The experience of deciding to investigate the possibilities of life-beyond-my-current post has been fascinating, and, as promised, here are some of the things I’ve learned. Very little of this, if any, is in any way original, but it’s more of a collation of all the incredibly useful pieces of advice I’ve received on this journey, from close friends and family, from colleagues, and, overwhelmingly, from the Twitter community. It may sound bossy, but I don’t know it all, by any means – take or leave what may or may not be useful!
1. Take advice!
There are many wise people out there. Listen to what they have to say. You may not always agree, but it’s a bit like the advice I give new teachers finding their identity in the classroom – absorb EVERYTHING, then take out and use the bits that work for you. There is much controversy over sharing application letters (though, frankly, you’d have to be a bit of an idiot to try to copy someone else’s, given the diversity of experience out there!). However, I’ve always been willing to share mine with people I trust, and have been extremely grateful to others for sharing theirs.
2. Be inspired!
Look at others in positions you’d like to be in – I’ve been amazed at the diverse journeys people have been on. Success isn’t a straight line, and the best people are human, resilient, reflective, and contrast hugely with one another. There’s no one formula for success. Speak to them, listen to them, and allow yourself to be inspired by them.
3. Deciding to put yourself out there
There are lots of reasons why people start applying for new jobs: speculative; because, much as you love your current post, you are itching for a new challenge; changes in personal circumstances; a need to follow your moral compass elsewhere; a recent setback. Or, in many cases, a combination of the above.
People outside teaching are gobsmacked by the unique nature of the process. Your referees should, out of sheer courtesy, know you are looking, and this can make you quite exposed. References are usually only called if you are shortlisted or if you have a successful interview, so it tends to be quite public. It can be a long haul to find the right thing, or for it to find you, and be in no doubt that it is utterly exhausting. Inevitably, the process, from looking to waiting for the phone call the same evening, is gruelling and you invest a vast amount of yourself into it – go in with lots of energy, a philosophical attitude, and a very thick skin!
4. You’re stronger than you think you are
All of the inspiring people I’ve met have seen setbacks – often numerous ones. Let’s be in no doubt: rejection HURTS. Not being shortlisted (why don’t they even want to TALK to me?), knowing you’ve not represented yourself properly (the sense of injustice!), leaving after the first round (so they’re better, are they?), coming second, knowing how hard the decision was for the panel (the reality, in the end, is no different!). Brace yourself, find a safe place and a good friend, allow yourself to rail against the world, listen to your good friend tell you it’s their loss – and know they’re right!, realise that if they didn’t want you, the chance of you being happy there were slight, indulge yourself for an evening, then brush yourself off and get back on the bike!
5. Things happen for a reason
I’m not remotely superstitious, but I’ve become rather a fan of the people who say this. I’m not sure about stars and gods, but things do have a way of working themselves out. Recently, I came a very close second for a job, the nature of which already had me frantically justifying myself to those who know me. The diversification of the system is an unavoidable reality, but my integrity is secure in knowing I don’t have to actively condone it…
6. Pay meticulous attention to the application
This is what gets you through the door. There’s no one-size-fits all – each application I wrote was different from the others. Pick through all of the detail in the application pack and ensure that you explicitly refer to all aspects of the job spec in your letter. Write about what you did, how you did it, and make YOUR unique contribution clear. Focus on IMPACT. It’s hugely time-consuming, and there are moments of losing the will to live, but it’s worth it, because if you don’t tick the boxes, you won’t get through the door.
Also, get someone to proof-read. Silly mistakes wind people up and risk a good application being rejected.
7. Meet the people!
It’s really important that you don’t waste your time, and theirs, by applying somewhere where you’re not going to be able to make a positive contribution and thrive. Arrange a visit, go to an event, ask questions – and, above all, find out whether you feel you would work well with the key people. If the answer is no, then there’s little point proceeding with the application. The school will also appreciate you taking this effort.
8. Do your homework
Again, this is time-consuming, but so important. Read all the documentation on the school you can get your hands on. Oftsed, press releases, data dashboard, website, prospectus… Know the key strengths and priorities – and refer to them (and your potential role in making a positive contribution) in your letter. Find out about the catchment, the challenges, the results, the people – but go in with a questioning, open mind, avoid prejudice, and be prepared to look beyond the surface.
9. Manage the information
When I first started applying, I saw no reason to keep it secret, and there’s no reason you should. However, bear in mind that people care, and that people will be keen for progress reports. If it doesn’t go well (and if it does!), you’ll need to retrace your steps – and people can be quite offended if you don’t check back in! I was quieter about my most recent one, and it was quite a relief not to have to worry about handling the expectations of so many others.
10. Enjoy it!
I say this to my students before their French and German speaking tests, and they look at me as if I’m insane. But an interview (especially outside your current school) is a pretty unique experience, and it’s great to meet so many new people. I feel so much better prepared for the job, having taken he opportunity to talk to everyone I could get my hands on – students outside classrooms, supply teachers, schoolkeepers, upset girls, the office staff, and my best conversation of the day was with the canteen staff.
Smile, laugh, and let your sense of humour show. Make eye contact.
10. ‘Nothing to lose’?
This is a really difficult one, especially if something really means a lot to you, but I’ve found my most successful interviews have been the ones where I’ve managed to park my nerves and get myself into a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality. If you’re like me, and nerves can be an impediment (to the cost of my previous role at my current school!), this really works.
11. Humility! Every school is unique
I think there was a turning point in my most recent interview. My current school is very strong, I’m a compulsive information-seeker, and, in my final interview, was full of ‘perhaps we could?’ ‘I’d like to see a focus on’ suggestions. With a gentle prod, I suddenly realised that going in with all the answers is potential divisive and tiresome (remember how we’ve all looked at new members of SLT?!). By all means make suggestions, but appreciate that every school is a unique community, there’s a huge learning curve ahead, and that you’re prepared to embrace the challenge – a tricky balance between assertiveness and humility, but a really important one, I think. In the words I can’t quite believe I used in the interview, ‘If I kept using the phrase, “in my last school”, I’d deserve a slap!’
12. Be yourself
This is the biggest one of all. When I left my recent, successful, interview, I felt happy in the knowledge that I had been ‘myself’ all day, and not tried to be what I imagined they would want. I knew (I hope I’d still say this if the outcome had been different) that, if it didn’t work out, I had been utterly authentic, and that this would mean ‘me’ wasn’t quite what they were looking for.
Linked to this is honesty – I so appreciated the way the interview felt like an exchange of ideas rather than a grilling. If you feel you haven’t been clear enough, or have been misinterpreted, don’t hesitate to go back and clarify.
13. The waiting game
Find a good friend to keep you company whilst waiting for the phone call. Gossip, do nails, drink (just the one glass of!) wine (you don’t want to be slurring on the phone, regardless of the outcome!), and ration yourself to just a few enactments of the possible scenarios!
14. Enjoy it… then get real!
This is where I am now. It’s a brilliant feeling to be accepted into this new community and to feel that I really have something positive to contribute. It’s been brilliant to have so many hugs and congratulations and to see my Facebook ‘likes’ go through the roof (!).
I’m also aware that there are huge challenges ahead – but then, those who know me know that they’re not things I shy from. As I said to a friend, ‘it’s a great school, with tons of potential, not enough recognition, and LOADS of work to do.’ ‘In other words,’ she said, ‘perfect’.