Tips to Get Your Education Résumé to Float to the Top

Take the guesswork out of landing an interview! Learn networking tips, how to get past computers and more to get your résumé noticed.

Young woman greets her potential employer before an interview

by Dr. Mary Clement for NEA Member Benefits

Every time that you submit a résumé you hope it wows a principal enough to win the on-site interview that leads to your new dream job. Instead of relying on hope, let’s take the guesswork out of the process and replace it with real strategies that will get your résumé noticed.

Blast past the résumé readers

Job candidates need to know that principals do not always read, or even receive, all résumés submitted by candidates. They get the ones that have been pre-sorted to be the best matches. Traditionally, personnel office employees complete preliminary sorts, and may have only enough time to spend 10 seconds on each résumé. If the top half of the page includes something that stands out, or precisely matches the job description, then the rest of the résumé will be read and considered.

TIP: After you have completed your résumé, print it out and fold it in half. Look at what appears on the top half. Can a reader find your certification/licensure, most recent experience, and words or phrases that match a requirement from the job advertisement?

TIP: The typical job objective, such as “seeking an elementary school teaching position,” does not make your résumé stand out. Rather, include a professional profile at the top of the résumé to instantly give the reader a true sample of your qualifications. See How to Create a Professional Profile That Gets You Noticed for more on professional profiles.

Example: Fully-certified (Iowa k-5 License with the RI Reading Endorsement), my student teaching included 15 weeks in a Title I school with 4th and 5th grade students and 20 hours of online reading intervention with at-risk students.

This professional profile catches the attention of a reader because it has been tailored to the job advertisement, where a district is seeking to hire teachers of grades 2-5 who are fully-certified and have experience with students in a Title I school. Be sure to include any use of online programs. 

Outsmart résumé robots with keywords

A basic résumé is just that – basic and usable enough to hand out at job fairs. However, when a specific job is advertised, the candidate needs to tailor the résumé to that advertisement, emphasizing past experiences and specific training that indicate ability to do that particular job.

Since most school districts have online systems for job searches, they now use résumé matching programs to sort résumés. All résumés, and often cover letters, are run through that program and human resources personnel pick only the ones that have “bubbled up” to the top.

How do you write a résumé for a computerized matching program? The solution lies in using the keywords that appeared in the original job description. There are many buzzwords and specialized vocabulary in the teaching profession. Computer sorting programs look for this specialized vocabulary. Since 2020, all employers are seeking teachers with remote/online teaching experience.  

Example job advertisement:

Clare County District seeks multiple middle school teachers for language arts, math and science positions, 6-8. Candidates must have Arizona licensure for MGI in two areas. Successful candidates should have experience with one or more of the following:  remote teaching experience, English language learners (sheltered classes), reading diagnosis and support, Spanish or at-risk students.

A matching professional profile for this job:

Fully-licensed (Arizona MGI in math and language arts), I have a year of experience at Dane County Middle School working with English language learners in 6th and 7th grade sheltered math courses including four weeks of online teaching. Currently completing my reading diagnosis endorsement, I actively seek a position where I can continue to help at-risk students succeed.

Obviously, this professional profile makes the candidate stand out above the crowd. These lines fit at the very top of a résumé, and an expanded version of this profile becomes the first paragraph of a cover letter. A computer finds the words that match, a report is generated to the human resources director and a principal will read this résumé and the candidate’s other materials.

Be a strong closer

While the top of the résumé helps you succeed in preliminary sorting, what else completes your résumé to make you stand out? A teacher’s résumé includes education, teaching experience, other work experiences, especially when related to teaching, and your all-important technology skills. These are all written with bullet points, not sentences. See Get Your Paperwork in Order—Résumés, Portfolios, References and More for more on résumé writing.

Be as specific as possible in every section of the résumé. When listing volunteer work, past jobs, or special skills, strive to match to the job ad. For example, if the position you seek includes sponsoring the yearbook, and you have experience with publishing in college or a past job, be sure to include that, as follows:

Other work experience: 

  • Summer Job, 2017, 2018, Newsletter editor for Camp Wanasee.
  • Assisted the newspaper editor and student photographer, student teaching semester

Employers search résumés for past experiences with similar student populations, standardized testing, technology skills and student achievement successes. They often seek a candidate who has something extra to share with coaching or activities.

Never include the most basic of activities that everyone else does—bulletin boards, lunch supervision, grading papers, etc. Your own high school experience is not relevant unless it was very unique. Being captain of a team supports a résumé for a coach; being in plays is good for the future theater teacher.

What do today’s employers want?

Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, so employers want to find evidence of past success in your paperwork. They seek both hard and soft skills. For teaching, hard skills include your training to deliver instruction, raise student achievement, teach with technology and manage a classroom. Soft skills include your passion and ability to relate to students and colleagues. As you write a winning résumé, carefully consider each line, ensuring that you are representing yourself as a highly-trained and experienced teacher, ready to do the job. Expand on the skills in your cover letter, and, of course, discuss your successes in the interview.

TIP: What hard and soft skills are shown in the job advertisement? They may be listed as duties or responsibilities. Tailor your résumé to the criteria listed.

Additional résumé writing tips

1. Be concise. While you want to include everything you have done in your rigorous teacher education program, or previous teaching positions, less is often more. Check the word count of your résumé. Professionals recommend 750 to 1,000 words maximum. Now that everything is electronic, it’s not so much of a debate about one page versus two pages, but rather keeping that word count low.

2. Proofread! When your résumé opens on the employer’s computer, they may see the red lines that indicate misspelled words. Ouch! Some computer résumé programs have an advanced spellcheck system that tells the reader how many words are misspelled. This counts against you and may send your résumé back to the bottom of the barrel. Have at least two people read your résumé before you submit it, in addition to using spellcheck yourself.

3. Be honest. Don’t overdo the word matching of your résumé to the job description. You must have the genuine experience and training that appear on your résumé. Words can’t just be thrown in to improve your chances of selection for an interview. Whether the reader is robotic or human, your résumé must be an authentic representation of your work. Online sorting takes the office employees out of the equation at the beginning, but eventually a real employer will read your documents when they stand out in a positive way. 

4. Let your best self shine through. Before you ever sit down to write your résumé, create a list of your personal best accomplishments in previous teaching jobs. Write what was unique about your teaching position, or the students you taught. Brainstorm with others about what should be on the résumé. Create a basic résumé and then tailor it to each job ad, knowing that you need to be a match on paper to win the job interview. The best résumés do float to the top!

Dr. Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College, northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Her research on the hiring of new teachers has received national recognition.