resume, cover letter, personal statement, head of school, search, independent school, searches, apply, schools

Paperwork Matters

Having now served as a search consultant for over seven years, I have read hundreds of resumes, cover letters and personal statements written by candidates looking for leadership positions within independent schools. Candidates need to understand that the paperwork is an extremely important part of any search process. You are writing primarily to a group of people who are not educators, but who are passionate supporters of their school looking to find the best person. This is true whether it’s a Head of School or any senior leadership position. Heads of School, while more versed in reading educational resumes and cover letters, need to feel as though they are reading about someone who is truly passionate about where they want to go and what they wish to do.

Your writing can tell a lot about who you are not just as a person, but how you are in the workplace, your vast accomplishments in the jobs you have done in your interest area, and moving forward in other opportunities to advance your career. The goal of your paperwork package is the start of a successful journey to move you onto the next level to get an interview.

There are three major pieces of a typical independent school search paperwork:

1. Resume
The résumé is your what have you done and how have you done it. Simple advice says keep the form simple. Here are a few tips I have gleaned from hundreds of resumes and multiple meetings with search committees.

Do not replicate the job description when you’re describing what you have done regarding a specific job. Think about putting a skill section at the top that replaces the old form of creating your goal or job search objective. The skill section should be loaded with keywords that describe your strengths as a candidate and some specific experiences if you think this is a good place to do it.

Resume bullets must focus on positive results and accomplishments. Again, don’t replicate the job description when saying what you’ve done. Stay consistent with a very readable format. Create strong action-oriented statements about your work and use an active voice with lots of action.  

Including white space makes it easier to read.

Please do not overstate your abilities or accomplishments. You want your résumé to tell your story of your work experience and skill sets accurately. 

2. Cover Letter
Several candidates ask me what the most important piece of paperwork is when applying for an independent school leadership position. The cover letter is without a doubt the most important piece in a candidate’s packet. The cover letter is your Why! 

Start with a very strong lead, introduce yourself as a good match and express why you were interested in their school. The most common mistake I see candidates make in their cover letter is writing almost exclusively about themselves and what they’ve accomplished. We can read that your résumé. The cover letter should be focused on why you are interested in their specific school and how your skill sets and experience match well with what the school is looking for. 

Provide direct evidence of your skills and align to those in the written job description or position statement for the job. I am often shocked at how few candidates do this. Read the statement carefully and get a sense of what they are looking for in qualifications, work experience, and perhaps even cultural fit for a specific school.

Provide a solid close and again, recapture why you are interested in their specific school. 

One last piece of advice; this happens more than people would think, but please do not put the wrong name of the school in your cover letter. Several candidates apply for multiple jobs. One must customize their letter to the specific school you are applying to.

3. Personal Statement

The personal statement is an opportunity to describe: Who are you? Tell your story. Gone are the days when most schools want to read your educational philosophy. Most of those were very common, and incredibly consistent in terms of the material they were providing search committees or Heads of school. Your personal statement is an opportunity to talk about yourself. Why did you go into education? Why do you enjoy working with students, parents, faculty, staff and every constituent group that makes up the school? Why do you love schools? What is your passion? Don’t be afraid to let people know who you are.

Paperwork is the opportunity to tell your story, and to do it succinctly, accurately and with passion. Once you have collected all your paperwork, don’t be afraid to have someone close to you read it and see if it tells your story. Read it yourself a few times. Do you want to meet this person? Your goal, as stated earlier, is to use your paperwork to generate an interview that’s moving to the next step in the process.