Dear Principal, please read this cover letter

A recent discussion in a recruitment group on LinkedIn has questioned the value of writing a cover letter when applying for a new job, suggesting that very few employers or recruiters read them.

It is suggested that employment job boards – MyCareer, Seek, SchoolJobs – have facilitated the application process to such an extent that employers now receive a far greater volume of applicants for each role – up to 50 in some instances! The tendency is therefore to spend less time reviewing each application, and that a quick glance at the CV (resume) is more likely to answer the ‘reject/review’ question than reading the cover letter.

If you put yourself in an employer’s shoes, you can certainly empathise, however the reality is that for the time-being schools still require you to compose a cover letter to accompany your CV. Here are some great dos and don’ts to help you draft the perfect cover letter when applying for teaching jobs in Australia.

DO address the employer by name. Use the name listed on the ad or call up to find out if none is listed. At least find out whether they are a ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. By doing so, you will immediately elevate your application above those who merely write to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or worse, ‘To whom it may concern’. When you use someone’s name, the correct way to conclude the letter is ‘Yours sincerely’, otherwise use ‘Yours faithfully’.

DO make sure you include your full contact details – address, mobile and email. No need to include 3 phone numbers. If they want to call you, they will! Mobile phones have removed the need to provide multiple numbers depending on the time of day. Why is this important? Because you want to make as much space as possible for the reasons you provide for them to employ you. The more redundant information you include the more it detracts from the good stuff!

DO keep your letter to one page. The CV is the more important document, and chances are that if you let your creative juices flow you’ll either be story-telling (“My current school is a PYP school with 340 students and I am responsible for….” – YAWN!) or repeating the contents of your CV (“Since 2008 I have been the Coordinator of after-school activities during which time I have…”).

DO vary the language. Whilst it may no longer be evidence that you have neat handwriting, the cover letter still achieves the purpose of demonstrating that you have an active and functioning brain and that you can string a coherent argument together. A stream of sentences beginning ‘I/me/my etc’ will quickly turn off the reader. Make your language as dynamic as your lessons.

DO compile a separate cover letter for each application. Yes it’s time-consuming. Yes it’s tedious. But unless you address the specific needs of the position and of the school (every school is different) then you are not giving yourself the best chance. Imagine you are answering the exam question: “Complete this sentence in less than 1 page – You should interview me for this position because…”

DON’T talk about why the job would be great for you or how much better your life will be because your commute will be halved if they give you the role. Focus instead on the selection criteria, how well you meet them, where in your CV they can find evidence of you having demonstrated your achievement of them etc.

DON’T make broad sweeping statements about your beliefs on pedagogy. They will flesh that out at interview if you convince them that your skills, knowledge and experience are appropriate for the role. Keep the content specific and relevant to the precise position.

DO keep your sentences brief and punchy. Remember that a Principal may be reviewing 30 or more applications. So you have about 30 seconds TOPS to make an impression with either document.

DO use their language but don’t copy verbatim. Lifting whole sentences from their website about the school values and staff opportunities will do you no favours. On the other hand, using phrases and words from the position description in your own context will make the reader feel more comfortable that you speak their language.

DO remember that the sole purpose of the cover letter is to keep you in the ‘possibles’ pile. The CV will get you an interview provided that you present a coherent and engaging argument in your cover letter. However, if your letter is full of typos (I once received a letter addressed to a ‘Grammer School’!) and long, rambling sentences, then a good CV can go to waste.

Finally, don’t take rejection to heart. Rather like a sporting competition, as long as you’ve put in your best performance you can’t be held responsible for that of your competitors. Just keep refining your documents, seek feedback where possible and be realistic about the jobs you are applying for.

A sample cover letter template is provided below for your use. Good luck!

Cover letter template

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10 Responses to Dear Principal, please read this cover letter

  1. samantha says:

    Just one question.
    I recently replied to a job, that had 13 selection criteria!
    To address these the cover letter had to be over that magic one page. (and I did end up addressing them all because I felt 2 pages was long enough!)
    should I have addressed them like a Victorian State School Application, separate to the cover?

    • Editor says:

      Hi Samantha, thanks for your great question. 13 selection criteria! That’s a bit over the top!

      I am sure that you took the right approach in extending your cover letter to two pages. However, the approach we would recommend would depend on the seniority of the position you were applying for and the detail required in addressing the selection criteria. As you are aware, government schools recommend one page per selection criteria – exactly why the application process is so time-consuming and laborious! I don’t think the school would like to receive 13 pages of selection criteria response, but I would imagine that less than a paragraph for each would be insufficient to provide adequate detail on how you can demonstrate the criteria.

      Therefore, in future we would recommend that you respond to selection criteria in a separate document – or at least as a separate part of the same document – and refer to them in your cover letter. Something like: ‘Please refer to the separate document for my responses to your selection criteria for this position.’

      You should probably avoid the urge to tell them that it would be quicker to meet you in person than read through 13 pages of responses…..!

      Good luck with your application Samantha. Let us know if you managed to secure an interview with this school!

  2. Esther says:

    Having read this article, I’m beginning to wonder if my cover letter is too detailed as I’ve included my educational philosophy and teaching style, which are what the position description usually requires. I have applied for many schools, possibly over ten, and only received disappointing results. Have I done anything wrong in my cover letter? Thanks.

    • Editor says:

      Hi Esther, thanks for your comment.
      In general, we would recommend including your philosophy in your CV rather than your cover letter.
      If the advertisement requires you to address specific selection criteria you should do this in a separate document rather than combine aspects of the CV, cover letter and selection criteria responses in one or two documents.
      However, every school and every position (and every applicant!) is different, so it’s really hard to generalise. The basic points are these:
      Keep your cover letter succinct – 1 page maximum
      Use your CV to highlight your experience and achievements as they pertain to the role you are applying for
      Try to stay positive! I’m sure the right role is waiting just around the corner!

  3. Wendy Makara says:

    I’m applying for an admin role and they want you to address the selection criteria in the context of the role.
    I have 10 years experience of the skills they are after yet not in a school environment.
    How should I approach this?
    Thanks for your help.

    • Editor says:

      Hi Wendy, thanks for your question. I suggest you highlight your transferable skills in your CV. Be specific about your competencies e.g. knowledge of software packages, phone systems etc. When you address the selection criteria, make sure you provide at least one specific example per criterion so that the employer can ascertain whether you would be able to perform that task in a school environment; some other workplaces are in fact very similar and many schools consider it advantageous to have non-school experience, depending on the nature of the role you are applying for of course. Make sure you plan your responses before beginning to type them out and try to provide as much breadth and variety as possible so they can see how experienced and capable you are. Good luck with your application. I’m sure you’ll enjoy working in a school environment – they’re (generally!) very pleasant, engaging and vibrant workplaces.

  4. Mel says:

    Hi there, Hoping you can help. When you apply for jobs through recruitment online. Do you JUST submit responses to the Selection Criteria? Or do you include a cover letter and CV? Im a graduate and get abit confused.
    Thank you! :)

    • Editor says:

      Hi there, thanks for your question. The wording is certainly ambiguous! The site states “It is strongly recommended that you attach a document that addresses the key selection criteria. You may also include other relevant information to this job application, such as referees and professional learning undertaken. Employees approved for compassionate transfer may also attach the Compassionate Transfer Approval as a separate attachment type. NB There is a limit of 300kb for each of these documents.”
      However, when applying for teaching jobs through recruitment online, you must include your cover letter, CV and selection criteria responses together. We suggest that you combine all three into a single document (in the order listed above) and save as a pdf before submitting. That way, you can be sure that the employer will have all the information together, in the format you intended, regardless of operating system or software.
      The major problem is the small size of the documents you are allowed to upload so you may have to play around with file size settings before submitting.
      Personally, we would of course prefer all teaching jobs in Australia, but particularly Melbourne teaching jobs to be listed on SchoolJobs because there’s no limit to file size or type, and it’s much easier to find relevant teaching positions. In the meantime, good luck with your application and feel free to get in touch again if you have any further questions!

  5. Joan Sparling says:

    Is this too formal and yawny? I am applying to schools following the PYP program – hence the longer bit on that.
    Dear Mr Head of School,

    Your posting of the elementary teaching position at your school sparked my interest. Please accept this letter and my attached résumé as my application for the position. Permit me to briefly explain how I can benefit your school.

    Teaching children is my passion. I believe my job is to inspire and awaken possibility in my students. With over 30 years teaching experience at the elementary level, including two years at an international PYP school, and a Master of Education degree, I believe my qualifications will match your requirements. I have had the opportunity to teach in a variety of educational settings, making it easy to adapt to new situations, curriculum and school philosophies. I began my career teaching in a remote, fly-in aboriginal community in northern Canada where I taught First Nations children at an English as a Second Language federal school. With the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board I have taught both in rural and urban settings. From 2005-2007 I took my children overseas to teach at an IB international school in Aleppo, Syria, where we followed the Primary Years Programme. I embraced the PYP inquiry-based learning philosophy of preparing students to be active participants in a lifelong journey of learning.

    Mr. Head of School, please accept this letter as an expression of my genuine interest in continuing my teaching career at your school. Along with my skills and experience, I will bring a creative, positive energy to the school that will bring out the best in our students.

    If you are interested in a dedicated teaching professional with the required credentials, PYP experience, patience and positive attitude, please contact me. Thank you for taking the time to review my résumé, and I look forward to a favourable reply.


    • Editor says:

      Hi Joan, thanks for your question.

      Your letter has the right structure, but in my opinion, the main paragraph is a bit chronological – a bit on the ‘story-telling’ side, rather than an argument of the benefits the school will reap by employing you.

      I find an effective strategy is the ‘So what?’ test: For every sentence you write, ask yourself ‘So what?’ If it’s not directly addressing a benefit to the school or a reason for employing you over another candidate then that sentence is not working hard enough for you and should be re-written.

      For example, where you say ‘I began my career teaching in a remote…etc’. So what? How does that make you a better teacher or well suited to the prospective employer’s environment? Perhaps better would be: ‘My previous teaching experience in remote indigenous communities has provided me with the skills to engage EAL learners and provide support to students with additional learning needs’.

      Can you see how the benefit and/or key differentiator is more explicit? You are doing the heavy lifting on behalf of the reader.

      I hope this helps and wish you every success in your job search.

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