Everyone dreads those personal statement boxes on the job application form but we’ve all had to write ‘em and, if we’re in employment, they’ve clearly done the trick. Why would anyone literate need a guide to writing job applications?

Well, as an English teacher I certainly consider myself to be more than merely functionally literate and I some of the feedback on my ability to write a letter of application I had last year was very hard to hear.

The head teacher of a school at which I’d applied to become an assistant head told me the reason I wasn’t called for interview was because he’d been put off by my application letter. He didn’t like my writing style and thought it wasn’t specific enough. In particular he disliked the fact that I’d put several phrases in ‘inverted commas’ and used too many italics.

What do you do with this kind of criticism? Should I write it off as the views of one individual and stay true to myself, or should I take on board the advice offered wholesale? This sounds like a trite rhetorical question, but for a few weeks I felt really torn. I know it’s impossible to second guess exactly what someone else wants to hear and even if you could, you’d probably regret it, but still: if only there was a winning formula.

A few weeks later, I attended a course rune by Hays Leadership called Aspiring Leaders. I had very little idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to discover the thrust of the course was on securing and succeeding at interviews for school leadership positions. Perfect.

The advice was that applicants should use the National Standards for Headship to structure their applications. A copy of these can be downloaded  here.

The standards are:

  • shaping the future
  • leading learning and teaching
  • developing self and working with others
  • managing the organisation
  • securing accountability and
  • strengthening community.

I am ashamed to say, I knew nothing about these standards beforehand and it made perfect sense to demonstrate my understanding of these qualities in any application. The course leader went through what they each meant and I would recommend reading through them and making some detailed notes before beginning the application process.

Some schools design their job description and person specification around these standards which makes it very straightforward to construct your application. Others don’t. The advice offered in these cases is to work out which parts of the person spec/job description apply to which standards. So, if you’re asked to demonstrate Courageous and committed leadership through effective role modeling” you would slot this into your ‘managing the organisation’ section and, “A significant contributor to strategic thinking and development” would come under ‘shaping the future’I’d advise putting the whole lot into a speadsheet to work out exactly what should go where.

The other important piece of advice is to make sure that for each of the standards you have a clear example which shows the context you are working in, what your vision was or is, the actions you have taken to implement your vision and the impact they have had (CVAI).  By doing this you avoid wooly hypothetical statements.

All of this was, needless to say, extraordinarily helpful. The next two applications I completed resulted in being offered an interview. One head told me that my application was “outstanding” and one of the best she had ever read! Sadly I didn’t get either job but that doesn’t matter. I now know how to write a leadership application and am confident that when the next job comes along I stand a very good chance of being interviewed for it.

Whilst this advice is aimed at leadership applications, the CVAI structure should be used in all applications and interviews whether you’re an NQT or a headteacher.

Another useful post on writing job applications from Simon Warburton here.