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!