Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Position Desired

No one questions the impact of the imbalanced ratio of supply and demand in the education market for prospective teachers. The lingering recession and the constant, albeit somewhat smaller, flow of freshly minted graduates armed with teaching certificates have created a glut of applications for all but a few instructional positions.

What do you say to an aspiring teacher saddled with college loans and damaged dreams when they are faced with incredible odds competing for a lone vacancy? Three years ago I received 1,400 applications in response to an advertisement seeking an elementary teacher.

Well, I recently was asked to speak at a college in the area to address seniors in the education department as they began the process of creating application materials and portfolios in hope of winning the job lottery. I focused on three items.

1. What do you want to do? I pointed out that most resume templates have an element stating - Position Desired: I then asked all of them to explain what position they desired. Predictably, they responded in the manner I expected. that is, they said, "Elementary Teacher" or, more specifically "5th Grade Teacher," or "Middle School Math Teacher." I asked them to imagine a stack of 1,400 applications (cover letters, resumes,...). Then I shared with them that perhaps 99.9% of the applicants identified their desired position just like they had - in a very limited perspective. If they wanted to distinguish themselves and grab attention of the reviewer, and also demonstrate that they understood the expansive responsibilities of a teacher, I suggested they describe the position desired in terms that reflect what a teacher can do. Namely, the position desired is: "An opportunity to make a positive and constructive difference in the lives of others." Now that means so much more than - Elementary Teacher.

2. Cover Letters often determine whether your resume is even given the light of day. Picture the resume as the "what" of a person, an objective compilation of various facts. It details college attended, certification, degree, GPA,...These are items that offer a fairly narrow range and don't generally differentiate much among applicants. I mean, they are all certified, the rank or status of the colleges may not be too dissimilar, the GPA's usually spread from 3.2 - 4.0 (and besides, what research supports a high correlation between GPA and success in teaching anyway). So, if the resume is the "what" and you want to stand out among competitors then you need to concentrate on the "who."

This is where the cover letter enters the equation. Most cover letters are unfortunately a narrative of the resume. Instead of the confines of a template, words are added and placed in a story form, merely regurgitating what is already contained in the resume. Instead, I asked these seniors to imagine they were in a book store and were looking for something to read on the beach during vacation, without a particular author in mind or any specific book title. I asked them how they'd find the book they were looking for. They answered by saying they'd look at the blurb on the back or scan the tease inside the book jacket, and maybe read the first page of the book. That's right, they wouldn't read the entire first chapter to see if they liked the book because they couldn't invest that much time with each book or they wouldn't have time to enjoy their vacation. This is the same reason that people involved in the search and selection process don't read every resume.

The cover letter is the "who" of the candidate. It's a chance for the applicant to tell about themselves, unfettered by the restrictions of a resume template. Explain who you are, what you believe in, how you can add value to the district and contribute toward the pursuit of their mission. What is it that makes you special? What can you offer the system beyond work in the classroom? What experiences have you had outside of education that can provide the school with added benefit?

3. In a segue from the last point above - many candidates overlook an opportunity to enhance and broaden their appeal by assuming that they should only list experiences on their resume that they've had in education or a related field, like working at summer camps teaching Sunday school. However, there are many different jobs in which people are trained in skills that are transferable to the classroom. For instance, one candidate was able to describe how her training as a cashier enabled her to acquire conflict resolution skills (think of how that could assist a teacher during a heated parent-teacher conference, or resolving a dispute in the classroom).

The fact is, the job market is crowded and competitive, but a candidate can lower the odds that confront them by understanding what the real core of teaching is (listing their desired position on the resume as - making a positive and constructive difference in the lives of others), explaining who they are and why they are the best candidate (effective use of the cover letter) and expanding their possibilities by showing how their out of education experiences have broadened their skill set (transferable job skills).

Good luck candidates!

No comments:

Post a Comment