How to successfully complete application forms


Before you start - some do's and don'ts

  • DO research the company, the career area and the actual job for which you are applying. Make sure you can offer the qualifications, experience and personal skills that the employer is seeking
  • DO make sure you are using the right form - some employers have different forms for different job functions. DON'T use a CV where the employer specifies that you should use their own application form.
  • DO read the form through and follow all instructions.
  • DO keep a copy of your answers in MS Word. When it comes to the interview stage, it is immeasurably useful to remember what you have told the employer!
  • For on-line applications see


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

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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!



The Questions

General points:

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.

For example, which of the following makes more impact?:

How not to do it: real application forms

  • Application for finance job: I was closely involved in every aspect of my former company, right up to its bankruptcy
  • Hi, I want 2 get a job with U
  • Finished eighth in my class of ten
  • I enclose a tea-bag so you can enjoy a cuppa while perusing my form
  • I loathe filling in application forms so much that I'll give you details at the interview
  • Place of birth? - A hospital
  • Size of employer: about 5’ 10”
  • My health good, that of my parents not so good.
  • I do not have any major achievements that I would consider to be of interest to this application.
  • Working on a farm has improved my communication skills which are especially important when working with large livestock.
  • Biscuit company application: my life-long love of chocolate biscuits, is the main reason for my interest in the company
  • It's best for employers that I not work with people
  • Application for a job needing good people skills - My hobbies include watching television, computer chess, stamp collecting and walking my 2 spaniels.
  • Reason for leaving last job: my employers insisted that all employees get to work by 8.45 am and I could not work under those conditions.
  • Primary objective: active interface with fellow homo sapiens
  • I am seeking challenges that test my mind and body, since the two are usually inseparable.
  • I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse.
  • My goal is to be a meteorologist, but since I have no training I suppose I should try stockbroking instead.
  • One student was confused as to what to put in “Expected Salary“ field. After much thought she wrote: “YES!”

Competency-based questions

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


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 week’s 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.

  1. Identify the skills you have gained from:
    • Work experience
    • Sports teams
    • Volunteering
    • Internships
    • Summer work
  2. Research the role - find out what skills are required
  3. 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


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

  • Achievement
  • Active
  • Developed
  • Evidence
  • Experience
  • Impact
  • Individual
  • Involved
  • Planning
  • Transferable skills

Ten words to make a poor impression

  • Always,
  • Awful
  • Bad
  • Fault
  • Hate
  • Mistake
  • Never
  • Nothing
  • Panic
  • Problems

Ethnic Origin

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”


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.

See our section on referees for more help with this

Constricted work!

Please give details of responsibilities in your previous job.
"I was a teller in a bank where I dealt with cash transactions and cheques. I was then placed in night bags where I had to deal with large cash deposits."

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