by Kate Wolfe Maxlow
So you’ve finished your coursework, gotten your endorsement, and are now hoping to get an educational leadership position in the PreK-12 world (I say that because there are very different standards when applying for a job in higher education where they love long CVs). A strong resume is going to be the difference between getting an interview and not getting an interview. More than that, it can positively or negatively color how the interviewers see you when you walk in the door. A generic resume may be enough to get you an interview, but the interviewers may be less forgiving with any fumbling or nervousness on your part. A strong resume can buy you some initial goodwill.
Here’s the hard part, though: because teachers generally have similar experiences, and because graduate coursework in educational leadership has the same requirements for colleges and universities to be accredited, a lot of aspiring educational leaders end up having almost the same resume. This means you have to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd.
Now, there are some things that you’re going to have to include to get your resume through the first round of review in HR. If you need an administrative endorsement for the job, you have to include that you have it or the expected award date. You need to include the name of the college or university where you completed your studies, etc.. HR will review the resumes and push forward ALL qualifying ones to the actual hiring team, which usually includes executive directors or other exceptionally busy people who find themselves needing to read through dozens or more resumes (while also doing all their other work) to whittle down the list to three to eight people they actually want to interview.
Below are some tips and examples to help your resume shine through the sea of generic resumes.
1. Always, always, always refine your resume for the specific job for which you are applying.
Print out the job description itself, and go through and highlight the portions of your resume that best meet those criteria. Reword things if you need to. You want to leave no doubt that you have experience in these areas. Even if you’re only applying for Assistant Principal jobs, make sure you tailor the resume to the specific school district. This helps your resume get past HR.
For example, if the job description says this: Computer competency and familiarity with emerging technologies and their instructional management applications, then somewhere on your resume you need to have evidence that you meet this criteria.
2. Keep your resume to 2 pages. No, seriously.
Neither Human Resources nor the interview team want to read a book. I know it’s so tempting to put down ALL THE WAYS that you’re qualified, but trust me…go for quality over quantity here. You need to make sure that you cover all the jobs that you’ve done in your professional life, and that you explain any gaps…but determine HOW MUCH information you’re going to put based upon how well that particular role provides evidence of you meeting the job description.
Here’s what I do: I keep a “resume template” for myself with EVERYTHING I’ve done on it, similar to a curriculum vitae. I pick and choose what to include for a particular job based upon the specific job description. In these days of digital resumes, you can always include a link to your curriculum vitae if it really kills you to cut out certain things. When I applied for my previous job (Professional Learning Coordinator), almost the entire resume was about my experiences with professional learning, and I only referenced technology as it related to being effective at coordinating training. When I applied for this current job (Director of Innovation & Professional Learning), my technology experience suddenly had a starring role alongside my professional learning experience.
Overall, it’s better to have a shorter resume that gets read than a longer one that doesn’t.
3. Lose the Job Goals and Skills section.
Space is at a premium here. I know that the Job Goals and generic Skills section are staples of many resumes, but I personally don’t see the point of them in educational leadership resumes*. It makes sense if you’re posting a generic resume to a site like Linked In or ZipRecruiter, but not if you’re applying to be an assistant principal.
If your resume is tailored to the specific job description, then it’s pretty obvious what your job goal is. Also, you applied to the job. We get it: you want to be an assistant principal. Don’t waste space on a resume telling me that.
Moreover, the Skills section becomes almost redundant when so many teachers and aspiring leaders have the same skill-sets. Of course you’re motivated and a self-driven learner. Who applies for an educational leadership program that ISN’T? And just because you TELL me that you’re a good communicator doesn’t actually give me confidence that you are; I’d much rather see specific examples of your communication abilities within the rest of your resume.
*Caveat: The only time I want to know about your Skills is if you have very, very specific skills. For instance, if you’re a certified trainer with PBL Works or you have your Google Level II certification. And even then, I really only want to know if it’s applicable to to the specific job.
4. 10-point font and 0.5 inch margins are the smallest you should go (and no Arial Narrow!)
Look, most of us who are reading applications don’t have youthful eyes, okay? We don’t want to have to pull out our magnifying glass to read your resume. Even if I can technically zoom in on a digital resume, don’t make me zoom. You want to make everything as easy as possible for me to get excited about you. Extra steps in an already involved process make your resume reviewers tetchy.
5. Simple formatting is better.
Choose a neutral font, like Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, or Tahoma. If you choose Comic Sans, I am going to raise an eyebrow, and if you get an interview, you’re going to have to work slightly harder to convince me that it’s because you’ve read that it’s easier for people with dyslexia to read, and not just because you think it’s “cute.” If you choose Bradley Handwriting, you’ll be lucky if I even read the resume.
Include enough white space. I want to be able to skim your resume and come away wow’ed. I do not want to read a two-page expose on everything you’ve ever done during your professional career.
6. Bullets, narratives, past-tense, present-tense…it doesn’t really matter what you use as long as it’s readable, consistent, and correct.
You might think it seems silly, but I actually care if one of your bullets is a complete sentence and the other is a sentence fragment. If you choose to start one with an action verb in present-tense, and another with an action verb in past-tense (with no good reason why; it’s just a sloppy error), I wonder how much you really want the job. One typo won’t ruin my opinion…multiple typos make me think you didn’t care enough to read it over several times and get friends and loved ones to read it over, too. It also makes me wonder if, when I hire you, I’ll need to spend my own time proofreading your work and checking over your work.
One exception: make sure you vary your verbs. Sometimes I read resumes where the applicant “designed” something in every bullet. My eyes start to glaze over when this happens. If you really want this job, use a thesaurus and make your writing just interesting enough that it keeps me awake as I dig through those 20 other resumes.
7. I don’t just want to know that you’re qualified; I want to know that you’re the BEST candidate.
I saved the best (and hardest) for last. As I said earlier, a lot of people have the same experiences during their administrative preparation programs. You were a summer school site coordinator? Yep, so were lots of the other people applying for this job. You observed teachers and provided feedback and a part of your course of studies? Of course you did…your program wouldn’t be accredited if you didn’t. As a teacher, you wrote lesson plans and ensured the safety of your students? I mean, I hope so.
In other words, you need to tell me why YOU did all these things BETTER than everyone else in this stack of resumes. It’s not uncommon for HR and executive directors to read 40 or more resumes for only eight interview slots and only one position. Why are YOU a leader in these areas?
You want to be as specific as possible in providing evidence not just that you did something, but that you were extremely effective at it.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common descriptions I see on resumes:
Summer School Site Coordinator
- Facilitated a culture of high expectations and learning
Summer School Site Coordinator:
- Facilitated a culture of high expectations that resulted in an average mean gain of 30 percentage points on a diagnostic assessment for all students in grades 3, 4, and 5.
Grade 3 Teacher
- Designed and delivered multiple professional development sessions focused on social emotional learning
Grade 3 Teacher:
- Recruited by division leadership to design and deliver two sessions on How to Talk So Kids Can Learn for the Teachers Teaching Teachers Summer Conference. Session maxed out the allowable attendance at 40 teachers per session; participants rated the relevance and engagement of the session as a 3.9/4.0 and a 3.8/4.0 respectively. Based on this, asked by principals of two other schools to deliver the same presentation for their staffs.
Who do you want to hire in each example?
Writing a resume doesn’t have to be arduous, but it shouldn’t necessarily be easy, either. A resume is your first chance to not only demonstrate your capability to do the job, but your passion for it. If you follow these seven steps, I can’t guarantee you an interview, but you’ll certainly up your chances significantly, allowing you to get in the door and show the hiring team how amazing you actually are.
Kate Wolfe Maxlow is the Chief Creative Officer at eObservations and DCD Consulting. She has worked as: an elementary school teacher; an instructional coach; a Director of Innovation and Professional Learning; and a Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. She’s taught classes from PreK to PhD. Her favorite book is Catch-22. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.