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Steps to Stand Out: Tips for Snagging an PreK-12 Job Interview

So you found your dream education job. Excellent! The first step, then, is to get yourself in the door to an interview. When dozens of applicants apply for a position, it can be hard to determine who to interview…and we do have to leave some people out of interviews because there are only so many hours in a day.

For that reason, those of us on the hiring end look not only for the positions in your application, but also potential “red flags.” While one red flag is unlikely to knock you from the running, more than one red flag can definitely be an issue.

While all hiring managers have their preferences, here are some general tips to make your resume stand out from the crowd so you hopefully get that interview:

1. DO have a top-notch resume.

This includes having aesthetically-pleasing formatting and highlighting how you are different (read: better than) everyone else applying. Have you run training sessions? Do you have any special certifications? Did you create teaching resources for your district? Have you ever coordinated any programs, such as after school extracurriculars? Focus on these and less on the daily grind activities of teacher (developing and delivering lessons, etc.; we assume you do all those, or you probably wouldn’t have your current job.

Oh, and proofread, proofread, proofread that resume. Ask others to proof it, too.

2. Make sure all your materials are for the job for which you’re applying.

More often than you might realize, I review applications in which someone’s objective is to become an assistant principal…but I don’t hire assistant principals. That means that someone has just re-used their resume, cover letter, letters of recommendation, etc., from another job. I then wonder if that the person is mostly looking to get out of their current job, rather than looking to do the job I’ve posted.  Sometimes this is fine…someone is just ready to make a bigger impact. But it is a potential red flag, especially when coupled with any of the other red flags on this list, and it definitely screams “I am not a detail-oriented person.”

3. Get references from supervisors.

We acknowledge that there are some less than desirable supervisors out there, but trust us that a reference from someone who has seen your daily work carries a lot more weight than someone who teaches in the classroom next door. If you don’t ask your current supervisor, that’s a red flag…not one that you can’t overcome, but you’ll have to work harder on every other part of your resume. If you don’t ask anyone in a supervisory role…that’s an even bigger red flag.

And guess what…we’re probably going to call your current supervisor before we offer a job anyway.

4. Make sure your references actually fill out their forms.

So many times we see where the people who’ve been asked for a reference haven’t upheld their end of the bargain, leaving us without crucial information about how others view your work. Therefore, you need to take steps to make sure that they do. First, ASK them if they will fill out a reference for you (don’t just put their email into the application). If you just assume they will, they may not feel like they have anything positive to say, and therefore might just ignore it, which…potential red flag for those of us considering your application. Next, TELL them when you fill out the form so they’re on the lookout for it and GIVE THEM A DATE BY WHICH TO DO IT. For instance, say, “Hey! I’m clicking “send” on the application right now! Do you think you can fill out the reference by the end of the week?” Then, don’t feel bashful about very politely checking with them to see if they actually filled it out.

NOTE: This. means you probably cannot wait until the last minute to send in your application. If the window closes on, say, January 3, it’s likely that we will start reviewing applications on January 4. If your references haven’t had time to fill out their forms because they only received our automated reference request a few hours ago, you’re going to lose out on having strong recommendations when we review your application.

5. Get an actual letter of recommendation.

The reference forms that people fill out online are incredibly brief and don’t really tell us much about the applicant. There are a couple of places where the reference-giver can fill out extra information, but few ever do. A letter of recommendation that actually tells us the awesome things you’ve done and the impact you’ve had gives us a much better idea of your previous work and we’re a lot more likely to hire you…unless the letter of recommendation is for a completely different job (in which case, see #2).

6. Write an actual cover letter.

This is your one chance to tell us WHY you want the job (the essay portions of most education applications are very vague) and why you, specifically, are a good fit. You can read more about writing awesome cover letters here.

7. Show us that you want to work HERE.

Take even 15 minutes to dedicate to researching some of the biggest initiatives for the district, school, or program for which you are applying. Knowing that you have a general understanding of our goals will help assure us that your goals are most likely similar, and that you’ll be a good fit. Also, knowing that you’ve done your homework demonstrates an ability to be prepared and be detail-oriented.

8. Attach or send a copy of your portfolio.

You can either email it or attach it on your resume. Either way, showing us awesome things you’ve done can make you stand out from a metaphorical stack of resumes.

If you do all these things, and you still don’t get an interview…don’t despair! It may be that the applicant pool was unusually strong or that the team simply needed someone with experiences different than the ones you currently have. Just keep polishing that resume, adding to that portfolio, and working on those letters of recommendation. Good luck!

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