CV advice for heads

How do you create a head-turning, confident and credible CV that will make governors and shortlisting panels sit up, take notice and face your direction?

There are certain ‘basics’ that every CV needs to follow and some features unique to applying for a headship. The CV has to communicate value, versatility and vision. It also has to discloser your leadership skills, a progression of responsibility, administrative accomplishments, and the core competencies that come with the position.

Take a look at the following 12 tips and think about what you can do to make you stand out for all the right reasons.

1. Bespoke Tailoring

For starters, your CV isn’t a one-size-fits-all document and should be tailored to the needs of the employer. It’s got to be up to date, relevant and sensitive to each individual position you are applying for: bespoke speaks volumes. There are several CV-writing programmes available but the content has to be yours and the CV has to be targeted to a particular employer and to a particular job.


A CV is not a research paper and so shouldn’t be pages long. ‘Keep It Short and Simple, Stupid’ by making you CV a sensible size. Academic and teaching CVs are different from other CVs in that they don’t adhere to the same length restrictions but you still may want to aim for 2 aides of A4. You can be descriptive but being compelling and succinct is key. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Think Twitter not thesis. And one more thing – remember DRY as well – Don’t Repeat Yourself.

3. Design Museum

Your knock-out content will all be lost in the mayhem of a CV with fancy fonts and OTT gimmicky graphics. Do you really need snazzy headers, footers, tables and charts…err, no you don’t. If you want to impress then consider your template style very carefully but aim for clean and clutter free. Go for lots of white space, avoid colours and make sure your formatting is consistent throughout. Best to steer clear of the old-fashioned Times New Roman and serif fonts but opt for a standard sans-serif Arial font.

4. Crazy Horse

If you have a personal email that might be considered quirky and humorous then don’t use it as they can often look and sound unprofessional. Stick with a professional email address and show that you mean business.  Just double-check your phone voicemail and answering machine too and keep them polished.  If they portray you in a professional light then definitely include social media such as blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. If they don’t then don’t!

5. Buzz-off

The educational hive is full of buzzwords but that doesn’t mean you have to drench your CV in them. Talk ‘plain and simple’ about what you know and cut the crap and cliches. Your CV language has got to be clear, competent and authentic not blah-blah-blah and buzz-buzz-buzz. Whatever you do, avoid clichés. If you really are a “blue-sky thinker with a can-do attitude” then apply for a job in sales.

6. Prove it

When you make any statements about your experience then be prepared to support them with evidence. If you can link ‘proof’ to an online professional portfolio or your own educational website then do it as it’s a great way to supersize your CV. Just provide some pointers and signposts about where to look for more information and hard data that show you are who you say you are. Know thy impact and show thy impact.

7. On Request

Leave out the phrase ‘References available on request’. In fact, leave out the references unless you are asked for them. You need all the space you can on your CV for qualifications, education, skills, achievements and experience. It is normally anticipated that you will be able to provide references so you don’t need to mention them on your CV.

8. There’s no I in Team

Headship is a team game so make sure you say it. Clearly demonstrate your achievements as a team player and your team-building skills. Make your interpersonal skills highly visible by showing how you bring out the best on others.

9. It’s all about good P&R

School leadership CVs should focus on the 4Ps of leadership: positive, professional, people-oriented and performance.  They also need to focus on the 3Rs: resiliency, renewal and reflection.  But go easy on the mission statements and hard-sell marketing mix variables. Tell it like it is and keep your merits and vision relevant to the job – oh, and swerve any inspirational quotes too.

10. All-rounder

Show that you have practical transferable skills and prove that you are an all-rounder. As a head teacher everything is your responsibility so show that you can perform and play in every position. Use separate sections to trumpet your school administrative, leadership, and teaching experience.

You might example your experience as a subject leader, chairperson, mentor, coach, deputy, curriculum lead and master teacher. Show your expertise in budget management, behaviour, safeguarding, special needs, staff development, academic standards, data analysis, policy and procedure development, school improvement plans, pupil tracking and assessment, wellbeing and emotional intelligence, technology, parent and community involvement.

11. Don’t be the hero

Include an introductory paragraph that communicates your leadership profile as an instructional leader and focus on your commitment to the core business of teaching, learning and knowledge. Demonstrate that you know “What works best for my pupils in my school?” and “What is the best evidence of impact and efficacy for my teachers?”  Communicate how you set clear goals, manage curriculums, monitor lesson plans, allocate resources and evaluate teachers regularly to promote pupil learning and growth.

12. Devil’s advocate

When you think that your CV is ready don’t hit the send button without a second opinion, and a third and a fourth. Give your CV to some critical friends and let them give you some feedback. They can proofread, check for accuracy and offer some ‘take it or leave it’ advice. A spelling mistake in any CV is a no-no but for a head teacher, a careless clanger or grammatical glitch could be game over.

Schoolboy errors

Employers commonly list the top 10 most common CV errors as being:

1. Misspelt words
2. Gaps in employment history
3. Lack of personal summary
4. Missing or invalid postal address
5. CV too long or too short
6. Invalid or omitted phone number
7. Invalid or omitted email address
8. Inappropriate file name
9. Missing spaces in CV text
10, Use of American spellings

Investing time and energy into writing a watertight CV is essential as its shows you mean business and that you’re fundamentally eligible to do the job advertised. Whilst it acts as just one piece of the overall jigsaw, the CV is still massively important in getting you ahead as a head.

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Author: John Dabell

John DabelJohn is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books and contributed well over 1,000 articles, features, reviews and curriculum projects to various bodies, magazines, journals and institutions. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru – sharing monthly insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.

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