Resumes and Cover Letters: Getting a School’s Attention

By Lauren Muscarella — July 19, 2007 4 min read

Resumes and cover letters may seem like mere formalities, but in fact they’re often your best chance to make a good impression on a school. Many busy school recruiters place great value on the information they provide as a way to screen candidates.

Here are some suggestions for making your resume and cover letter stand out in the education market.

What’s Hot

On your resume, it’s important to do more than just list your previous positions. Job seekers should detail specific experiences that hit on the newest “hot issues” in teaching, according to Dawn Schneffner Jones, the online education and health advisor for Northern Illinois University’s career services and the president of the American Association for Employment in Education’s board of directors.

Some current hot issues to highlight, according to Jones, are accommodating diversity in lesson plans, familiarity with up-to-date teaching methods, and ability to maintain classroom control.

Prior Career Advantage

If you had a prior career in another field and are switching to teaching, label it as “Additional Experience,” or some other similar heading that directs an employer to that section on your resume, according to Jones.

Schools will want to consider your nonteaching experience separately. However, they will not automatically discount nonteaching experience--it may even be an advantage in some cases. “One administrator once told me that a person who had a prior career had ‘the content of learning in the context of life,’” says Jones.

“We would consider hiring someone with work experience as opposed to years of teaching experience if the career was pertinent,” adds Brother Robert J. Wickman, an administrator at Justin-Siena High School, a Catholic preparatory school in Napa, Calif.

The high school is currently seeking a math teacher to teach everything from algebra to calculus. “I have considered people switching into teaching from other careers like engineering before,” Wickman says. “But there is a big difference between working on an engineering project with adults and controlling a classroom full of teenagers. As long as an applicant understands that, they would definitely be in the running.”

Job Experience with Children

Any work with children while in college is helpful when finding a teaching job and can look good on an education resume, Jones said. Showing a real dedication to working with children by having a job as a camp counselor, a daycare assistant, or even a nanny increases your chances of landing a job. By the same token, it’s not always advisable to list jobs that are not child friendly, like bartending.

Wickman agreed that working with kids is necessary when new teachers are looking for their first job out of school. “Some new teachers are not that far away in age from our students,” said Wickman. “I would like to see that they have had some interaction with teenagers be it camps, tutoring, or coaching a local sports team.”

Presentation Counts

Other things to remember in presenting your information:

• Be precise with thorough examples as opposed to generic lists.

• Prominently place your licensure and credential information.

• Make your objectives clear and to the point without adding your whole philosophy on education. Objectives are simply a way for schools to categorize what level and what subject you want to teach. A philosophy of teaching is better suited to a cover letter, a portfolio, or a job interview.

• Unlike in business, education resumes can be more than one page, but it is best to avoid a second page. However, many new teachers have lengthy sections describing practical experience.

• Avoid repetition and stay away from things that everyone has done like grading papers. Instead use your resume as an opportunity to emphasize accomplishments that make you standout.

Cover Letters: Sell Yourself

When it comes to cover letters, it’s important to show that you are familiar with the school you are applying to, so doing some research is advisable. “Mention specific things about that school and why you want to teach there,” says Jones.

The cover letter is also the place to give a more nuanced description of yourself and what you can add to a school. “A cover letter is really all we have for getting to know a student, because we do not require portfolios right now,” Wickman says. “We look for a concise, yet complete, philosophy of teaching and a statement of education.”

According to Jones, the format of your cover letter should start with how you found the position and why you are interested in it. Next, include your reason for applying to that particular school by emphasizing your dedication to the community. Use the second paragraph to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job. End the letter with a closing statement about what you have included such as a resume and a portfolio. Also, remember to thank the employer with a proactive statement like, “I look forward to your response and the opportunity to meet you in person.”

“This is your chance to really sell yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you,” says Jones.

See a sample cover letter.

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