What am I doing wrong?

19th May 2006 at 01:00
SELF-APPRAISAL Rejections all round? Identify your weak points and tighten up

You have spent days scouring TES Jobs 1, 2 and 3. Worked and reworked your personal statement, bought more stamps in the last month than in the past decade. But you still haven't been able to write that resignation letter.

Why has no one snapped you up?

Obviously, it is possible that no matter how effective your application, you have been unlucky enough to come up against a genuinely more suitable candidate each time. But if you accrue more than five rejections, Catherine Maguire, a careers adviser with a special interest in teachers, suggests it may be time to take a long hard look at every step of the application process to work out where you are going wrong.

"You need to pinpoint at which stage you are failing. Is it at the application stage or at the interview? And then look very carefully at what you can change and how," says Ms Maguire, who is chair of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services teaching task group.

In her years of advising graduates at London Metropolitan University, and as a school governor, Ms Maguire has discovered that teachers at all stages of their career most frequently blight their chances as early as their personal statement. Not only because they fail to present themselves effectively on paper, but simply by failing to address the job's person specification.

"You need to ensure you have explicitly referred to all the criteria on the person spec. You cannot expect the panel to read between the lines. You also have to make sure you give detailed, specific examples to illustrate your experience. People tend to give their teaching philosophy, rather than provide concrete evidence."

She advises that applicants seek help, perhaps back at their teacher training college's careers service, or from colleagues - particularly those already at the level they hope to achieve. Someone who can be trusted to be constructive and positive. Are you revealing a disorganised mind with a badly structured, waffly statement? Is it too long or too short? Have you really got across your passion, your enthusiasm? And most of all, have you really shown that this school is THE school you want to work in?

"You do need to tailor each application to each post. It's easy to research schools through their own website or online Ofsted reports, so there really is no excuse these days for not doing it," says Ms Maguire, adding that tailoring is particularly important if the new school is significantly different from the one you're in currently. For example, if you want to move from an inner-city to a rural school or a high-flying grammar to a struggling comp, you need to show that you recognise the differences and that you can adapt.

"You have to point out all your transferable skills, so the panel members are not left in any doubt as to why you're applying to their school."

If your application is a model creation and you've travelled to interview after interview, but still not been welcomed aboard, it's time to examine your face-to-face technique.

Before you set out for the interview, Ms Maguire advises a long look in the mirror. Do you look the part? What first impression are you making? "So many people make the mistake of thinking they should dress for an interview as they would if they were teaching - comfortable and practical. But they should be much more formal. Suits, ties, proper shoes."

Again, research and preparation can go a long way to achieving a successful interview. Many of the application form principles apply: specific, concrete illustrations, focus and enthusiasm, according to Ms Maguire.

"Everyone will make allowances for your nerves, but you still have to be focused and specific. Don't be afraid to ask for a question to be repeated or clarified. You can also ask whether they want more detail after you have answered. Show that you are reflective and can evaluate your own practice by having ready examples."

And as always: don't fiddle, don't gabble, make eye contact, and above all else, be enthusiastic and positive. Which means don't say you want to leave your current job because your head of department is a know-nothing bully.

The best place to go after a failed interview is, apparently, not the pub but back to the panel, probably via the headteacher or chair of governors, to find out directly why you didn't get the job. "Listen carefully to their feedback: it can be valuable," says Ms Maguire. "If you want to challenge anything, be tactful and polite. It won't help to get into an argument. If you were a very close second, find out which hair they were splitting when they made their decision."

Feedback can identify those areas in which you failed to make an impression. Do you genuinely lack that classroom or management experience, or did you simply sell yourself short? If the former, then only time or training will help. If the latter, then your next job could start here.

If you have any fears that you may have been discriminated against, then you need to contact your union and the human resources department of the local education authority immediately.

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