Little Things Make a Big Difference: Positively standing out during the teaching job search

stand-out-in-the-crowdBy Joel O’Brien — As another academic year and student teaching comes to a close for graduating seniors, I cannot help revisiting my graduation six years ago.

For many, this period of transition is filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and excitement.  It was no different for me as I wrapped-up an undergraduate career filled with learning, relationship-building, and professional growth.  While graduation brought closure to my undergraduate experience, it also meant directing my full attention to the teaching job search, which had been in motion since February.

Throughout this blog, I will discuss three strategies for standing out during the job search process and earning interviews.

1)      Utilize Effective Language, Never Assume that Administrators Know Your Experiences

When reviewing teaching resumes, it is common to see words such as “worked, helped, and assisted.”  While these words do not seem harmful at first glance, they can be quite detrimental to candidates’ chances of being selected for an interview.  They do not allow administrators to see the skills developed and implemented by the educator in the classroom. Instead, consider utilizing strong action verbs such as led, managed, created, and collaborated, which provide specificity to skills demonstrated during an experience.

Similarly, remember that every other candidate applying for a teaching position has student taught. Do not assume simply including student teaching will make you standout. Consider incorporating items such as teaching strategies implemented, technology used, parental contact and involvement, and student assessment into your bullet points. Providing brief, but specific examples within your resume and cover letter is essential to developing the credibility necessary to earn an interview.

2)      Maintain Relationships with Mentors and Administrators
In his April 13th Marquette Educator blog, Matt Olinski offers very sound advice about networking with administrators and collecting letters of recommendation. While it is crucial to establish relationships and obtain references from individuals that can speak positively and specifically to your skill sets and experiences, it is equally important to maintain these relationships both during and after the job search.

This could mean sending a monthly email or grabbing a cup of coffee to touch base and update your references and other contacts within your network. With this being said, never assume that networking will directly result in a job being handed to you, but it can significantly increase your chances of being selected for an interview, which is essential in a competitive job market.  Put yourself in the position of an administrator, would you be more likely to interview a candidate that you know only on paper or someone who you personally know their background and strong skill sets?

For individuals searching for teaching positions during the summer (like I did), it is crucial to make sure that you have the best contact information for each reference once the school year ends. For many references, home (cell) phone and address may be preferred over school contact information, make sure to ask their preference. It is difficult for someone to speak positively on your behalf if administrators are unable to reach them.  Most importantly, remember to thank references for their time and efforts, as they are not obligated to speak on your behalf, but voluntarily do so on their own time.

3)      Get Involved: Volunteering, Coaching, and Substitute Teaching
Despite being later in the semester, one of the best ways to positively stand out is through becoming involved within districts of interest. For those currently student teaching, the best opportunities may exist within your current school district. There are few things that an administrator values more than a candidate’s willingness to demonstrate initiative. It is irrelevant whether the opportunity is paid or unpaid. Rather focus on skills developed and demonstrated when describing experiences to administrators. Great opportunities exist through literacy and after school programs, music/art departments, athletics, etc.

For past graduates, substitute teaching is a great way to develop additional experience and versatility through teaching a variety of grade levels and subjects. Furthermore, substitute teaching can also be a great audition for anticipated full-time teaching openings. Occasionally, individuals gain long-term substitute teaching experience, which can occur for a variety of reasons (e.g., illness, maternity leave, etc.). These experiences allow teachers to instruct the same classes for extended periods of time and are great opportunities for building relationships with faculty and administrators while also gaining credibility within a building. In addition to versatility, these experiences show commitment to the school district and its mission.

Hopefully you find this information to be beneficial. If you have additional questions or are seeking career counseling, Marquette University students and alumni can schedule a career counseling appointment with the Marquette University Career Services Center (MUCSC) by calling (414) 288-7423.

Online resources for education majors are also available on the MUCSC Webpage.
joelobrien_BlogPrior to pursuing his Master’s of Science degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education, Joel O’Brien taught American history and government while also coaching basketball and golf at a Catholic high school in Iowa. As a graduate student, he completed multiple practicum experiences in career services and academic advising while serving as a graduate assistant within academic support.  Upon finishing graduate school, Joel joined the Marquette University Career Services Center Staff. As a career counselor, he enjoys empowering students with the self-knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to take ownership of their career exploration and job search process, and find meaningful employment.

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