Top 10 tips:

Get that job and advance your career

Steve Whittington, IEU Victoria Tasmania Officer has a wealth of experience in running workshops and webinar presentations on writing a CV, job applications and honing interview skills for jobs in the education sector. Whittington gives his 10 top tips here.

Preparing to land your next role is more like completing a Rubik’s Cube than an orienteering course. In the latter, you can choose your own direction, checkpoint order and pace to suit your strategy. With the former, you have to complete some strictly defined moves in the right order according to your cube’s pattern at that point.

Make a wrong move and it throws your whole game into disarray.

1. Direction

So, your cube is in disarray and you want to know your starting move. Well, firstly, you need to know what direction to head off in. As with the start of any journey or process, you have to know where you want to go before you make a move. In the education sector, it is highly likely that you have a strong sense of purpose, which will certainly aid you in defining this step. Simon Sinek has a great TED talk called How great leaders inspire action where he proposes that world renowned organisations and highly successful individuals start by asking ‘why’ they do what they do rather than ‘what’ they do or ‘how’ they do it.

In a teaching context this might equate to inspiring the next generation of scientists or helping early primary students build the resilience they’ll need throughout their school journey. This contrasts markedly with the ‘what’ (“I’m an English Teacher, mainly for Years 8 to 10”) or the ‘how’ (“I make sure I sit them in name order and do a spelling test every Monday morning…”)!

2. Gap analysis

After defining your purpose, you need to do a bit of a gap analysis. This involves some pretty brutal introspection about your strengths and weaknesses, what you enjoy and what you try to put off. Try to consider your values, skills and attributes as a portfolio of properties that makes you a valuable employee. The more you refine your key strengths, the more likely you are to appeal to the right employer. You want to sell yourself as the ‘missing jigsaw piece’ rather than the round peg to go in any round hole. It will make your entire application come to life, give it shape and a sense of rarity as opposed to just another teacher application for just another teacher vacancy. Sell them the role you want to fill rather than try to mould yourself into the shape they think they want. It changes your application strategy somewhat (see Tip 5) but it will pay dividends.

3. Take stock

Let’s take stock. You have a sense of passion and purpose and have learnt how to articulate to others what you excel at, whilst having sufficient self knowledge to avoid tasks that you don’t like and don’t want to do. That’s starting to sound a bit like a brand. The next step therefore is to treat the portfolio we discussed in Tip 2 like a mini-business that needs to perform a branding exercise. Therefore, just like Coca-Cola, Qantas, Apple, Toyota, Kylie Minogue you need to define:

  • your brand values (what you believe in)
  • your brand attributes (how you perform)
  • your brand promise (what your employer can expect of you)
  • your target demographic (who will benefit most from your skills)
  • your price point (graduate or highly accomplished?)

You can start to see that there’s a lot more to this process than merely banging out a stock-standard CV and cover letter and SPAM mailing it to as many potential employers as possible. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but once you embark on this journey (more of an adventure really!), it’s a process that will stay with you for your entire career, rather than just for the next job. As with the top brands in the world – think Nike – it is best to keep your CV simple, easy to understand and describe and most importantly, inspire a sense of purpose and passion. Just do it!

4. Key documents

Your Rubik’s Cube is nearing completion and we’re in the critical phase. It’s now time to ensure your key documents are up to scratch. We need to put our brand down on paper so we can start to let people know how good our product is. There are myriad CV templates online, and that’s fine if you just want to blend in. Your best bet is to choose a layout that suits what you want to say, and structure the content in the same way a magazine editor puts together a Christmas special edition. How can you ensure your publication gets into the most hands possible? What are your headline stories? What are your key skills and attributes? If you are changing careers, what transferable skills are you bringing from your previous roles? CV, cover letter and key selection criteria advice is too extensive to cover in detail here. It is probably best to seek out workshops from your IEU branch or other PD providers.

Preparing to land your next role is more like completing a Rubik’s Cube than an orienteering course.

5. Promote

Like an amazing website that never gets any traffic, it’s no good having an awesome brand that nobody knows about. Therefore, Tip 5 is to get out and promote it! Grow your ‘fan base’ through:

  • networking
  • online (LinkedIn really is the best platform)
  • authoring papers and journal articles
  • presenting at your subject association conference
  • union activities.

It sounds scary at first, and for most teachers, self-promotion is an uncomfortable prospect. However, if you remind yourself that you have something rare and special to offer – no matter what that may be – then it would be rude not to share it around a bit, right? The more people who witness first-hand your knowledge and passion for your next role, the more ‘brand ambassadors’ you will have.

6. Who you know

Following on from Tip 5, it pays to remember that perhaps more than ever, it’s not what you know but who you know. Some recruitment agencies claim that between 40% and 60% of jobs are not advertised. We know that teaching roles in government schools must be advertised, but even that doesn’t guarantee that leadership doesn’t have an existing ‘preferred candidate’ in mind.

Before you start networking, and consistent with the strategic imperative of this entire journey, divide your contacts into 3 columns: A, B and C Grade according to your relationship with them and their potential to help you on your way.

For example, your A Grade contacts are those whose mobile or email you have and can comfortably call up and ask to chat about your job strategy. The downside is that they probably won’t be able to advance your thinking much. Conversely, your C Grade list are possibly 2nd degree connections – a colleague of a friend or colleague of yours – and may take some convincing to give up their time. However, if your story is compelling enough, this list contains the people with the most influence, and high-level contacts, to give you the breakthrough you are looking for.

7. Be strategic

As you will have gathered now, and to go back to the Rubik’s Cube analogy, you must be strategic! It doesn’t matter what your strategy is, as long as it’s consistent with your objective (Tip 1). There are two fundamental job seeking strategies: Dartboard and Rocks. Let me explain.

Dartboard: Divide the schools you would consider working at in segments according to attributes such as proximity to your house, promotion prospects, pay levels, values, academic results etc. Then target your applications only to the ones that match your skill set. If your academic qualifications are above average, target a high performing school. If you are sporty, apply to schools with a compulsory co-curricular program. If you are religious, make sure your target schools share your values.

Rocks: You just need a job. Any job will do. Preferably closer to home, but if you have to travel so be it. In this case, applying for jobs is like turning over rocks, one at a time. Under one of the rocks is a cheque for $65,000, but you don’t know which one. It might be under the very first one, or it might take you a few weeks to turn over another 147 rocks until you hit pay dirt. Your consolation? For every empty rock you turn over, you are one rock closer to the golden ticket.

8. Know where to look

Whether dartboard or rocks (and it doesn’t matter which, there’s no judgement here), you need to know where to look. Online is obviously the go, with SEEK the single largest job website in Australia (approximately 72% of all jobs). There are a few other school-specific websites such as Smart Teachers,, and also a few teacher agencies such as Tradewind, SANZA and ANZUK, most of which focus on fixed term replacement positions. All Catholic and independent schools have both a sector wide website as well as an employment page on their own website. Print media is still valid in regional centres as well as the capital cities, with the most prestigious leadership roles appearing in the national press. Finally, recruitment agencies are alive and well in this space, so do a bit of research and find out if your local (target) schools use an agency or perhaps add this to your discussion points in your networking.

9. Interview time

Great! So, you’ve been invited to interview! Now all bets are off and it’s back to zero, albeit with only two or three other candidates running against you for that coveted position. The one single piece of advice that I have provided to people over the many years helping them with career advancement is to watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are. I have used her suggestions to good effect for over ten years, and people have reported back to me the difference they have made in a variety of stressful situations, not just job interviews. Enough said.

10. Congratulations!

Boom! You get a phone call, “We’d like to offer you the position”. Congratulations! All your hard work has paid off. This single next step could be the difference between struggling to pay rent and eating smashed avocado at Sunday brunch. You reply enthusiastically, saying you are delighted but stopping short of verbally accepting the offer. Ask for a written offer of employment and say you’ll have a read and get back to them. You are now in the box seat and the power has shifted in your favour. Once you receive the document, have your local IEU branch check it over. Do your homework on the salary. Does it stack up? Should you receive a premium for the Masters degree you worked hard for? Is it an ongoing position? Is the classification correct? Have they taken into account the additional co-curricular work you’ve agreed to take on? Better still, you have two or more offers! In this case, make sure you’re comparing like with like. Just because one position offers more money it doesn’t make it the better offer. How many hours will you be teaching? Will you have a home group? How many weeks’ holiday do they have? Knowledge is power and life is too short to make a wrong move at this point in the game. It’s better to take a little more time to make an informed decision than to rush in and take the first job on offer.

Hopefully these tips help you on your life journey. If you’ve found it useful please let me know. Connect with me on LinkedIn and share some of your challenges and/or successes along the way. Most of all, stay true to your brand and good luck!