Job application advice: Application forms

Many recruiters ask graduates to apply using a company application form so that they can compare applicants on a like-with-like basis by considering their approach to and completion of a standard form. This usually indicates that the employer has a more transparent and scientific approach to recruitment.

It is useful to make a copy or download a few applications so you can practise. Keep copies of your applications for future reference, or to avoid making similar errors if an application is poorly received.

This approach tends to include a ‘job specification’ and notes on how to complete the application form. When you submit a CV, you could imagine selling yourself to a reluctant reader whose attention you need to capture, but when you fill in an application form, imagine a systematic reader checking that you meet clearly set criteria.

Education

If there is little space to list all your qualifications or modules, it may be possible to summarise key results or module titles. You may even refer to a fuller listing on a separate sheet, or put details in the additional information box, or mark as ‘available upon request’. If in doubt, contact the employer to confirm.

Employment / work experience

List your jobs in reverse chronological order by job title. If you did not have an official job title, try to think of one that describes your position well. Full addresses are not usually required.

Describe your responsibilities or achievements in your roles, bearing in mind the skills the employer is seeking. You can group together or prioritise some experiences if space is limited.

Interests and achievements

Similar principles apply as for your work experiences. Emphasise key words that demonstrate evidence of your skills. Focus on demonstrating appropriate behaviours rather than seeking to impress an employer with an amazing achievement.

Competency-based questions

Some recruiters use an application form (on paper or online) made up of competency-based questions. These ask the applicant to provide detailed answers, based on personal experience, to demonstrate a skill required in the job.

Before you respond, consider whether the question is closed, asking for specific, quantifiable information, or whether it is open and you can decide the direction of your response. An example of the latter might be; ‘Think of a time when you have had to influence others to do something they were reluctant to do. What was the situation? How did you do it? What was the outcome?’

There is often a word limit attached to the answer. The employer is looking for a clear, succinct and disciplined answer. For this question you should try to:

  • briefly outline the situation;
  • explain what you did in terms of the skills and processes that you used in some detail;
  • describe a positive outcome or personal learning point.

As there is likely to be a series of questions covering a range of personal skills such as ‘problem solving’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘communication’, avoid using the same scenario twice. Draw on the breadth of your work, personal life and study to provide a variety of answers.

This type of application form is most commonly used for public sector graduate training schemes.

It may be useful to consult with your university careers adviser, who is likely to have seen many attempts at tackling these questions and can give you some first-hand guidance on the standard required.

Personal statements

Many application forms require you to complete a personal statement in support of your application. You might be asked to give your reasons for applying’ and other information relevant to the job specification, including your knowledge, skills and experience.

Your personal statement should relate directly to the specifications of the job or course you are applying for. It is important that you address all the points in the job specification in the order in which they appear. Imagine this being used as a checklist by the person short-listing.

Address each point on the job specification in a clearly themed paragraph:

  • In your first sentence you might make a short statement summarising how you meet or relate to the requirement.
  • The next few sentences should provide a concrete example of the assertion(s) you have just made.
  • A final sentence that shows reflection will add depth to the point you’re making.

Example – When asked about commitment to promoting equal opportunities:

‘I have always tried to ensure in my personal and work life that I am sensitive to and inclusive of the cultures and circumstances of other people. In 2006, I worked as a mentor/facilitator to a group of students on the Aim Higher project to encourage pupils from non-traditional backgrounds to consider university. I designed projects and activities that recognised and focused on the diverse experience within the group to ensure participation. The programme was successful for the pupils and a rewarding learning experience for me. The experience showed me that working together with mutual respect is more productive and rewarding.’

The first sentence is the statement, the second and third sentences describe the example, and the last sentence is your reflection.

Avoid simply repeating the words used in the job specification in your responses (e.g. ‘I am committed to Equal Opportunities’). Make a personal interpretation of the criteria and quantify with clear examples.

You will often be asked provide a personal statement, giving your ‘reasons for applying for this post’. You may choose to introduce or conclude your statement with a summary of why you are applying for the job and what attracted you to the organisation.

Make sure your statement:

  • uses language and phrasing that show enthusiasm for both the role and the company;
  • provides a brief summary of how your set of skills matches the post advertised;
  • shows that you have done your research on the company;
  • highlights their strengths as an employer.

References

The same rules apply as for CV content. Here you may need to state referees’ full contact details. Remember to ensure referees are agreeable and let them know that they may be contacted. For more advice about references, see CV content.

Before sending the form

When you think you have completed the form, ask someone to check through it as you may not be able to see your own mistakes.

Keep a copy of your application and job advertisement details in case you need them for interview preparation.

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