13 things a principal wants in a teacher, by a principal.

October 8, 2015

0 minute read

Hello everyone. I recently asked Simon Lewis, principal of Carlow Educate Together , and author of Anseo.net and Mash.ie, for advice on what a principal looks for in an applicant when interviewing for jobs. I received some excellent advice, and Simon has been kind enough to share it on my website with you!



Since I started my job as a principal in 2008, I have had to interview for teachers every year. Valerie asked me to write ten things I look for when I’m looking for a teacher. Before you read these, keep in mind that every principal is an individual and the following are just some of the things I look for when I’m reading job applications and interviewing. Principals look for different things and there are features I look for in a teacher that might not be important to another principal and vice versa. For example, many principals will not interview a teacher if there is a spelling error in their application whereas I am not too concerned about this, as long as the application isn’t littered with them! Anyway, here are my top ten tips.

Be yourself

Of all the advice I would ever give to anyone looking to work in a school, this is probably the most important. There is no point pretending to be someone you are not in an application form or interview as it’s bound to backfire. If you get a job by not being yourself, you’re going to have a difficult time in the school.
Personalise your application

Yes, I know you’re probably applying for every job in the country and it’s easier to have a generic application that goes to each school but this is a real bugbear of mine. I want teachers who want to work with me, not just anybody and anyone who makes the effort to personalise their application to my school is at an advantage. I don’t mean just scanning the web site and picking one or two things that might look like it’s personalised, I mean really personalising the application. In my opinion, it is better to send 5 really good applications than hundreds of generic applications.
Apply even if you think you have no chance

I’ve often heard people say they didn’t apply for a job because they thought they had no chance. This is particularly true of NQTs who don’t bother applying for permanent positions because they think they are going to go to probated teachers. Over the years, our school has taken NQTs over teachers with lots of experience. We base our decisions on the interview and often an NQT can impress us much more than the teacher with loads of years experience. You never know, you might just fit in.
Don’t follow a template

There is nothing more depressing than reading through 500 job applications and reading the same stuff over and over again. When you apply for a job, take a risk and give us something a little bit different to make you jump off the page. That doesn’t mean to type your application in hot pink text or to litter it with emoticons. Try to divert from the usual boring template that your college has given you.

Be prepared to move:

While you might love living in your village, sometimes you’re just going to have to suck it up and go to where the work is. While this might not be applicable to teachers with commitments, if you’re a single person with no mortgage, there’s really no excuse. You never know where you might end up and perhaps, who you might end up with! I certainly didn’t expect to end up in Carlow but it has opened up so many opportunities.
Be modest:

There’s a difference between being confident and being cocky. Telling me how great you’d be for my school turns me off. There’s a adage in writing called “show don’t tell.” Your application should show me that you’d be great for my school; there’s absolutely no need to tell me that you feel you’d be an asset to me. I’ll be the judge of that!
Be interesting:

Everyone has a talent. If you don’t, find one. It makes you interesting. It helps you jump off an application form especially when there are hundreds of generic ones floating around. Even if you don’t think your hobby is relevant, you should put it in anyway. You never know, your gold medal in the Irish tiddly-winks championships might be just what peaks the interest of your interviewers.
Don’t think qualification is enough:

Anyone who is a teacher has a teaching qualification. It’s the bare minimum. It isn’t a passport to a job. You need something more. Maybe it’s an outside interest or talent? Maybe you’ve volunteered in an interesting organisation. Perhaps you’re involved in a youth group. You might even be involved in sports, music or anything really. The more interesting or unique your experience is, the more interesting you will be to me.
Don’t learn answers off by heart:

If you get an interview with my school, I understand you’re going to be nervous. Therefore, when we ask the first question, (most interviews start with “tell us about yourself”), it’s understandable that you have the answer prepared. However, it really grates on an interview panel if all your answers are learned off. We’re trying to get to know the real you. (See: Be yourself!)
Be nice:

This might sound obvious but interviews go much better when there’s a nice, friendly person on the other side of the table. Some people think they have to be some sort of ice-queen or king in order to appear professional. Smile. Lean forward. Be nice.
Don’t rave:

If you are asked a question in an interview, answer it. Don’t go on and on and on. Keep to the point. There is nothing more head-wrecking than having to listen to someone go on for several minutes when a simple sentence would have done the job just as well.

If you aren’t having any luck and you really want to work in a particular school, consider volunteering. By doing so, you get known to the school and you never know where it might lead. Many a teacher has started off this way and has ended up with a permanent job.
Remember, it’s never personal.

There are lots of reasons why you might not get a job in a school. Don’t take it personally. There are a myriad of reasons why you didn’t get a job, even if you think you deserved it more than the person who did. It’s best to take it on the chin and keep going.

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