Autumn reflection: Two active applications

October 13, 2009

Autumn reflection
Photograph by Kornel Mez.oI have just clicked send, and my second letter of interest is zooming its way across the fibers of the Internet, destined to land in an inbox and not, we hope, the trash can. In keeping with my new focus, realistic or not, this was for an assistant head role.

I’ve been struggling with how to open a letter of interest. The “I write today to express my interest in being considered as the Head of School at St. Swithin’s School” just doesn’t seem to catch me. When I was a young, perspective English teacher, I wrote something like, “A mentor of mine once told me that begining English teachers were worth a dime a dozen. If that’s the case, I’m worth a little under a penny.”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I only need to reach the person who I really want to work for. In that particular case, I sent out some 200 letters and landed a couple of interviews. And one offer. The head of the school, Wally Stettler, liked my letter. Having attended a small boarding school where the head did everything, I didn’t realize that wasn’t the norm. Dr. Stettler received my letter and passed it to the dean of the upper school, Carmen Marnell, who later told me that if he’d received the letter I never would have been invited to campus for an interview. Guess I sent it to the right person, and I guess it struck the right chord.

Here’s what I churned out today, wordy and verbose (like I needed to say both…):

Having been out of the independent school business for fifteen years, I’ve been accused of embodying an oft-repeated quote from Isabel Waxman: “It is indeed ironic that we spend our school days yearning to graduate and our remaining days waxing nostalgic about our school days.” I like to think, however, that what draws me back to independent boarding schools is more Albert Einstein. He noted, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school.” I’ve seen the power of boarding schools, where education happens not just in the classrooms, but on the playing fields and dormitory corridors, in the dining hall and faculty homes, in the art and dance studios, and on, and behind, stage. I’m called to return.

Jim Collins, in Good to Great, says that one of the key tasks for a leader is to get the right people on the bus and then to get them in the right seats. I’d say that one of the tasks of the prospective employee is to make certain they’re getting on the right bus. It’s that job hunt dance, and something those of us seeking positions sometimes forget: Some times, as good as it looks, it’s not the right match. The bus is the wrong bus.

The cover letter is, frankly, the first chance we get to check to see if the organization’s bus is really what we’re looking for. In my case, if the head of school (or, for the one other position I’ve applied for, the members of the search committee) doesn’t like my letter, I’d say there’s a good chance he’s not on the bus I want to be on. If my words don’t resonate, so be it.

And, gentle reader, what do you say?