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What should be on your CV if you are looking for a teaching position?

The Importance of your CV
Your CV is a legal document under South African law. That means that if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies in your CV the entire document is invalid. If you have been hired on the basis of your CV and your employer later finds the CV was false or even misleading, you can be summarily dismissed. The upshot of this is that every jobseeker should invest a great deal of time in constructing their CV. Use some smart online templates1 but make sure the template you use is adapted to South Africa - if it asks for a Zip Code or uses American English, employers could be annoyed! Check and recheck everything on the CV before you send it to anyone.

Most employers who receive your CV will never have met you. That means that the first impression your CV makes determines what they think about you. If the grammar is messy, the spelling suspect and the layout chaotic - that's what they will think of you, unable to obey the rules, shifty and disorganised, no one wants to employ a teacher with these characteristics. So, make sure you observe all the rules of grammar you were taught at school - and then some! Your CV is no place for ad-hoc innovation! Assume the employer is conservative and inclined to nit-pick, because your CV is likely to be one of at least a dozen he looks at for one vacancy.

At the same time, blow your own trumpet a bit. If you are an academic whizz with a string of distinctions from Matric through University - say so! If you won “best teacher” prizes don't keep us in the dark! If you are a Springbok Water polo Referee or played first team Korfball we'd like to know! You never know what additional skill might be the one which lands you an interview!

The purpose of your CV is to get you an interview. So, make sure that it portrays you honestly, as “the ONE” that they honestly want to see! If you hide yourself or your skills in the CV the chances are excellent that you will end up with an employer you loathe, and who loathes you in return.

  1. The Sections of your CV and what they should contain
    When you are writing a CV, less is not more. Less is not even enough. I know there are people around who tell you that you can leave out your marital status and your residential address, and half a dozen other things. Don't believe them. If you leave "stuff" out, you will probably omit the one thing that might have got you the interview.

    Section 1: Personal Details

    Your full name, maiden name for married ladies and any other name by which a past employer might remember you
    SA ID or Permanent Residence Certificate Number
    SACE registration
    Date of last Police Clearance
    Residential Address
    If you are relocating - where exactly are you relocating to, when and why
    Phone Number and Whatsapp number if it is different from the phone
    Email address, don't use a work address, it may not be private
    Marital status and dependents under 18 years
    A recent head and shoulders photo of yourself on the first page is not a bad idea, but it's only a must-have if you want to teach overseas.

    Section 2: Your Education

    Name of the school where you wrote matric,
    dates at the school, matric subjects, any distinctions, extra murals you participated in, were you in any school teams, drama productions, what offices did you hold, were you elected or appointed, any prizes you won at school.
    The employer is probably looking for potential leadership in the school context!

    Names and dates for each university you studied at,
    Course studied, degrees and diplomas awarded, any distinctions, participation in campus life, offices held, leadership positions, community involvement, sports teams, part time employment. The employer is looking for academic excellence, leadership and the ability to stick to activities and not give up!

    Teaching Pracs;
    Where, when, what you did. But once you have completed a year's full time teaching you can leave this out.

    Short Courses
    the name of the course, the provider of the course, length of the course and date you completed it.

    Ongoing activities:
    eg sports, Art exhibitions, Music, church/mosque/synagogue/temple; give details of what you did during the university years and how this has continued since. Give the dates for everything.

    Could stating your religion put you at a disadvantage?
    With certain fundamentalist schools, yes probably, but do you really want to waste your time interviewing for a school that won't like you? Most South African schools value diversity, so if any activity is important to you, put it in, and get interviews with schools who will value you as a person and as a teacher.

    Section 3: Your past and present Employment

    If you are a new graduate, start with your earliest employment - if you were a waitress while you were at High School please say so. If you worked part time at University, put it in. The employer is looking for an energetic go-getter not a blob who sat around and allowed someone to fully support them while they studied and didn't get any distinctions.

    If you have been teaching for more than a year, you can leave out the student employment and the teaching pracs - but be ready to give as much detail as you can about full time and part time jobs - both in teaching and any side-hustles you may have had. I know selling make-up may sound a bit off in a teaching CV, but you never know when the employer would like to hire someone with marketing experience!

    For every employer we need
    Name of the School/Company, dates (including the month) you were employed and date you left, main duties, exact subjects and grades you taught, extra murals, any offices you held, prizes you won, teams you coached, events you organized, and reason for leaving (or wanting to leave)
    We don't need self-assessment “I am a dedicated hardworking teacher who…” does not impress anyone! And “control of learners books” please don't say this! It's part of the job! Think! What makes you unique? Sell what you have that the next teacher doesn't!

    If you were unemployed or on maternity/paternity leave for a while, if you were unwell or injured you need to say so and not just leave a gap in the employment record. If you had long Covid say so! If you are slightly deaf, or partially sighted the employer needs to know - there are some employers who want to hire people with disabilities, believe it or not! If you can't walk up more than one flight of stairs you need to say that too - because otherwise you may find yourself in a classroom on the third floor!

    When a CV has gaps in the employment record the assumption is that you were engaged in something inappropriate. No gaps. Be honest - otherwise you could get sacked later for not telling the truth.

    And now we come to THE MOST IMPORTANT section of your CV. If you get this wrong, you are likely to be unemployed for a long, long time!

    Section 4: Referees

    Employers believe that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. So, they will want to speak to people you previously worked for before they offer you an interview. Select your referees carefully, there are always some people you will get on with better than others!

    Referees must be recent past or current employers (no one from more than five years ago) State the name of the referee, designation (e.g. Head of school), capacity in which they supervised your work and their daytime land line phone number - no cellphones for referees, a cellphone could belong to someone in Johannesburg Central Prison for all we know.

    If there is some reason why you cannot give the head of the school as a referee, you need to explain that reason. Yes, I know some heads are unfriendly when teachers want to leave, but actually not many, and we know who they are! If you are still working at the school, I might accept a Deputy, but I won't accept a colleague, HOD or member of your family, no matter how well connected they are. And if you have left a school, I really do expect to be free to speak to the head of school unless you give me a valid reason not to.

    If you have written references by all means attach them! But know that we will phone the school to check! If your past school did not have a land line phone please accept my sympathy, but if I cannot check references on a land line, I cannot have any confidence in what is said to me by the referee.

    Whenever you leave an employer, you should (by law) be given a certificate of service. The Certificate Of Service must state the name of the employer, the exact dates of employment, the main duties, and the salary in the month that you left. But far better, ask the school to combine the certificate of service with a written reference from the Principal which speaks in as much detail as possible about what you did, and how well you did it while you worked for the school. If some of the written references are (er) not as good as others, no matter, use the best ones! But keep them all! If you ever want to work outside South Africa, they are proof of employment which will help you get a work visa.

  2. Warnings!
    Your CV should be a fully editable PDF document or an MS Word file. Please don't use some strange on-line only template - they are often jumbled and poorly presented when opened with Office programs.

    Don't use CAPS in your CV, in the digital age this is considered to be shouting at the person who reads it, and it doesn't go down well!

    Be aware that, while Placements in Education will only check the referees you give us, heads of schools know one another and may well talk about you! Please let your current head know that you are looking around before you send out your CV! Otherwise, when she gets a call from another head who wants to hire you, she may not say what you would like her to say!

    Finally, you need to know that there are hundreds of jobseekers with teaching qualifications out there. Employers have become extremely fussy about the standard of the CV, and they are not negotiable. Over 75% of all CVs an employer receives go straight into the bin. If you want your CV to stand out - make sure you take all the advice we have offered here, spend some time on the document and ask someone to proofread it for you before you send it anywhere.

    Happy Job Hunting!

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