How to successfully complete application forms
- Before you start - some do's and don'ts
- The Questions
- Ethnic Origin
- Further Help
The Final Year Application and Interview
|In the last recruitment year I received more than 1,500 training contract applications and more than 20% had the firm's name misspelt. Another 30% contained typos of some sort - for example, "responsible for weekly gardening, property maintenance and cleaning an elderly couple" and "I have a particular interest in the works of CS Lewis, particularly The Lion, the Which and the Wardrobe."
Graduate Recruitment Manager at Mayer Brown)
The diagram below illustrating the typical graduate recruitment process for large graduate recruiters and for smaller organisations. The chart is a simplification: some large recruiters will ask you to apply by CV and many will not use on-line numerical and verbal aptitude tests.
The smaller company process is typically much simpler and you can apply much later (often after final exams) but salaries are usually lower and they may offer less training and less chance to specialise.
Click on the diagram to go to relevant pages
One international company used to send all their applications to Romania where English speaking staff sifted the forms (as staff were cheaper to employ there).
Applications containing less than 100 words in any answer to questions about skills such as teamworking were immediately rejected: either the applicant didn't have the skill or was too lazy to write about it!
- Try to fill all the space provided for your answers - too much blank space makes an application look half-hearted (see box on right)
- If you have the opposite problem - not enough space to say all that you need to - use a covering letter to highlight the most important points and to say more about them.
A “please see my CV” in response to questions on the online application is a recurrent problem.
Recruiters are keen for students to also understand that the questions asked on applications should be approached as intensively as an interview question.
Asda noted that despite receiving 4,000 applications online, many were of poor quality.
- Be informative, detailed but concise in your answers: give the employer the essential detail but leave them wanting to meet you to find out more!
- Keep in mind the qualities that the employer is looking for, and answer the questions in ways that will show that you have these qualities.
- Don't dismiss anything as irrelevant without careful thought. Students often assume that their vacation work as a waiter, shop assistant or fruit-picker can be of no possible interest to a graduate employer. This is not so - employers can learn a great deal about your motivation and skills from jobs such as these - so do include them
- Don't make lists: "reading, cinema, sport" under "Interests" will not tell the employer anything useful about you. Give details of the extent of these interests and any clubs, societies or achievements related to them.
For example, which of the following makes more impact?:
How not to do it: real application forms
Wine, women and song
Founder of University Wine-Tasting Society; negotiated discounts with local wine merchants and organised several Society visits to Calais .
Volunteer worker at local Women's Resource Centre
Member of University choir
These are the hardest part of the form for most applicants: questions usually begin "Describe a time when you " or "Give an example of ..." and asking for examples of specific skills such as teamwork, leadership, persuasiveness, etc
- Describe how your personal planning and organisation resulted in the successful achievement of a personal or group task.
- Give an example of where others have disagreed with your views. How did you deal with this?
Remember that these skills will be the ones that are essential for success with that employer these questions are the most important on the form. They also now crop up in most graduate interviews and the best way to prepare for these interviews is to complete a few application forms with demanding competency-based (also called situational) questions. These examples could come from vacation or part-time work; university clubs and societies; voluntary work; study at school or university; holidays and travel or personal and family experiences. Planning and organising a weeks independent travel in Scotland is as valid an example as a trek through the Himalayas. Compose a paragraph or so for each situation, outlining what happened, how you approached it and what the outcome was. The focus should be on you even if the situation involved a group, interviewers will want to know what was your specific role in achieving the desired result.
- Identify the skills you have gained from:
- Work experience
- Sports teams
- Summer work
- Research the role - find out what skills are required
- Make the connection between 1 and 2.
One way of answering these questions is via the STAR approach - Situation, Task, Action and Result. It's a bit like a mini essay. The Situation and Task are usually combined and form the introduction, The Action you took, should form the main body of your answer, and the Result should be your conclusion - try here to be specific if you can: "We won the cup"; "Membership of the society increased by 40%"; "We raised £400 for charity". If you failed to achieve your objective say what you learned and what you would do differently next time.
How, when, where, with whom?
|"Whilst employed at Weaver Bros. last summer|
Describe the situation or the task you were faced with.
|I was given the task of rationalising the stock control system|
What action did YOU take?
|I would look at factors such as when the stock was last ordered, what it was used for and how often it was used. I worked out a method of streamlining the paperwork involved in this process and redesigned the relevant forms, which I then submitted to my manager.|
What results did you achieve/conclusions did you reach/what did you learn from the experience?
|My ideas were accepted and implemented and a 15% reduction in stock levels was achieved"|
For much more on this see www.kent.ac.uk/careers/compet/skillquest.htm
Admissions advisers at the University of Hertfordshire drew up a list of the 10 top words to make a good impression in applications.
The top ten words to make a good impression
Ten words to make a poor impression
Many forms include a section asking for details of your ethnic origin. This section should play no part in the selection process but is included so that employers can measure the proportion of ethnic minority applicants and the success rate of their applications - these questionnaires have been approved by the Commission for Racial Equality. They are optional, though, so if you prefer not to complete this section there is no compulsion on you to do so.
Sending 20 copies of the same application form to 20 different companies has as much chance of success as putting the same National Lottery numbers in at 20 different shops. You will do better with three or four applications focused on the specific requirements of the company and showing how you meet their needs
SELECTOR FROM LARGE CHEMICAL COMPANY
These are not always very important to an application - some employers do not even take up references until after the final interview - but they are almost always expected on application forms.
- Generally, employers expect one academic and one personal reference.
- The academic does not have to be your personal tutor - if you feel another member of staff knows you and your work better, or will give you a more favourable reference, it is fine to ask them.
- The personal referee may be a previous employer (from a vacation or longer-term job), a family friend or a schoolteacher.
- If you are applying for postgraduate study, two academic referees will probably be expected.
- Always ask your referees' permission to give their names and tell them something about the job for which you are applying (perhaps a copy of your application form too) so that they can relate their reference for you to that job.
See our section on referees for more help with this www.kent.ac.uk/careers/referees.htm
Please give details of responsibilities in your previous job.
- Our Applications Pages contain a huge amount of further help
- Your Job's On-Line: streamed video on how to make on-line applications www.kent.ac.uk/careers/IntVid.htm.
- The Careers and Employability Service runs talks and workshops on application technique throughout the year.