This post is based on my presentation at the fifth annual #WomenEd unconference in Sheffield on 5th October, which focussed on my chapter in the first #WomenEd book: ‘10% Braver’ (Sage, 2019).
I recently read Laura Bates’ book, ‘Girl Up’, which addresses an audience of teenage girls. In one chapter, Laura approaches a range of women who have achieved success in a wide variety of different professional areas, and asks them what advice they would offer to young women keen to succeed in a similar career, and also what they would say to their teenage selves, if they had the opportunity. I found the responses fascinating and inspiring (and tweeted extensively from this chapter!) At the #WomenEd unconference I started by asking those who had opted for this session to consider:
- What advice they would give their teenage self, and
- What advice they would offer their NQT (or career-starter) self.
One of the great benefits of a day like this is the opportunity it offers us for reflection, and I wanted the men and women in my session to begin by reflecting on some of the things they had learnt so far, before going on to consider possible next steps.
So, what might you do in order to secure the job you dream of, to make the most positive transition into the role and then to succeed once in post?
- Think about why you want this role. What will it give you the opportunity to do? Consider your current professional sphere of influence: whose lives do you affect in your current professional capacity (students, colleagues, other adults, and, of course, those who lead you)? Then consider how that sphere of influence might expand were you to move on to the job you hope to secure. Stepping up to the challenge and making the most of the chance it will give you to make an even greater difference is the best possible reason for wanting promotion. Consider what leadership is about, and what, in your experience, the most successful leaders do. What are the characteristics of the leader you hope to become in the future?
- Be clear about what the job you dream of looks like – find your fit. Consider your non-negotiables, but also where you are prepared to be flexible. You need to have some discrimination, but obviously if you set parameters which are too narrow you are limiting your chance of success. Where will you compromise, and where will you certainly NOT compromise? Do careful research to find out whether this is a school, and a role, where you will be able to be your best professional self – where there is an alignment between what the school believes and your own educational, and leadership, vision and values. And there needs to be an alignment, too, between what they appear to want from the incoming leader, and what you have to offer.
- Now USE this research to craft a compelling application which clearly demonstrates that you are a match for what the school and the role appear to need if they are to build on current strengths and develop even more positively in the future. Your written application needs to be sufficiently confident and persuasive so that the selection panel is keen to meet you and find out more. Where applications are concerned, consider what you have learnt so far. What advice would you offer to someone else about to apply for a new job? Consider what you should avoid (for example: being too general, or being economical with the truth) and what you should include (for example: evidence of the impact you have had so far, and the connection between your skills and achievements and what the job description/person specification include).
- If you are invited to interview, prepare carefully so that you can go into the interview feeling reasonably confident that you have given this sufficient thought. My advice is to PREDICT, PLAN, PRACTISE. Based on all the information you have amassed about the school and the post, what might the selection panel ask? (What would YOU want to ask if you were tasked with finding the best candidate for this role?) Then plan possible responses (and be selective: What THREE key points, say, would you hope to make in your answer to any question?). Thirdly, go on to practise these responses, either on your own or, preferably, with a trusted friend or colleague who will listen, probe further and give you feedback.
- Think through and practise articulating your answer to this key question: “Why do you want this particular role in this particular school at this time, and what makes you think you would be a good fit for what the school needs?” If you struggle to answer this question perhaps the school/role ISN’T a good fit, or this isn’t the right time for you.
- If you don’t succeed on this occasion, give yourself the time and space to lick your wounds and to come to terms with the disappointment. Then process your learning. Do ask for feedback (which may or may not be useful! See this post for further information!) and consider how this experience might be helpful with respect to future applications. But, whatever happens, don’t give up! If a head/board of governors do not choose you, then this isn’t the right job at the right time. You wouldn’t want to work with a head or with governors who didn’t have faith in your capacity to step up to the challenge. If you are committed to fulfilling this role in the future, and those who know you and trust your professional potential believe you can make a success of it, then persevere!
- If you are successful, bask in the glow and enjoy the moment! Then consider how you will manage the lead-in period between being appointed and stepping into the role so that you give yourself every chance of making the most positive transition. Some of the tips I suggested for this stage, and the early weeks and months in post, are outlined here:
Finally, I asked those present to reflect on where they were on their leadership journey and where they might go next – in terms of the actions they would take in order to progress as they hoped. Is there ONE thing they would do differently as a result of what they had thought about in the session? I asked them to share this with someone else, picking up the idea Steve Munby explores in ‘Imperfect Leadership’: we are far more likely to deliver on a commitment if we share it with others. I also suggested they tweeted about it.
Leadership seems to me about getting the best from yourself and others. I recommended my blog based on my TEDx talk in Norwich in July (if reading is the way you prefer to learn); the video of this talk (10 minutes long, if you prefer to watch rather than to read), and a 50 minute podcast I recorded with Phil Naylor earlier in the week if you prefer listening to reading or watching.
I hope the session, and this record of it, is helpful to anyone considering the next step in their career. I wish you all well – and please do keep in touch if I can ever support you in any way.