Landing a Teaching Job: Résumé Tips from the Principal’s Office

By Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D., coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide

Landing a Teaching Job: Résumé Tips from the Principal’s OfficeAs a high school principal, I get résumés 12 months out of the year. Most of them come by email, so I save them in an electronic folder and wait for a vacancy. Sending hard copies doesn’t hurt and may be the way other principals search for candidates, so the best way to ensure your résumé gets to the decision maker may be to send it both ways.

When I review a résumé, my eye immediately looks for:

  • Certification. Clearly state the grade levels and subject area your license covers and the state where you hold your license. Please don’t make me search for this information because it is more important than anything else on your résumé. Some states have reciprocal agreements, and some don’t. If I need someone to start immediately and your license won’t transfer to my state, then I will move on to the next résumé. Don’t list only the certification you want to tell the principal about. If you are certified in English and special ed, your résumé is more valuable than someone with just an English or a special ed certification. You may only want to teach one or the other, but the bottom line is, if you are sending a résumé, you need a job. You may be the only square peg that fits into the vacancy’s square hole—don’t masquerade as a round peg due to preference.
  • Experience. Have you taught the grade levels that the vacancy is for—even as a student teacher? If you are certified in K–12 art but have only taught K–3, you won’t be at the top of the list compared to someone who has taught art to grades 9–12 if I am looking for a high school art teacher. However, all my candidates may be elementary teachers, so don’t count yourself out. If you want to teach high school art, make your case. Some candidates worry that too little experience will hurt them while others worry that too much experience will hurt them. Neither is accurate because you don’t know the other factors the principal is considering for this position. Are all the members of the team with the vacancy inexperienced? Are they all veterans? Don’t make assumptions about your value when you don’t know all the things that come into play when staffing a school.
  • Education. People assume principals favor certain universities. Principals do have biases and preferences, and when a candidate graduates from one of my alma maters, I do look at them more closely than others because I know how well that program prepares teachers. Any candidate can discover my alma maters by reading my bio on my school’s website (do your homework). I have selected candidates from less prestigious universities over candidates from more prestigious schools based on their interview, so don’t assume that you will never get this job. You don’t know what the principal is looking for, so how can you know she or he isn’t looking for you?
  • Know who is reading your résumé. If the principal has a doctorate, use Dr. when addressing him or her. Don’t mix up Mr. or Ms. either. Never use the person’s first name when addressing a cover letter. Go to the school website and learn a little about the school. It always makes me smile when a candidate includes something about our school’s vision and how he or she has similar beliefs. It shows me that you did your homework.
  • Cover letters. Keep ’em short and to the point. In the spirit of true confessions, sometimes I only look at the résumé and never read the cover letter. Everything I need to know should be in the résumé. However, the cover letter is the perfect place to cite what you know about the school and its vision, goals, and curriculum or something unusual about the principal. This proves you did your homework and may get you an interview even if the previous points don’t. As a principal, I’m looking for a strategic thinker.
  • Get ready for the most important point: Not everything is about you. Sometimes a candidate not getting a job has nothing to do with her or him. Many people personalize rejection and allow it to shake their confidence. You may be up against someone who can speak four languages or has advanced training that you don’t have. That’s not a knock on you. The problem is no one will ever tell you why you didn’t get a job, so it is easy to convince yourself that it’s all your fault. A principal is looking for the best fit. You may not fit vacancy A, but when vacancy B comes along two weeks later, you are the best fit. Two weeks later you are no better or worse than you were two weeks before, but a better fit got you in the door.

The résumé is a brief synopsis of who you are. The interview is really where the principal gets to know the teacher behind the email or paper. Focus your résumé on what principals are looking for so your résumé gets moved into the “interview” pile instead of the “file” pile.

Susan Stone Kessler, Ed.D.Dr. Susan Stone Kessler is an award-winning educator who has spent the past 21 years working in schools with Middle Tennessee teenagers. She has been a teacher, an assistant principal, and a high school principal in two Tennessee school districts.


The Principal's Survival GuideDr. Susan Stone Kessler is a coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide: Where Do I Start? How Do I Succeed? When Do I Sleep?

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