletins on noticeboards in schools. Vacancy bulletins received from local education authorities each week displayed in your college.

When do I apply?

As soon as you like.

Can I send a general application to an LEA?

Most LEAs will accept a general application. Some operate a "pool" system; closing dates for these can be as early as the end of January.

Do I need to use an application form?

If an advert says so, yes. When you use a form, you normally do not enclose your CV - but it's still worth having a good CV ready.

Can I get guidelines about a CV?

Your university or college will probably be able to provide a specimen. Keep it on disc if you can, and keep it up to date - this will save you a lot of time and trouble. Your college careers centre may offer free advice on improving your draft CV. If you use a term-time address, make sure you indicate term dates clearly and add a home address.

Am I too old and wise to have advice on letter-writing?

Yes, it's a pre-A-level skill, but when I was a school governor I was amazed at how tatty and untidy some letters can be . . . So here goes. White paper; write or type in black (for photocopying); Goldilocks principles apply (not too hotcold; hardsoft; longshort). Keep to one side of A4, and check it THREE times!

Can my personal tutor help me?

Yes, that's what a personal tutor is for. What's more, the advice is free. How about showing himher your CV and draft letter of application?

Who are my referees?

This is important. You must follow guidelines from your college. If you are allowed to name the "top person" - professor, dean, principal - as first referee, helpful secretaries will make sure your reference goes out promptly -even if the reference is written by your personal tutor. By contrast, mail to lecturers may lie unopened for days if they are away.

Second referee could be your subject tutor at university or college. Give name, title, post held and full address and telephone number. Write for permission, and send a CV plus covering letter - otherwise the reference may be cold and short. Mature students may prefer to name their ex-employer as second referee.

If needed, a third referee is probably the employer who knows you best, and who you know writes a good reference. Or you may be able to name someone with an important job or position who knows you well. Quite often, the third reference is not asked for.

Why are many references confidential?

Confidential references are given considerable weight by heads and governors; an open testimonial may be regarded as of much less value.

Will there be a job for me?

If you are willing to go anywhere, the answer - very probably - is yes. There is "over production" of teachers at present, and if you are tied to one popular area you may have to accept a temporary post or supply teaching at first - unless you are an expert in a "shortage" subject.

Can I apply outside my age-range?

Your reference will refer to the age range of the pupils you have trained to teach. But many students apply outside their age range, sometimes with success.

Can I apply to an overseas school?

Yes. Your qualification is recognised in many countries. But beware of adverts from fly-by-night operators. Many overseas jobs will require some years of teaching experience. After a few years, you can go on an organised exchange for a year - highly recommended!

If salary is not your top priority, Voluntary Service Overseas will be pleased to hear from you - and VSO experience will enrich your subsequent career.


I get terribly nervous at an interview: what should I do?

So do I; a lot of people do, and it's infuriating! I have two suggestions: breathe more deeply, and try to smile. Alternatively, perhaps, you should imagine your interviewer in the bath . . . we're all human really!

Do you have guidance about interview techniques?

No. Two words sum it all up: BE YOURSELF.

But people like to read reassuringly obvious points, so here are a few: o You like teaching children; make this clear o Arrive early (first to arrive is remembered most clearly) o If you don't understand a muddled question, ask for it to be repeated o Treat the informal bits (tour of the school, etc) as part of the interview o There is plenty of conflicting advice, so evaluate everything you are told, and adapt the advice to suit your personality o Enjoy it! It's a day out and a good chance to meet different teachers and pupils.

Do I get travel expenses for an interview?

Yes, unless you do not accept a job that is offered you. These expenses should include one night's accommodation if necessary. There may be a long delay before expenses are refunded.

If I get several rejections after interviews, will I get demoralised?

There's no need to. You were good enough to be shortlisted . . . (lots of people weren't) and you've had very valuable opportunities to see a variety of schools. You're learning all the time (for example, did you talk too much? too little?).

Will I be able to get feedback from the interviewer if I'm not successful?

It never does any harm to ask for a debrief - they may say no, yet some interview panels will offer this as a matter of course. However, remember that good advice from one school may not suit your next school.


Should I accept a temporary post?

If you can get a permanent post, it's much better, but they are not as numerous as one would like. If not, a temporary post which might become permanent is much better than one which is clearly a temporary replacement for a specific person who will return.

What will my salary be?

Try to work it out before an interview. What are you hoping for, and what is the minimum you would accept? Your university or college will have a copy of the latest Conditions of Service booklet published by HMSO which gives details of the current salary scales. Some of your years of non-teaching work could be taken into account for calculating your salary - but this is not guaranteed.

We are meant to "negotiate" a salary - but is that really possible?

Try this approach. If you are asked "If we offer you the post, will you accept it?" say "Yes, I'd LOVE to have the post - but I've been advised to accept 'subject to details of salary being confirmed'". This may help a bit - but it IS difficult for you.

If I'm offered a job in a school I don't like, do I accept?

If you are desperate for a job, yes. Otherwise think hard - will you be happy there?

Will I be expected to make up my mind on the spot, if offered a job on the day of interview?

Quite often, yes. You may even be asked during the interview, "Will you accept this post if we offer it to you?" Unless you have a very convincing reason otherwise, you should be prepared to be decisive. (Of course, you could try asking for time to make a decision . . . they can always say no if they need to.)

Can I change my mind after accepting the job?

No. And you must withdraw other applications.

Am I good enough to get a job?

Lots of applicants were rejected from BEd and PGCE courses but you were accepted. Remember this, even if you get several rejections . . . keep trying! Take all this brilliant advice with a pinch of salt, and just BE YOURSELF!

By the way, I was rejected for six teaching jobs before I was successful in applying for a job in Stevenage. Looking back now I am so glad that I didn't get any of the other jobs. Could this happen to you, too?

David Wright was a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of East Anglia. He is now a freelance inspector for OFSTED.

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