Q&A - Writing Cover Letters

At the end of last month, Education Personnel hosted a Facebook Live Chat on our Facebook page, in which teachers could post questions on the subject of cover letters and have their questions answered by an education recruitment professional (in this case, our director Stuart Birch). The questions that were asked were so thoughtful and relevant, we thought we'd re-post a few of them here. 

How do we make a cover letter specific to a school, a lot of the ads are requesting similar traits/ strengths?

What you need to do is find out five key things the schools are looking for and address those in the cover letter. Often it's really hard to find out those things from ads/application packs because they're so generic. The best way to find out is often just to ask, either during a visit or phone call to the principal/DP/HOD. One question to ask is 'if I was appointed to the role, what would I be doing that would make you sure you'd made the right appointment?' The idea is to get the principal to say something like 'you'd be running the PE shed' or 'you'd have raised student's achievements in numeracy'. The other question is 'tell me about the perfect candidate for your role'. These questions will help give you an idea what the school is looking for which you can specifically address in your cover letter. 

How long should a cover letter be?

Ideally your cover letter should be one page. A page and a bit is okay, two pages is definitely too long. Remember to get the important stuff in first as the first things someone read has the most impact. Your opening paragraph should be most carefully crafted so it's engaging and makes people want to read on. 

In terms of structure, it's perfectly okay to bullet point your cover letter. Find out the five key things that the school is looking for. You can address these in one bullet point each. This style might not be for you but it can make writing it a lot simpler!

 How much jargon should we include in our cover letters?

Jargon is generally okay for most cover letters because usually the people reading will be professional educators. However, do be a bit careful as there is often a member of the BOT on the appointment panel. Avoiding the use of acronyms is a good policy, don't assume people will know what they mean

I think the temptation as a professional to write cover letters using academic, formal language and write it like a Teacher's College essay. But a cover letter is not an essay. It should be the start of a conversation and it should use conversational, every day language. Imagine you are talking to the principal in person and that is the language that you should use in your cover letter. 

How can I demonstrate my skills in literacy and numeracy in my cover letter? I feel confident in these areas but I'm not sure what to put. 

 Ask yourself where this confidence comes from. What have you done, what do you know that leads to that confidence? For example, have your reading lessons in your practicum gone particularly well? Do you have evidence from your practicum reports? The answers will come from here.

You are right that these are two of the key areas schools are looking for. Make sure your passion and confidence comes across, but it will only really be effective if there's evidence. But as a beginning teacher you can still pull this evidence from your practicums as well as any coursework on literacy/numeracy in your teaching course.

During placement I taught in year 7/8 and year 1/2. I've also relieved in other year groups and don't have a preference-some positions ask you to state your preferred age/year group in your letter. What is the best way to state than any age group is fine?

Often when schools say 'state preferred age group' they have a particular gap in a class but are flexible about switching around teachers. The best thing to do is find out what age group the school has a gap in - it's a case of 'the more you know'. Then you can mention this in your cover letter.

Additionally, what you said about your practicums is a great supporting statement for this part of your cover letter. e.g. 'I am comfortable teaching any age level, I've done practicums at 0/1 and 7/8, and have relieved at other age levels (specify). This provides evidence that you can teach at any age level!

Do you have any questions or advice about writing cover letters?