Applying for leadership roles with confidence

This is the workshop session I led at the #WomenEd event in Reading in October 2016.  I talked about leadership generally, so whether participants were aspiring middle leaders, senior leaders or heads, I hoped they would find something in it which was relevant and useful.

Since finishing as a head I’ve completed a doctorate, researching the transition to headship.  I’ve written a book about this research, published by Crown House: ‘Making the leap – moving from deputy to head’, which summarised my research findings for a professional, rather than an academic, audience, and which also drew on my own experience and wider reading about leadership.

I was aware, when writing the thesis and when working on the book, that much of what I was saying was equally relevant to those making transitions at other levels.  It reinforced my conviction that leadership at different stages is not different in nature, but simply in scope.  What you learn from being a successful middle leader, or how effectively you manage the transition from middle to senior leadership, will serve you well if you choose to apply for headship in due course.

The workshop considered the different stages in the leadership application process and how you can give yourself the best possible chance of success at each stage.  Appointments are certainly not an exact science, and selection panels, in my experience, don’t always get it right.  However, you want to emerge at the other end, even if unsuccessful and disappointed, recognising that you did your best and gave a good account of yourself.  So how can you do that?

  1. Prepare carefully.  Do your research and be thorough, so that you feel confident that you are a good match to the school and the role.  The job has to be right for you, as well as the reverse.
  2. Use what you have learnt to craft your application so you clearly demonstrate the fit between what you have to offer and what the school/post requires.  Focus on your potential and what you could do in the future, given the opportunity.  Don’t just talk about the past and what you HAVE done and leave it to the selection panel to make the connections. Ensure your letter isn’t simply ‘a list of everything I have done so far’.  Talk about what you can bring/offer (and not just what you will gain!)
  3. Go into the interview feeling confident that if you have done 1 and 2 successfully you are giving yourself the best possible chance of convincing them that not only are you capable of doing this job, and doing it well, you are actually the BEST candidate of all those they will consider.  Prepare as fully you can without seeming over-rehearsed and stilted.  Anticipating questions and practising possible responses is a worthwhile use of your time, I would suggest.

If you do all this and feel at the end of the process that you couldn’t have done any more, that should give you confidence in the future.  The right job is out there. Don’t stop looking!

Photo: My network of new heads who all started their headships, as I did, in the year 2000. We don’t look TOO bad 16 years later!

This post was originally published on @staffrm in 2016

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