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Peer to Peer: Job Hunting Season

posted Mar 16, 2018, 3:45 PM by Mark Lonergan

(Peer to Peer Column from April 2018 BTU newspaper)

By Mark Lonergan with Anne Slater


Across BPS, March 1 was the official kick-off of “job hunting season.” If you are seeking a position in BPS or outside, we hope this month’s column can be helpful for you. And if it has been awhile since you last applied for a job, we’ll also share a few tips on how things have changed in the past few years.


My Story

I first interviewed to work for Boston Public Schools in the spring of 2000. Back then, there was a screening interview for the district and if you passed, you then could apply directly to schools. I remember the screening interview seemed to have only three questions: What can you teach? Did you get your tuberculosis vaccine? Where can we reach you on Labor Day weekend?


My second round interviews were a mixed bag. I read through the Boston Globe classified ads each Sunday and applied to any school where I saw they might need a math teacher. One principal wanted to learn about my classroom management style by cursing and yelling at me in the middle of the interview. Another had to run off after a few questions because the 2nd floor bathrooms were flooding. Some schools wanted me to come teach a sample lesson, and others seemed happy just to talk with me on the phone.


In the years since, everything has changed and nothing has changed. There are no more ads in the Globe, but the basic steps in the process are still the same as they’ve always been. As someone who navigated the process 4 years ago and is currently going through the job hunt again, I wanted to share some advice and tips from expert job coaches:


Pre-Work

The first step in this process is the most important: asking yourself, What’s next? For most teachers, it can be asking, Where do I want to teach? What do I want to teach? Or maybe asking, Do I still want to teach? Having a vision and a goal doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get the A+ dream job, but it can help you understand where to focus your energy and also help you understand what trade-offs you’ll be willing to accept if a B+ or B- job offer comes along.


A couple of resources that might help during this phase of the process:

  • Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2016). This book was written by design school professors who reframe the “what’s next?” as a design challenge. It includes lots of useful activities.

  • Pivot by Jenny Blake (2016). This book by a former Google employee has practical suggestions for those who are contemplating a career change.

  • Life Reimagined by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2016). Chapter 10 of this book has some inspirational stories for anyone looking to find a new career after the age of 50.

  • Assessments like SkillScan (skillscan.com), Myers Briggs Type Inventory (myersbriggs.org), or the Strong Interest Inventory (cpp.com) are available online for a fee. Many of us took these tests back in high school or college, but might want to take them as adults to better understand your skills and interests.



Networking

The next most important part of the process is networking. According to job coach Ginny Rehberg, about 70 to 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. It’s important to remember, however, that networking is not the same thing as mingling or making small talk with strangers. “We often think of networking as a verb,” said Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in Designing Your Life. “It can feel slimy or like we're trying to hustle people. Instead, think of network as a noun: an interconnected web of people and industries. In this sense, to network is just asking for directions. The point isn't to do networking; the goal is to participate in the network.”


Job coaches advise trying to set up informational interviews as one way to network, especially if you’re interested in moving to a different career field. Ginny Rehberg suggests using phrases like, “I’d like to pick your brain” or “I want to get some insight on the field.” If someone says yes and is willing to meet, respect their time and remember that this is not a job interview. Treat the experience as a learning opportunity: Be curious about what they do instead of worrying about showcasing what you could do.


But sometimes in the course of the conversation, future job opportunities might come up. If so, Burnett and Evans advise being ready to use this ‘killer question’: “The more I learn about your organization and the people I meet here, the more fascinating it becomes. I wonder, Peter, what steps would be involved in exploring how someone like me might become part of this organization?”



Support network

Making any sort of change often requires asking for help and being willing to lean on others. If you’re changing jobs, consider seeking out a coach or support group to help you navigate the process and give you some encouragement when you need it. Career coach Jane McHale suggests assembling your “personal pit crew” by reaching out to people you know who can help you in these areas:

  • Who are my greatest fans?

  • Who knows my profession well?

  • Who owes me a big favor?

  • Who knows everybody?

  • Who can make me laugh and keep me moving?

  • Who has considerable influence?


Libraries, colleges, and other non-profit organizations often sponsor job seeker support groups. These can be very helpful for some people. The Harvard Ed Portal in Brighton hosts a weekly job seekers support group. Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) also provides local support for job seekers. And also keep an eye out for the unexpected helpers. McHale says that the people you most expect to be helpful usually are not, but that you’ll often find surprise “job angels” who will go out of their way to help you out, even though they may not know you well.



The Resume

Job searching still requires that you assemble three main components: a resume, a cover letter, and references. My one take-away from writing a resume this year was that everyone seems to have a slightly different sense of what a good resume should look like. I got a lot of conflicting feedback on my resume. The challenge is to make something that follows the rules but also something that can make you stand out. Experts estimate that most recruiters spend about 6 seconds looking at a resume--so it needs to be easy-to-navigate without being too bland.


In the book Infographic Resumes, Hannah Morgan says that a good resume needs to answer three main questions: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will I like working with you? Morgan also includes a list of resume pitfalls to avoid including typos, inappropriate email addresses, large amounts of wording from the job posting, and blocks of text with little white space. Morgan also includes some real-world examples of bad resume choices like: calling yourself a genius, oversharing about your politics or religious beliefs, claiming to speak Antarctican, bragging about being Prom King, or including the phrase “LOL.”


In terms of format, you may want to use multiple formats for your resume. A Google document is easiest to share for feedback with editors, while a PDF might be best to share with readers (so they won’t see comments and revision history). You might also want to include your resume on your digital portfolio (more on that later). And always make sure that you have a printed copy of your resume when you walk into the job interview.



Cover Letters

Dear Selection Committee: I am very excited to write this paragraph about cover letters. I have written paragraphs about other topics and believe that I have the right set of skills to also write about cover letters. If you look at my resume, you will see that I have previously written paragraphs about networking and other topics. My previous paragraphs all featured multiple sentences and correct spelling. They were read by more than 15 people. I believe my prior experience and track record of success make me a strong fit for writing a paragraph about cover letters. Please contact me by phone or email if you would like to schedule an interview. Thank you for your consideration.


See what I just did? That’s basically all you need to do in a cover letter: say why you’re writing, toot your own horn a bit, and point towards a next step. Writing cover letters used to cause me a lot of anxiety, but then I realized that it’s basically like a movie trailer: you want to get someone interested in reading your resume or excited about meeting you face-to-face, but you don’t want to give away the whole story.


If you’re applying in BPS, you are asked to write a cover letter that is 300 words or less. In general, as long as your cover letter fits on one single page typed, then it should be fine. Also, you can use bullet points or paragraphs, whatever best fits your writing style.



References & Feedback

The BPS application also asks for at least 3 references. These can be colleagues or supervisors (past or present) who know your work well. When asking, it can be helpful to provide a “brag sheet” or bullet list of reminders of what they’ve seen you accomplish. Try to make it easy for your recommenders to say nice things about you. And don’t forget to write a thank-you note afterwards.


Even if you’re not on the best of terms with your current supervisor, you should at least notify them that you are looking at other positions. There’s always a chance that your potential new supervisor will call up your current supervisor to ask about your performance--even if you haven’t listed them as a reference. When your current supervisor gets that call, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.


Additionally, you may also want to keep a “brag file” of positive feedback that you’ve received from students, parents, colleagues, evaluators, and supervisors. These might not be useful as references, but could be a great way to include other voices in your portfolio. If you don’t have a brag file, it’s also okay to reach out and ask for some positive feedback. A colleague recently sent an email where she asked for a quick blurb of feedback to help her with her job search. It was an easy request (she only wanted a couple of sentences) and she also gave an easy out by saying “If you don’t have the time or don’t want to do this, then I totally understand. Thanks and all the best to you.”



Portfolio

A final piece of the preparation is to pull together some examples of your work in a portfolio. This can be in a binder, but increasingly, teachers are creating digital portfolios that can be shared as a link along with your resume. If you’ve never created a website before, the new Google Sites is super easy to use. Some people also use Wordpress or other blog creation tools where you don’t have to worry much about formatting.


Here are some important elements to include, according to Edwige Simon’s article “Do I Need a Digital Teaching Portfolio?” on Edutopia:

  • Home or About Me page (with bio, welcome paragraph, your email address, and a current photo of you)

  • Resume (with a PDF link)

  • Teaching Philosophy/Statement

  • Sample annotated lesson plan

  • Contact information

  • Feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and students.


You should also make sure that your portfolio is more than just words. Whenever possible, include images, video, maps, and anything else that helps to show what you can do. You may also want to visit tinyurl.com or bit.ly to create a shorter web address for your portfolio. This will make it easier to include the web address on your resume and your cover letter.


Next Time:

We’ll talk about phase 2 of the job search process: applying and interviewing. And if, like me, you’re currently looking for a new job, remember to be patient and take good care of yourself. I’ve already met a few “job angels” this year. Hope that you’ll find your “job angels” and “personal pit crew” as well. Good luck!



The Peer-to-Peer column is written by Anne Slater, from the Peer Assistance program, and Mark Lonergan, from the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program. This column is written by teachers and for teachers. If you have a topic you’d like us to explore, please email us. To find out more about what Anne and Mark and others do as peer assistants and consulting teachers, visit btu.org/whats-working/peer-mentoring/ or bostonpar.org.


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