Teachers: The Ultimate Guide to Selling Yourself on your Standard Application Form


Over the last few years, I’ve been reviewing Standard Application Forms for hundreds of teachers. You guys are the most dedicated, caring and organised bunch, I’m so lucky to have met so many wonderful teachers over the last few years. We truly have lots of laughs on our calls together. When it comes to preparing for job applications though, there is lots of confusion!

Here are the main themes I’m seeing from working 1:1 with clients.

  •         Too much detail

  •      Not knowing where to begin

  •     Not providing specific evidence of past teaching experiences

  • Repetition of the same information

  • Fear of being authentic.

In this blog, I will outline the sections in the SAF and what should be detailed in them, and then I’ll go through the many hurdles outlined above.

Sections in the Standard Application Form

You’ll find the Standard Application Form (SAF) at https://www.educationposts.ie/page/resources/standardapplicationforms. Some schools look for the Standard Application Form alone, others require you send a CV along with it, and some schools require copies of transcripts and evidence of your qualifications so far. There are Standard Application Forms for Primary level teaching and management positions - both in English and Irish.

Personal Details and Academic Qualifications:

These areas are pretty self-explanatory. I have had a few clients in the past who have restricted qualifications however and though they were qualified to teach outside of the mainstream classroom. They didn’t attend the traditional teacher training colleges. They need to explain this in the educational qualifications section.

Additional Qualifications:

Your Religion Certificate details and Tusla Certificate belong in this section.

Areas of special interest:

In this section, you can mention your interests in the field of education and your interests in life in general (hobbies, skills etc.). Using a hobby and telling the reader how you have developed the skill outside of school and brought it into the classroom, is a great way to show a bit of personality!

Read ‘SAF: How to structure the Special Interests section’ here for more guidance on this.

Competency Based Questions:

(Last three x 150 word questions). The aim of these three sections is to check if you are competent teaching. Do this by outlining your past experiences, in following the school’s ethos and how you have contributed to the success of a school before. Try to use real life examples of things you’ve done in the past (think tangible things rather than going aloof with the information – eg. How are you currently teaching/have you currently taught the Catholic doctrine/ET Ethos) in your classroom? Keep this section to 150 words.

Non Accredited Courses:

In this section, you can use webinars, summer courses and courses you’ve attended as part of professional development. I recommended picking the most relevant courses for the position you’re applying for and keeping your courses to a maximum of 10 courses.

Pitfalls I’m noticing in the SAF

The same things are coming up again and again, and I’d love to help teachers to become aware of them and develop a new approach to ‘selling themselves’. Here’s what I’m seeing:

Too much detail:

I can always tell a detail oriented person when I read their application form. Generally, they find it hard to stick to the 150 words in the competency based questions, they have listed 8+ areas of special interest and they have lots of questions to ask me. I help them to cut down the content by highlighting what’s repetition and, what is, (and isn’t) a positive addition to the form). The danger here, is that too much detail is overwhelming for the reader and they will scan the document instead of being genuinely interested in the small details on the form.

Not knowing where to begin:

On the flip side, these teachers are at a loss as to what makes them different, they may not think that their special interests are ‘good enough’ and sometimes they send just a rough outline of the form to me, instead of filling in the details. A better approach would be deciding to write down a number of phrases (even if they don’t seem relevant at the time) that we can expand upon in our 1:1 session. Fear of not being good enough is huge for this person – of not knowing what to say and how to say it, fear of not having the right kind of experience, fear of what will happen if they do indeed, get an interview.

I love talking with them about their likes and dislikes, what they love teaching in the classroom, and the kinds of relationships they develop with their pupils and staff. After this chat, we use this information to fill in various sections of the application form. It’s so important that information comes from a genuine place and I find, that clients enjoy bringing back good memories.

Not providing specific evidence of past teaching experiences:

This is another big one. I often see SAFs and content in interviews that speak in the conditional tense – “I would do this… I would do that…” As a reader, I want to know what you’ve done already because it gives me an idea whether or not the teacher will follow best practice again in the future. Whether that’s on Teaching Placement, in a past teaching role, or in a role that’s in some way connected to teaching – explain to me what you have done and what the result was. Example sentence starters may include “In my previous role as Afterschool Club Leader I…..,” “I showed (X skill) when I…..”, “Having worked in this school for the last 2 years I have undertaken tasks such as….”

Repetition of the same information:

Sometimes clients repeat the same information over and over from section to section. This might look like e.g. using outlining that SET is one of your areas of special interest, then you outline it in-depth in the ‘Additional Information Section’ as well. While this can be done well, if the information takes a different slant, it’s not a good idea to repeat the same kind of information over and over again. If you feel that you must include that information in the section, how can you widen your mindset to include a different facet of the same thing?

Fear of being authentic:

Many of my clients feel under pressure to fill in the form a certain way – the same way that they’ve heard others fill in the SAF. They think that everything must come across as the run of the mill information eg. “I studied with Hibernia, I’m passionate about using ICT and I’d love a job in your school”. How about taking a different approach? “Loved my time as an SNA, but I’m really ambitious and after 6 years I wanted to use the variety of methodologies I’d seen the teacher use. I decided I wanted in! So, in 2018, I chose to study with Hibernia College”. Can you feel the difference? If the information is coming from an authentic place, it has a different vibe about it and the reader is more drawn to the information.

Long Sentences:

I don’t mean to be a bore but have you read your SAF recently to spot the length of the sentences? Better still, get someone else to read it out loud to you. That’s a great way to spot syntax errors and things that are not making sense. Though things might make sense in your head, they might not read well to someone else.

Some Final Advice

So that’s it. If you’re filling out the SAF for the first time, I advise you to take a few sessions to do it rather than sit down and force yourself to do it in one session. That way, you can dedicate time to group sections together and focus on 2 or 3 things in one sitting. Selling yourself is easier when you’re in a positive mood too, so try to notice what mood you’re in and do some self-reflection exercises, or bring back positive teaching memories beforehand. Check out the vacancies at https://www.educationposts.ie/ and https://www.staffroom.ie/ for the latest vacancies in primary and second-level schools.

Further SAF reading:


If you’re interested in getting your SAF reviewed, I work 1:1 with clients to ensure that they have a SAF that stands out from the competition. Email me at hello@orladempseycoaching.ie to schedule your clarity call to discuss your needs.



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