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Hook, line and land the job

When writing your specification, always provide your interviewer with a titbit to nibble on, something that will net you the post, says Gerald Haigh

I once heard a young teacher say (and this impressed me so much that I have a clear mental picture of where she was at that moment): "It's time to make something happen." She meant, of course, that the process of thinking and talking about moving to another job - weighing up the failings of the present post, speculating as to what else might be out there - needed to come to an end and be replaced by a series of actions that would end in a career move.

When it comes to the great job hunt, that moment is the important one. I was always quite good at turning applications into interviews. My writing skills were better than my interview manner; in the case of one senior post I landed, my letter acted as a valuable prompt to a panel of interviewers who were having difficulty drawing me out.

So, when you sit down to write your application, you have not one purpose but two. The primary one, of course, is to get the interview. The second is to give the panel something good to bite on, that is, nuggets of information, opinion, feeling, that they can pick up and ask you questions about.

Typically, your application will consist of a filled in form and a separate letter. The form may give you space for the letter, but most people do a separate sheet; it looks businesslike and it's easier to produce on your computer. You need to complete the form with meticulous care. You're sure that it's "Grove high school" rather than "The Grove high school"? You need to check these things because staff and governors are rightly sensitive about them. (The school in my road is called Canon Maggs junior after a former rector of the parish. I don't have to tell you how many applicants, including those hoping for senior posts, write the word "Cannon". Several Brownie points down the drain there before the envelope is opened.) There's a deeper level of accuracy, too, which means, for example, ensuring that the summary of your career doesn't have gaps. You can't leave out the time you walked out on a job after two weeks. People try it but they're usually found out, and it's been known to cost them the job.

The same rubric about completeness doesn't apply to your in-service training record. You may well have been on courses for everything from weaving to cardiac massage. The temptation is to put them all down. Resist it, list those that have relevance.

The key to your letter of application is to direct your points to the job.

Surprisingly, many applicants don't do this, choosing instead to write a sort of paean of self-approbation believing that it will do for any application. In the worst cases, the school's details have simply been cut and pasted and, occasionally, even that's been forgotten. Don't look in the mirror, look at the job. Read and re-read your letter with that in mind.

One approach is to go through the information pack that you've been sent, highlighting the main points about the school and the job and picking out the qualities that the employers are looking for. Then sketch out an application letter that addresses each quality. Do some background work - look up the last Ofsted report and the exam results and refer to them, positively, of course, so you can give chapter and verse about what you can bring to inspection action plan.

The layout of the letter, in headed sections, or in connected style, doesn't matter as long as it's easy to read, is coherent, businesslike and short - that is, one or two sides of A4.

It's difficult to avoid the word "...", and its relentless use can jar, so experiment with variations of phrasing and tone.

Bear in mind that your audience includes not only school governors, who aren't impressed with jargon, but inspectors and senior teachers who are up to their ears in it. Be warm, straightforward and unpatronising.

Application letters can be soulless. You yearn, as a reader, for the one that shows passion, kindness, humanity, love of children, joy in working with keen colleagues, the enjoyment of good company and a feel for the many moments of sheer insanity that come with working with irreverent young people.

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