When applying for a new job, you may be competing with tens or hundreds of other applicants in a race for the role.
The HR manager or headteacher recruiting for the job will be scrutinising every detail of your application to make sure they are bringing in the right people for interview.
The application form is the first hurdle you have to get over and sets the first impression of you as a person in the recruiter’s mind.
The personal statement presents the perfect opportunity to show you are an exceptional candidate, understand teaching and know the school you are applying to.
It is not an easy task and is a tricky thing to get right. It requires being concise and clear – it shouldn’t be too long or read like a list.
You should talk about yourself and your professional achievements, while at the same time apply those experiences to the school itself.
We spoke to Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, about what goes into the perfect personal statement. Here's what he said:
What does a great teaching personal statement look like?
"In general, I would say no longer than two sides of A4 – typescript. It needs to be well structured and linked to the specific school. It will need to include a number of key areas, including behavioural management, educational philosophy, subject expertise, pedagogy, personal organisation and skills and enrichment activities that the candidate can bring."
What should it contain?
"I would recommend that candidates include three elements in each of the key areas:
- What their beliefs/philosophy/approach is – i.e., the theory
- Their experience in that area
- How they would use that experience in the school they are applying to and specific to the job they are applying for
The statement should also include something personal in terms of their outside interests to indicate that they live an interesting and well-balanced life."
What are school leaders looking to read in a good personal statement?
"They will want to see something of the person’s character come through. It must not be just a list of achievements or repeat of the CV. It needs to be well-written, error-free and mention the school they are applying for – but not too many times. It should read as if it has been specifically written for the school and job they are applying for. I would be looking for something similar to the approach I have indicated above, covering all of the key areas and indicating that they have a vocation for working with young people. Somehow I would like to see a ‘generosity of spirit’ come through in the statement."
How can a candidate stand out in a personal statement?
"A good personal statement needs to include something of the person themselves. It has to make the reader believe that the candidate has something special without bragging or appearing arrogant – but something a bit above what other candidates may offer. A really good introduction and ending are important, and it's worth spending a great deal of time crafting those sections of the statement. Hook the reader in at the beginning and finish on a high note so that they want to meet the person and explore what has been written."
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Helen Sadler, art and design teacher, Hammersmith and Fulham
It's the personal statement that will get you short listed: The application form is standard, it's the personal statement that will get you short listed. No more than two sides of A4 it should show how and why you teach and who you are as a person. It should not be a list.
Always read the specification, if it says you are required to teach A-level and you don't or don't mention a willingness to learn it shows you haven't read it. If you are applying for a job in a different area to where you live explain why. Check who the application needs to be sent to, don't just send it to the headteacher. It sounds obvious but make sure you get their name right.
Gaps in employment make it look like you're hiding something, whatever the reason highlight all the positives for gaps. If you have worked in a different sector think about the transferable skills you have. Be honest, don't be tempted to change that D to a C in your qualifications. If you get the job they WILL check.
If interviewed you will be questioned using your personal statement. Don't say you do certain things in the statement but then can't give real examples when interviewed. Be enthusiastic about your subject, why do you teach it, what do you enjoy. Include hobbies on your personal statement, it makes you a more rounded person. But don't include 'socialising with friends' as basically it means getting wasted.
If you only have your training experience include all the schools you have trained in, say what you have learnt, how they are different, what you enjoyed. You could be up against teachers with years of experience. Use any particularly good comments from observations in your personal statement. This is really useful if you are a NQT. Don't be negative about any previous schools.
Chris Hildrew, deputy head teacher, Chew Valley School, Bristol
Successful applicants explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school: When sifting through a pile of applications I can usually halve the pile by getting rid of those making basic mistakes. These include poorly proofread or inaccurate letters (there's nothing quite so off-putting as finding the wrong school or head teacher's name left over from the previous time that letter was used), application forms incorrectly completed, and those who feel obliged to include more than is asked for.
I don't want to see your CV unless I've asked for one. I don't want to see a portfolio of PowerPoint presentations you've developed. I don't want a testimonial from your summer job behind the bar in the student union. I want what I've asked for please - letter and form. Form and letter. Thank you.
Straight to the top of the pile go those whose letters explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school. Also a winner are those who show exactly how they fit the person specification not only through what they've already done but what they'd like to do next. Above all, though, I like to know exactly why the applicant is a teacher in the first place. A good application will get you the interview; a good interview will get you the job.
Doug Belshaw, former teacher and senior leader and author of #getthatjob
Be selective, rather than scattergun: One of the best things you can do when applying for jobs is to be selective. It's easy to get desperate, either because of money or stress, but it's important to make sure that you've done your homework on what you might be letting yourself in for. Read everything you can online and, if the deadline's far enough away, phone the school and ask them to send you anything (newsletters, for example) that aren't on their website.
There's two benefits to going deep rather than employing a scattergun approach. First, you'll be sure that it's the kind of place you can work. And second, you'll have done 'due diligence' and be in a better position than other candidates to show how you'd fit right in. At interview and on the application you can use examples from the school's recent history to show how you could make an impact straight away.
Finally, be an enlarged version of yourself both on paper (and at interview). It's the best advice I ever received for 'performing' in the classroom and it stood me in very good stead when snagging a job that rocketed me from classroom teacher straight to senior management.
Peter Lee, assistant vice principal, Q3 Academy, Birmingham
Make your application personal to the school and write about why you love teaching: As part of my role I read through numerous written application as part of the job application process. Here are some of my top tips.
• Make sure your application is personal to the school – i.e. quote from the Ofsted report, latest exam results, ethos and so on
• If your application sounds like you've generated a whole host and it's not personal to the school then it's likely to remain at the bottom of the pile
• Visit the school before handing the application form in – that way you can get a real feel for the school
• Check spelling and give to another person to proofread any SPAG errors
• Make sure there are no gaps in your employment history
• Explain what you will bring that is extra if successful – so what skills can you bring / what extra-curricular opportunities would you be willing to offer?
• Be positive – write about why you love teaching
• List any areas in which you have added value – i.e. specific class residuals/meeting whole school or departmental targets
Kirstie Thomas, head of history, Lewis School, Pengam, South Wales
Look at what the school's needs and have ideas for addressing them: I recently had to appoint a new teacher, the main criteria the school was looking for was what else could that teacher offer, and many applications did not make the shortlist as they did not explicitly say what I was looking for. Applicants need to include the other subjects they are able to teach; NQTs should look at doing a secondary subject to improve their initial letter.
An awareness of current educational practice is good but do not write in great depth and waste time and space about it. Have a vision for after school or lunchtime clubs; something they have done or if an NQT something they would like to do, it could be linked to curriculum or an additional free choice, but they should look at school needs and try to offer something interesting and different.
Any previous work although unconnected to education can be phrased in such a way that it gives a sense of transferable skills. Most importantly, the letters should be spell checked and proofread. With a literacy agenda in school I disregarded three letters that were full of basic spelling mistakes and seemed rushed and were poorly written.
Sally Law, principal teacher of English, Marr College, Troon
Show off your vocabulary and try to make applications interesting to read: I appointed two new English teachers this season and had a few gripes with applications. The most irritating, and surprising, problem was the applicants' seeming lack of vocabulary. For English teachers this isn't good although I think it stems from applicants thinking they must use the current jargon so the same words just keep popping up over and over again.
So I would say be a bit more flexible with vocabulary although not to the point of overdoing it with the thesaurus. If there was one more thing it would be to vary sentence structure too and absolutely avoid starting every sentence with 'I'.
John Bull, year 5 teacher, Thursfield Primary School, Stoke-on-Trent
Visit a school before you apply: Headteachers get many applications from many individuals. It is the responsibility of the applicant to make the headteacher want to meet them by making their application stand out. Sometimes that might be in creative ways, like changing the colour of the fonts for different parts of the CV. Not being too effusive is also a good tip. Be positive but not overconfident. Expect the headteacher to want to see you, by writing this as an end paragraph 'I look forward to meeting you at interview.' Always visit a school before you apply. You might not be right for them as well as them not being right for you.