I have been appointed to four headships since 1997. The interviews varied widely. In March 2005, I started applying for another headship and I was struck by the chance element in the whole process.
Between March and October, I applied for approximately 60 posts and was shortlisted for a third of them. The application process must put off hundreds of potential heads because it is so cumbersome. All local authorities send an application form and expect an accompanying letter.
Forms vary, with Leicester and Leicestershire unusual in that they expect extended answers to questions on the form itself.
I did not apply to either, anticipating such forms taking at least 10 hours, because the number of words permitted is limited and producing high-quality handwritten responses takes a great deal of thought.
The accompanying letter is a huge task. Each application pack includes a job description and a person specification, with shortlisting depending on how well each candidate's letter matches the latter. Person specifications frequently contain about 50 items.
I write a short paragraph addressing every single point, arranged and numbered as in the specification. This takes about two days. The finished document is three to five pages of word-processed A4 text.
If not shortlisted, I requested feedback. Only one example is worth mentioning, where governors had specified a handwritten application. In this case I believed the handwriting on the application form would prove that I could write well, and my person specification would have run to 16 pages if handwritten. The feedback: the governors dismissed all the word-processed applications unread.
Interviews varied from one and a half hours to two full days. Usually, there is a range of activities: a formal presentation, an "in-tray"
exercise, analysis of financial information and observed discussions in small groups. These are followed by the main interview with the panel.
The interviews themselves are emotionally draining, and rejection hurts.
Following one unsuccessful interview, I mentioned to the feedback adviser that I would be interested in temporary or locum headships in her authority. Iwas contacted 10 days later and I now have a post as a consultant head. This interview lasted 10 minutes, and I said "Yes please"
when I was offered the job.
If you are considering applying for a headship (your first or your fifth), then be prepared for a long haul. Stamina and patience are what you need.
Michael Jackson starts at his new school in Nottingham in September