Off to a flying start

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Now is the time to put energy and thought into the whole business of securing your first job, says Elizabeth Holmes

Students' experiences of getting teaching jobs vary tremendously, so be open to every eventuality. Putting thought into the type of school you want to work in and where you see yourself can help you focus on suitable vacancies.

Researching teaching vacancies is relatively easy. Your first point of reference should be The TES's job pages.

If print is too passe for you, register as a user of The TES Web site and you can arrange to be alerted by e-mail any Friday that appropriate vacancies appear.

Which part of the country do you want to work in? You can arrange for local papers to be sent to you on the days they carry job adverts, and most local education authorities will send vacancy bulletins out to newly qualified teachers for a small fee. Contact the appropriate LEA office for details.

Although it may be tempting to go for jobs offering the chance of additional responsibility points in the first year, that isn't usually wise. The school will invariably be thinking more about budgets than your ability to cope (and new teachers still come pretty cheap, despite the proposed obligations of the induction year). It's better to have a year of consolidation before any career development.

The process of application is not to be taken lightly and you'll need to invest time in it. School gov-ernor Anthony Harris has seen too many candidates discarded at the short-listing stage because of poor presentation of the application or lack of attention to vital details, such as why the candidate is appropriate for the job.

"I have often sifted through a pile of ill-written forms and weak supporting statements to find a candidate who has matched their skills with what we are actually looking for. It's a waste of time for the applicants. You can usually spot the ones who want a job rather than the job on offer."

Before filling in the forms, have a look at the job description, and make sure it gives you at least this information:

* the post's title

* salary

* to whom you would be responsible and for what (including extra duties)

* an indication of timetable

* an applicant profile.

If you are happy with the quality of information provided, take a photocopy of the application form so you can have a dry run. The form is designed to elicit specific information about you, your employment history and education, but your chance to shine is in the supporting statement.

Match your skills to the job description each time and include your unique selling points; engage the reader immediately and end memorably. Don't simply write a statement and reproduce it for every application.

Once the form is complete, photocopy everything for future reference should you be called for interview.

If you don't get an interview, don't be disheartened. You now have the opportunity to assess your application and tighten up areas of weakness.

If you are invited for an interview, you have a serious chance of getting the job. When you prepare for the day, keep in mind what the interviewers will be looking for:

* who matches the job criteria

* who will fit in with the existing staff

* what contribution you will make to the work of the school

* your personal philosophy of teaching

* your motivations and satisfactions

* the way you interact with pupils.

Interview procedures are gruelling in some schools and can last for the entire day, so to flounder when you hit a mid-afternoon slump could be a disaster. Eat sensibly the day before the interview. You want to give the impression of energy and vitality.

Negative thinking can only inhibit your performance so try to be positive.

When anxiety strikes, slow, deep breaths are extremely calming. Another way to quell nerves is to know you are prepared. Read the education press so you are familiar with the latest developments, as it's highly likely you will be questioned on current changes.

The interview day may be organised in a wide variety of ways but you should receive advance warning of what is planned for you.

For some schools, a quick look round and a half-hour interview with a small panel will suffice.

Others will require candidates to talk to several members of staff at various levels of management, be questioned informally over lunch and teach part of a lesson as well as to undergo an interview of at least an hour.

Whatever your experience, remember that it's a chance for you to decide whether you want the job. The process must be two- way: the panel will question you and you can question the panel.

You need a sense of the ethos of the school to know whether you could work there. Keep a mental list of the people you meet. If you don't meet key personnel such as the head, ask why this might be. Is something being kept from you?

Throughout the day, you need to remain focused so that you don't misinterpret what is being said to you.

Don't begin to answer a quest-ion until you know what you want to say, and remember to present an image of flexibility. Rigid views could get you into difficulty if you are expected to defend them against the opinion of a panelist.

You will be asked either closed questions, aimed at extracting specific information, or open questions which offer you the chance to expand on your knowledge and skills. Be aware of what type you are being asked at any time and answer as honestly as possible. If you are offered the job, you will have to live with your words.

Questions you may be asked include:

* What methods of teaching have you used?

* What is your greatest achievement?

* How would you deal with difficult parentspupilscolleagues?

* Do you mind taking work home?

* What attracted you to this job?

* What was your worst teaching practice experience?

* What are your career aspirations?

* What issues in education take your interest?

* What have you done that shows initiative?

* What do you like about this school?

You will have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have at various stages and should strike the delicate balance between inquisitiveness and domination.

Plan some questions in advance that link to what you know of the school, or use some of these:

* What induction programme do newly qualified teachers have here?

* With the proposals of the National Grid for Learning, what levels of information and communications technology support do teachers have?

* What is the nature of parental involvement in the school?

* What extra-curricular activities are offered to the pupils?

* What would my starting salary be? (Don't be shy to ask if it hasn't been clarified.) Once the deliberations have taken place (and in some schools, the pupils you have just taught as part of the interview will have input here), the successful candidate will be offered the job there and then. Few other professions operate in this way and while the main advantage is that you don't have days of anguish over what the outcome may be, the disadvantage is that you may not want to be rushed into a decision, especially if you have other interviews lined up.

If you are successful but unsure, it is reasonable to ask for 24 hours to decide. It is unlikely you will be granted more than this unless you are viewed as certain "advanced skills" fodder, and you may be forced into taking an empty-handed leap of faith by rejecting this offer if you are not entirely sure.

If you are unsuccessful after the interview, you will probably be offered a debriefing, which will be invaluable for future interviews. If a debriefing is not forthcoming, you should ask to be given one.

A written job offer should follow immediately after your successful interview, which you should accept formally.

All job offers are subject to police checks for previous convictions, but as this takes some time you will probably start making arrangements for your start at the school as soon as you verbally accept the offer.

If you are given a chance to work at the school before your official start date you should grab the opportunity, since it can greatly ease the stresses of your first day.


TO SECURE her job at Worthing High School (an Investors in People school) in West Sussex, newly qualified teacher Helen Toms had to undergo a series of rigorous interviews as well as lead a pupil activity.

The day began at 8.45am with a meeting with the headteacher, followed by a tour of the school and resources, a meeting with a member of the pastoral staff, then three more interviews with various members of staff and a pupil activity - all before lunch.

Those who survived the post-lunch short-listing then had a final interview of about an hour before the deliberations took place. For Helen, this was not a negative experience.

"Although the interview procedure was lengthy, I felt that I got to know the school, its ethos and its structure. It enabled me to find out about the school's organisation and policies and I realised that this would be a place where I'd like to work."

Nicola Bentley had a difficult decision to make at her firstinterview.

With two interviews lined up, it was the second that she was most interested in. When she was offered the job at the first interview, she knew she had either to accept it and not give herself the chance to go for the job she really wanted, or reject it and risk not passing the interview in the second school.

"I asked for 24 hours to consider the first offer. Although this didn't give me time to attend the second interview, it did allow me to make my decision at home. I really didn't think I would fit in at the school and had set my heart on the other job, so I decided to take the risk and reject the job offer in the hope that I'd get the next interview.

"It was worth taking that risk. I got the other job and have been really happy."


Any questions relating to race, gender, disability, ethnic background, marital status, political preferences and sexual orientation are illegal. This guards against unfair discrimination. If you are asked such a question you do not have to answer it, but should contact your union immediately after the interview for advice.


Making the first move

Don't wait for a vacancy if there is a particular school in which you want to work. A speculative application could put you at the top of the list when a vacancy occurs.

Send in a CV including a skills summary and a "broadcast letter" announcing your availability.

Make sure your letter highlights your achievements and outstanding skills, matching them where possible to what you know of the school. One side of A4 should be plenty of space to sell yourself. Take care not to plead.

Writing a supporting statement Start by making a checklist of key points from the job description.

Make a list of your unique selling points to incorporate.

Begin with impact.

Convey a sense of your personality.

Include skills and achievements.

Use impeccable grammar and be punchy and purposeful in your language.

Include additional information on hobbies, travel, voluntary work and interests.

What should you wear?

Try to find out about the school's dress code.

Dark colours are usually most appropriate.

Avoid extremes in style and go for comfort. A suit or toning separates are good choices.

Style your hair in such a way that it won't need constant adjustment.

Be moderate in your use of accessories and fragrances.

The right body language THE DOS:

* Use a firm handshake when greeting people.

* Smile and maintain eye contact when you are speaking.

* Pay attention to your posture when you are sitting and walking.

* Nod and lean forward slightly - this gives the impression that you are confident and it shows that you are interested.


* Fiddle with either your clothing or your hair.

* Cross your arms, legs or hands.

* Lean back in your chair.

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