The opening of the annual education job scramble is as much a feature of spring as the first cuckoo. You know it has started when colleagues who throughout the year have shown little interest in the important educational issues of the day bury their heads in The TES. Even for the most diligent reader - which, of course, you are - this may be a time for careful scanning of the jobs' pages and undue anxiety about missing the boat.
For those who have Internet access, the Online Jobs facility at The TES website (www.tes.co.uk) allows you to enter the location, age range and level of responsibility you are looking for, together with any key words such as subject or area of responsibility that may appear in the advert. In return, you receive an automatic e-mail when any of the advertisements in the classifieds section matches your criteria.
If you are unsure whether a job is worth applying for, send off for details of those that look vaguely interesting. But try not to give yourself unnecessary stress by prolonging your uncertainty.
The details arrive; they sit on your desk for 10 days while you fret and tell yourself that you haven't time to make an application. Just before the deadline, you use time you can ill afford to fire off something that doesn't do you justice, and fails to make the short-list. You have just been rejected for a job you probably didn't want, and have damaged your self-confidence in the process.
The casual alternative is to dash off a five-minute application - the scourge of selectors. Each consists of an all-purpose application letter, in which only the school address and post title have been changed from dozens of others fired off to all ends of the country.
Accompanying this is a photocopied CV and an application form on which most sections simply bear the words "See CV". Unless a school is desperate, these five-minute applications will go straight to the bottom of the pile.
The material you are sent in response to enquiries can help you decide whether to apply, and, incidentally, to hone your application. Is the job description and person specification clear and well-written? Some jobs are inadequately thought out. Do you get a favourable impression of the institution and its culture from any descriptive or prospectus material?
The Internet may be a useful source of additional information. Inspection reports by the Office for Standards in Education can be downloaded (www.ofsted.gov.uk) and a growing number of schools have their own websites.
Selectors, understandably, like to offer jobs to people who want them, and are quick to seize on any indications of half-heartedness. But in parading your enthusiasm, beware of overstepping the line into desperation; it can be equally destructive of your chances.
Finally, even if you think the golden job is in danger of passing you by, resist the temptation to panic. Like buses, another equally golden opportunity will come along in due course.
John Caunt was formerly director of personnel in a large further education college. He has 15 years' experience of staff selection.
Next week: the interview
Pointers to a successful job search
1 Be clear about what you are looking for and where you are seeking it.
2 Make a decision on whether to apply within a day of receiving the job details.
3 Use available material to aid your application decision.
4 Don't expend time or anxiety on jobs you don't want.
5 Give any application your best shot - lack of commitment shows.