Application writing is a genre that some find difficult. The reader is looking for applicants to show leadership and initiative, while being team focused and child centred. Your writing has to show you can do the job but that you can also learn more to do it better.
Highly sought after schools often have in excess of 200 applications per position. Your application needs to attract the attention of the panel while ensuring it meets the given criteria. Even after one’s best effort and what is considered by others to be a strong application, it still might not meet the particular ideologies or quirks of a given panel. It may be that you are simply against some known persons or an incumbent. Your very good application is just not well regarded for this job – but might be outstanding for the next one!
At the end of the day, my experience has been we get the job we deserve. If you miss out when you thought you were a good chance, take heart and move on to the next one – if the application is strong, it will be considered.
That said, here are some insights from many years of reading applications.
- If you start your application with “I am a committed and dedicated professional etc. etc.” then chances are the panel doesn’t read past the first etcetera. If you weren’t a dedicated professional you shouldn’t be applying in the first case. Do not tell the panel things that they expect to be a given.
- I have generally liked a hook at the opening – a statement that defines you and your educational platform. Make it short, and then use your first paragraph to underpin this belief with some evidence. I say generally because not all hooks work – test your opening line on some friends to make sure it is strong and not passé or obtuse.
- Don’t overuse “I”. It is an easy trap to fall into e.g. I did this, then I did that and then I did…… and I can walk on water. “I” statements can be made even more powerful and validated if someone else says it about you. “My line manager is quoted as saying …..” Colleagues have often remarked …..” Parent feedback has been that….” And so on.
- If you can walk on water, then provide the evidence of time and place, but more importantly, what were the outcomes of your actions? This is particularly important around change processes. Often an application will give evidence of a change process where everything just ticked along so wonderfully and we all lived happily ever after. These types of examples are not credible. Change is hard work. A process needs to reflect the hard work and the persistency and consistency to make the change sustainable. Reflective comments can add value to your evidence. Take time to discuss your challenges, and what you learnt from it, and what you will do differently in bringing your skills to the new job – evidence that you are a learner.
- Know your own educational imperative. What is the thing that you are known for, that you want to be known for, that is the soul of your narrative, which you leave as a legacy of your work with schools? When you know this, and can clearly articulate it, your evidence on the change process is connected. This will help you to give a clear message throughout your application.
- Points 4 and 5 lead towards the personalisation of your application. Use a critical friend to read your draft – does it sound like you talking? Many first attempts sound like an educator espousing a lot of jargon and give no sense of the person behind the words. If the writer spends more time on point 4, exploring the challenges of a change, what you learnt through it and how you made it sustainable, then points 5 and 6 get better leverage.
- Kids, children, students – which one to use? The short answer is probably all three, as each one has a context and gives the reader some of that personalisation. My personal view is to not use “kids” all the way through the application – mix it up depending on the context of the paragraph.
- Does the font matter? YES. Garamond, Calibri are preferred because they are clear and “easy on the eye". Times New Roman, or TW Cen MT are also ok but don’t look quite as professional. Font size 12 and not smaller. If space is not an issue, 1.15 works well for a clean layout. If you submit your application on font 6, single space, to fit it all in, what does it say about you as a communicator? See point 1 – your application is on the pile with Mr committed and dedicated professional.
- Bolding and underlining. Point 8 is an example of how bad it can look. Bolding and capitals feels like the applicant is yelling. It’s not an advertising brochure. It’s a professional document. Use your skill in writing to give a clear message.
- Spell check. Get a friend to spell check. Then spell check again. Then read it out aloud to yourself in the mirror – making sure you read every word. This will help you make sure it sounds like you and you’ll find that mistake that everyone else has missed. Have you got the right name of the school?
- Keep your sentences short. Use direct language and remove redundant tautologies. For example:
“Over the course of the second semester last year at my site, there were numerous occasions on which I was able to quickly and quietly confront each party involved in this ongoing conflict and through using my skills in listening carefully to each party, I continued to work towards a mutual and respectful resolution of this protracted and sometimes heated situation.”
Over the course of a semester, numerous occasions arose to engage each party, using my skills to carefully listen. We continued working towards a mutual and respectful resolution of this previously heated conflict.
“What had been a heated conflict was managed over a semester. In this time we engaged in respectful listening, undertaking actions to follow up our meetings. We aimed to create every chance to normalise the relationship for longer term outcomes”
This is only an example, but is not as fictitious as it may seem. Point 10 might also fix this. When you are reading it out aloud to yourself, make sure you are not getting bored. If you are, your sentences are too long or convoluted.
The Curriculum Vitae is also an important part of the application. However, it is not meant to be a shopping list of everything you have ever done – way back to your scout’s badges. The CV should be an annotated perspective of your more recent achievements. If you went to a conference, what did you learn? How did you use this learning? Where’s the link in the application person specification to show you are a learner or a risk taker in trying new learning? This is particularly important if you have limited number of words to use in both the CV and the application, as is often the case in State school systems. Refer to point 5 above – know the message of who you are wanting to portray in the application, and use the annotated CV to highlight this and link to your evidence in the application.
So where do you start? Definitely point 5. Know how to explain the message of who you are as an educator. Write it down. Write down your evidence of the things you’ve done to prove it. Once you get here, the rest starts to lock in, even the hook begins to emerge as saying something that really defines you. An excerpt from your referee’s quote can help. Some panels like them, some don’t. It may depend on the panel’s knowledge of the referee. Good luck with that.
Finish the first draft with formatting so it looks the goods, then start the process of polishing.
And finally, get feedback from critical friends before you send off your application, and then get as much feedback as possible form the chair of the panel after the event. However, every panel is different so take care that feedback can be wildly different. After all, it is up to you to make some decisions about which bits of the feedback you use for the next effort.
Remember it’s not easy, and almost as frustrating as playing golf!
IBSA Standing Committee member
Retired PYP school principal
Very bad golfer.