20 things you should do if you are applying for a leadership job in education

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/ad7/56592178/files/2015/01/img_0879.jpgI’ve interviewed a lot of people, hundreds and like many deputies I’ve read through hundreds and hundreds of application forms. By all accounts I’m quite a tough interviewer, but I like to think I’m fair. I’ve also been interviewed a lot over the years. Some have been great interviews, some make me shudder at the memory of them, some awful. I’ve also learnt a great deal from interviewing alongside some impressive leaders. There are always lessons to be learnt from the experience, whether you’re the interviewer or interviewee.

I’m currently researching the recruitment process and learning a lot about what happens to our identity when we go through these experiences. As an interviewer I’ve been amazed at some easy mistakes that some people have made that have hindered their application. Perhaps people think they don’t matter, but they usually do. So as it’s that fun time of year when minds turn to TES jobs pages, so I thought I would gather some of my thoughts together with leadership jobs particularly in mind.

  1. As soon as it start going for leadership jobs it stops being about the best teacher and it becomes about being what the school is looking for. You’ve got to fit in with their set up and because of that…
  2. Do your research about the school, it always amazed me how few candidates could talk knowledgeably about the school, or found some way to connect to the school.
  3. Do what they ask you to do, if they ask you to fill in their form, do it, if they ask for a letter, write it, if they ask for a CV include it, but DON’T your own thing, it won’t impress despite what you think.
  4. Take time over an application. If you can’t be bothered to fill in an application form well what will the rest of your paperwork be like once you’re in the post?
  5. Get your timeline right and don’t leave gaps, if you leave gaps they will ask about the gaps
  6. If you need to write a letter or an accompanying piece really take time over this. It’s so important to get it right and without sounding too Goldilocks about it, it needs to be just the right length, no more than two sides.
  7. If you’ve got to put a CV together, really think about layout, font, don’t stick with the same format you’ve used since school. Think about how it’s going to look in a stack of paperwork, but don’t go for gimmicks either. The chances are you’ll just come across as a bit weird. If you’re not sure you’ve got it right, ask someone you trust. A leadership CV can look very different to your first CV.
  8. Be prepared to answer the obvious questions, but don’t just give stock answers, for example, if you’re going for a head of department, don’t just say you want to raise the profile of the department, say what that means, how you’re going to do it and in what timescale.
  9. Be prepared to answer really tough questions. If you’re going for a headship or a deputy position they aren’t going to go easy on you. Start building up a list of tough questions you or your colleagues have been asked.
  10. With the questions, it’s important to get the balance right of talking about your achievements and then also talking about what you would do in their school. The more you can connect the two the better, people often talk a lot about their own experiences and drift away from the question.
  11. Don’t be critical either of current colleagues, colleagues you’ve worked with in the past or of anything you’ve encountered at the school. Even if you bumped into a late pupil who let a door slam in your face don’t pick that moment to bring it up.
  12. However, despite the last point remember that a massive part of leadership is change management and so think about examples you’ve can talk about of you implementing change and if you can’t think of an example…
  13. Make sure you are already looking out for leadership opportunities or whole-school opportunities in your current role. Internal roles not coming up is an excuse, you don’t just have to take on paid roles. I’ve interviewed a lot of people who say the reason why they haven’t had that experience is their current school’s fault. Look for any opportunities, such as leading working groups, that will take you into different parts of the educational world. If it is really impossible to find something in your school, look outside to examiner work, or subject associations.
  14. Really think about the extras – the in-tray exercise, the lesson, the problem solving, the presentation – do not just prepare these, or for these, last minute, because you can tell when someone does that. Practice bits that you feel are your weakest aspects.
  15. With regard to presentations, use a format that will enhance your presentation. There is nothing wrong with PowerPoint, it’s just that the reality is that most people use the programme really badly with no thought to design, content or delivery.
  16. Remember to look and listen as much as you talk. Firstly because you can pick up a lot from staff and students about the school’s priorities and secondly if you don’t then you’ll probably not be answering questions precisely. Listening allows you to make connections. Looking around gives you opportunities to reference what you have seen in answers. At one interview I was asked if I was Head what would I spend £250k on (after being on a tour).
  17. Remember that anything you say to anyone during the day is likely to be fed back to your interviewers, so watch for odd jokes in reception, the ordeal-by-meal, or during the tour led by the sixth former. They might laugh at the time, but it’s going to be reported back.
  18. Don’t worry about being nervous. Most decent interviewers account for nerves with applicants, just don’t let them overwhelm you. If you feel that happening ask to use the bathroom and just take a few deep breaths, think of the last time you laughed a lot and then head back out.
  19. Do make an effort over how you look, it definitely is worth it, but have your own style, because you need to be as comfortable as is possible.
  20. This might sound remarkably cheesy, but you really do need to be yourself. If there is any sense of pretension in your approach you are ultimately doing yourself no favours. Remember you are applying to be a leader there day in, day out and so if there is any pretence in your manner it will be impossible for you to maintain. It’s not about being the best person for a job, it’s about being the right person for this particular job. If it’s not a good fit no one will be happy.

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One thought on “20 things you should do if you are applying for a leadership job in education

  1. Pingback: 20 things you should do if you are applying for a leadership job in education | Dragonfly Training

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