Check these answers to frequently asked jobseeking questions prepared by ex-headteacher and TES Forum host, TheoGriff.
What’s the difference between a letter of application and a personal statement?
This is a common source of confusion. Basically there are three possible elements in an application:
- A personal statement.
- A letter of application
- A covering letter
In theory - I emphasise this - in theory they are different, and you would never have all three.
Letter of application and personal statement are the same thing, except that one starts “Dear Mr Griffiths” and t’other doesn’t (so don’t do both!). A covering letter is just that: it is a letter that acts as a sort of envelope, covering what you are sending off. It is a technical term and is used when you have a statement instead of a letter of application (so don’t do both!). The confusing thing is that sometimes the school doesn’t understand what a covering letter actually is, and so they ask you to write a covering letter when in fact they mean a letter of application, so you need to keep your wits about you!
How can I sell myself at interview?
I think that there is a lot that can be done in the way of practising; dressing up, knocking on the door going in, answering questions and then getting feedback. Would your line manager of a knowledgeable friend do it for you? This can give you more confidence in how you are projecting yourself.
A lot can also be done by preparing “points to get over”. Think: What are the points about myself that I want to get over to the panel? This could be things like I am analytical, I am good at communication - four or five key points about yourself. Then when you get asked a question, think: Which of my key points can I illustrate here?This will ensure that your answers, while honest, truthful, legal, etc etc, also are doing a good job of selling your strengths to the panel.
I can’t get hold of my former head to seek permission to use him as a reference. What can I do?
Just write him a nice letter saying that you’ve been trying to contact them, have such good memories of working in their school. Are now applying for new post, wanted to ask their agreement to put them down as referee but unfortunately you haven’t been able to contact the school at a time that was convenient to them, so have had to put their name down before hearing from them.
Is it possible to request to see my references?
References are to enable heads to appoint someone who will be really a good teacher and who will not represent a danger to children. There are clear rules about writing references, and about who gets to see them. And there are two common mistaken beliefs about references: that it is “not allowed” to write a poor reference about someone, and that you have the right to see a reference written about you.
It is untrue to say that you cannot give a “poor” or negative reference. The reference has to be fair and accurate and reasonable and not misleading. And that includes not misleadingly being too favourable for an inappropriate candidate.
You may request to see a reference but your actual referee does not have to show you - they are specifically exempt from the Data Protection legislation. If you make a formal data protection request, you may get sight of a version that (a) doesn’t show any opinions (as opposed to facts), and (b) the person who wrote it cannot be identified if the recipient has reason to believe that he doesn’t wish to be.
If offered a job, must I decide instantly?
Most schools will offer the job by phone that evening or the next day, and expect an immediate answer to allow them to rush an offer to Candidate B if Candidate A turns it down. Some schools offer on interview day in the flesh, and expect an immediate answer. I know of several schools that put a written offer letter in front of the candidate and get them to sign an acceptance there and then! The very most that you could hope for would be 24 hours to think it over.
If I accept a job offer, can I then change my mind?
Once a school offers you the job, and you accept, even if both are done verbally, you have both entered into a legally binding contract. The written contract - officially called the conditions of employment - doesn’t in law have to be signed at the latest until eight weeks after you start work. So legally, if you have accepted, even verbally, you have entered into a legally binding contract.
So could they hold you to it? In theory yes, but in practice they probably wouldn’t, as no-one wants a reluctant employee. They could charge you the cost of re-advertising the post (several hundred pounds) or even the cost of taking senior staff off their jobs to interview. More likely, they talk about you, when heads meet up, or by email, warning colleagues that you proved to be a unreliable candidate, accepting then withdrawing.
Still got a query relating to your job search? Why not visit the Jobeekers’ Clinic, hosted by TheoGriff and search past posts. If you still can’t find the answer to your question by searching, post your question to Theo.
Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking