An ESL teacher in Italy


David's diary

Where's the cover note?

I was sitting at my study desk yesterday when my colleague asked himself in an exasperated voice "Where's the bloody cover note then?" It's actually a very frequently heard question, but on this occasion it got me thinking. Why do so many teachers put their brains into neutral before applying for a teaching job?

I was recently tasked with finding a new teacher for a school I work with. The school management don't speak English particularly well and they wanted help selecting and interviewing candidates. They pointed me at around 50 postal applications and roughly 130 online applications. I figured that meant a lot of reading.

In my life prior to being drawn into teaching I was regularly involved with recruitment. I guess I must have seen something like ten or fifteen thousand job applications over the years (not many if you consider that one job drew 1300 applications). I always read the cover letters. If the cover letter didn't hit the spot, the application was binned. I don't recall getting many applications without cover letters and although I'm pretty sure I had a quick look at the CVs, I'm also pretty sure I binned them all.

So, going back to the teaching vacancy, and given that teachers are classed as professionals and should by default be intelligent, I was amazed to discover that roughly half of the job applications I opened didn't contain a cover note. Just as bad, twenty percent of those who had included a cover note really shouldn't have bothered. Two or three lines in pidgin English isn't going to open the interview door. Not if I have the key, at any rate. There were also a half-dozen applicants who couldn't get the contact name right and two people whose cut and pasted letter was let down by forgetting to change the school name. All in all, something like two thirds of the applications effectively disqualified their writers from getting an interview.

What is a cover letter?

The idea of a cover letter is to sell yourself, to give the person reading it a reason to look at your CV. It's the only part of your written application that allows you to express something personal, to sound human and interesting. It's your personal sales rep.

Your cover letter needs to tell the reader that (a) you know what job you're applying for (b) you took a little time to see who the employer is (c) that you're a suitable candidate and (4) why you want to work for this new employer, or at least why you want the job. I read a cover letter recently in which 'Stevie' said that he was tired of working for his current employer because they expected him to do far too much admin, and that the school he was applying to join was much closer to his home thanks to the metro. Hell, did he really think someone would give him a job on that basis?

Don't make the mistake of regurgitating the contents of your CV in a cover letter. A CV is just an impersonal list of achievements and your cover letter should say why those achievements make you a superb candidate. Use it to join the dots, but don't go overboard. A good cover letter shouldn't be longer than a page.

Read the employer's stated requirements and the job description carefully. Highlight the skills or qualities you possess which make you the ideal candidate, and why. You're answering the question "Why should I give you this job?" and the correct answer is that you have all the skills and qualities asked for, and can do the job specified. Importantly, finish the letter confidently, not with a whimper. You expect to be asked to attend an interview because you are ideal for the job, right? So make it sound like it. Don't sound like you're asking a favour.

I have one last piece of advice. Read your cover letter before you send it. If you are trying to save time by using a standard letter, edited to suit each job, delete it. Make it personal or don't bother. Next, check the grammar and check the spelling. You have no idea how many of those teachers who spend their days bitching online about employers who don't reply to job applications either didn't bother with a cover letter, or had decided to recycle the same error-strewn letter that had already been binned by dozens of employers. If you can't be bothered to make a serious effort when you're applying for a job, don't expect the school to waste their time thanking you for your half-baked efforts.

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Teaching ESL - David's Diary

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An ESL Teacher's Diary

Although David is not my real name and the photo I'm using in my diary isn't of me, I exist. I've been teaching in Italy now since early 2007 but now I only work privately. I spend a lot of time helping other teachers settle into the area and helping them find work. If you're interested in contacting me, send an email marked 'FAO David's Diary' via the website's contact page.

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