The recruitment crisis in senior management positions in Scottish schools has been grabbing headlines recently (much as it has in England), with concerns about not only the number of prospective candidates but also the quality of applicants.
Over the past couple of years, I have appointed a number of senior staff, including faculty principal teachers and depute heads. While we have found excellent people for the vacant positions, recruitment has, at times, been a bewildering business.
Application forms are my current bugbear. Why do people not take the time to get things right? Do they really not want to get to interview? Bear in mind that employers are not looking just to recruit somebody who gives good presentations – they need evidence of a well-rounded individual with the experience (or ability) to drive the school forward.
The application form is your chance to convince those recruiting that you have this. Get it right and you’ll make sure you get to the next stage.
Back to basics
Teachers, who have to instruct pupils on such things, should have a pretty good idea of how to put together an application form, so the number of forms I receive with basic grammatical errors is a source of constant amazement.
If the job description asks you – as it invariably will – to provide evidence that you are an effective communicator, a form telling me that you are an “efectve commnictor” will probably go straight in the bin. Random capitalisation Is a Complete Non-Starter. And inappropriate, punctuation will; have prospective employers reaching for the gin.
l Not everything has to be in bullet points.
l Free-flowing prose can be nice to read.
And it is unlikely I would ever employ anyone so angry or emotionally insecure that they embolden their statements, WRITE WHOLE passages IN CAPITALS or add undue emphasis to their work!!!!!
If it comes as a surprise that emoticons are completely forbidden, then please seek alternative employment. Finally, remember that Microsoft gave us spellcheck for a reason, even if job ads don’t always believe in it. At the risk of stating the obvious, write everything in a Word document and check it before transferring over.
Not all you’ve done is relevant...
If you have spent 25 years in education in an array of jobs progressing through management posts, then perhaps the six weeks you spent on the counter at Boots while at university is probably not too relevant for your current application.
...but some experiences are
Sometimes, under the qualifications heading, all I see is:
PGCE Secondary Education
BSc (Hons) 2:1 Geography
Is that it? Surely you spent some time at school and got Highers and Advanced Highers. Please include them so we, as school leaders, can build a picture of how you would fit into our school.
Read the job description
Analyse your skills and abilities and tailor your application to the job. If it’s to be a depute with a pupil-support remit, then don’t waste your 4,000 characters on the whole-school initiative you introduced on revamping assessment procedures. Headteachers can smell a generic application at 10 paces and will consign it to the shredder. Endless lists of irrelevant courses, meanwhile, are simply perplexing.
The long sections – the why-should-you-get-this-job bit – at the end of your application are crucial. Ten applications starting with identical, yawn-inducing paragraphs on increasing life chances and attainment for all (is this not every teacher’s ambition?) leave me yearning for something different. Concentrate on specific and relevant examples of your whole-school remit. Above all, I want evidence of impact on pupils and on the staff working with them.
Understand the school
Every job description I have posted says: “Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the headteacher for more information.” I sit by the phone, ready to tell engrossing stories of our wonderful school, but does anyone call? Only very rarely. Those who do invariably get called to interview because their applications are better informed and show an understanding of our school priorities.
Even better than a phone call is a personal visit. It’s more difficult if you’re applying from a distance but it can save a lot of wasted time and effort for you and your potential school. It is much easier to know that you want to work somewhere after a look around, soaking up the school ethos. My tour prior to being interviewed for the headteacher post convinced me that there was nowhere else I would rather work. At the very least, if you are called for an interview, arrange a tour of the school on the day.
We like to talk
Finally, if your application is unsuccessful, there will be a reason. Ringing up for feedback after a failed interview is de rigueur, but nobody seems to ring and ask why they didn’t get one in the first place. I did, after failing to make the cut for the first leadership post I wanted; the feedback I was given later proved crucial in securing a post. Never be afraid to ask.
John Rutter is headteacher at Inverness High School