This post is based on a session I led at the #WomenEd (Women in Educational Leadership) Conference in Reading on Saturday 8th October. It also relates to workshops I have held on the subject of Managing Leadership Transitions – how we can successfully prepare to move to our first Middle Leadership role, from Middle to Senior Leadership, from Senior Leadership to Headship, or, indeed, from Headship to whatever comes next.
How can we convince a selection panel that we are not only a good fit for the leadership post we are applying for but, in fact, the BEST possible fit among all those they will consider for the role? In the process, can we convince ourselves that this is the right step for us, leading to a stimulating, rewarding and appropriately challenging stage in our professional journey? Can we prepare, throughout the application and selection process, in such a way that if we are successful and we do move to take up the new responsibility, we will be even more effective once in post?
I have read many letters of application from teachers and aspiring leaders at all levels during my time in education. In this, the post-headship phase of my life, I am often asked to comment on speculative letters from candidates applying for leadership roles, and to offer feedback which enables these applicants perhaps to strengthen their case. I am also asked to give advice with respect to preparing for, and performing well at, interview. I am happy to do this, as supporting aspiring and serving leaders at all levels is something I feel passionate about.
So what advice would I offer?
- Before you apply, do plenty of research and careful thinking. Is this school, and this role, the right fit for you at this time, and are you a good match for what they seem to need? Your task will be clearly to demonstrate this match throughout the selection process: if it ISN’T the right job, that should become clear as you craft your application. Not getting a job isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. Getting the wrong job could be.
- Use this information to write your letter/supporting statement and complete the required application forms. Customise every application to the school/post you’re applying for. Resist the temptation simply to tweak an existing application to suit the new context – strong though this temptation may be when you are short of time. Starting from scratch and addressing carefully the requirements of a specific vacancy can be time-consuming but it’s worth it. You will start from where they are, rather than where you are.
- Avoid applications which are, in effect ‘a list of everything I’ve done in the past’. If you think about it, your past is far less relevant than your potential and what you could do in the future, given the opportunity. Look carefully at the job description and person specification. Can you show convincingly that you are capable of stepping up to this role, and that you will bring to the job and the school qualities which will enable them to build on past successes and further strengthen what they offer? Use your past experiences, evidence of professional development and achievements as examples to support what you claim. Do not simply list all the things you have done (without discrimination and any attention to what is most relevant to this particular role) and leave it to the selection panel to make the connections.
- By the time of the interview you should have learnt a significant amount which you can use to demonstrate that you bring to the school and the role what they need to go on to even greater success. Do not criticise what you would inherit if you were appointed to the role, but show how you would build on it. Be clear about, and able convincingly to articulate, your vision and values as a leader and an educator. Don’t be too dogmatic about any changes you would make - you are still tuning into the context and this could sound presumptuous. Focus instead on your educational philosophy and general principles. Show how these align with the school and role to which you hope to move.
Good luck throughout the process! Next month I shall talk about how you might manage the ‘lead-in’ period between getting a new role, and officially starting the job.
Dr Jill Berry is an educational consultant and former independent school head, and is a source of inspiration for aspiring and existing school leaders around the country.