Why enthusiasm is key when looking for your first teaching job

A bit of passion is going to be needed to get a job in teaching this year. The job market is complex, with regional and subject variations but overall it is looking pretty grim for the 38,000 new teachers. Professor John Howson, of Education Data Surveys, says: "The job market is poor for most, except perhaps for teachers of early years in London."

Headteachers are saying budgets are tight and the future uncertain, with the economic difficulties and the forthcoming election, so getting a job is more competitive. Graham Holley, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, says there is nothing wrong with that. "It ensures that schools – and pupils – get the best teachers," he adds. And, of course, new teachers are cheap.

So, what are schools looking for? They don't expect entrants to be excellent teachers already but to have potential and enthusiasm. Susan Tranter, head of Fitzharrys School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, says: "Those teachers who can show a passion for teaching, understand how young people learn, are committed to working as part of a team and are positive role models will do well." Schools are keen on teachers with extras – skills or interests that they are keen to share.

But what are new teachers looking for? Finding a school in which to develop is vital, so visits are valuable. Working in a school in a tough area can mean fantastic professional development – and a chance to make a difference. There will be help from teachers with advanced skills, and early access to the new Masters in teaching and learning with its guaranteed in-school support for the first three years. Resources are important, too. Carl Ward has found that his cutting-edge ICT facilities at Sutherland College in Telford, Shropshire, are a big draw for new staff.

Start looking for jobs as soon as possible. Many posts are not advertised because headteachers recruit people they know from teaching practices or whom they hear about. The school grapevine is an efficient way of matching staff to vacancies, so make good impressions wherever you go.

Jobs are advertised all year round but the majority will not be published until April and May. Local authority pools advertise about now. This mean completing just one application form to give access to a whole council's schools and it speeds up the process. They will give job offers in about March.

Pools vary in how they work. Some add details to a database so schools can select candidates for interview, but others put applicants through a rigorous interviews. Dave Coram, the recruitment co-ordinator at Lambeth Council, says it receives 250 to 300 primary applicants, interviews 150 of them and accepts about 75.

Most applications have to be submitted within two weeks of being advertised. Interviews are held a week later, so there's no time to waste. Few schools want CVs. A standard application form is sufficient. Coram advises people to follow instructions rigorously.

The personal statement is the toughest part of the form. It should be tailored for each job. Avoid empty assertions but use real-life examples such as: "During my school experience I cut up oranges to make the lessons on fractions interesting and relevant."

Beware looking at other people's personal statements. It is too tempting to borrow phrases and risks accusations of plagiarism. Teaching a lesson is a common part of the selection process. Susan Tranter says: "The best candidates are well organised, match the activities to learning outcomes and manage the learning well."

It doesn't have to be the best lesson ever taught, but applicants will be expected to reflect intelligently on it. As well as an interview with the head and governors, student panels are popular. Their questions can really cut to the chase, with such humdingers as: "People think that kids from round here are rubbish. Do you agree?" Well, what do you think? Prove your passion!

The writer is the author of The Insider's Guide for New Teachers (Routledge)

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