Questions on application forms about qualifications, skills, experience and competencies show that the candidate can do the job: that their application is worth considering. However, employers will get hundreds of applications from graduates who demonstrate these qualities. What will lift that candidate into the “must interview” category is showing that they want to do the job.
Motivation is therefore one of the most important factors in any job application.
Recruiting graduates is an expensive business. The costs of recruitment alone (advertising, scrutinising application forms, interviewing and running asssesment centres) can easily reach £40-50000 for a medium-sized graduate scheme. The training costs and salaries for graduate recruits once they join the organisation are even higher. Graduate schemes aim to find future leaders for that organisation so, understandably, employers only want the most highly motivated applicants.
Employers will therefore ask you to demonstrate on your application form that you understand the job role that you have applied for, what you have to offer and what you want from a career. These motivational questions are often the most important part of your application and your answers have to be written specifically for that application and that employer – you cannot cut-and-paste them! Answering them well will involve taking the time to research the job and the employer.
Typical questions that will allow employers to judge your commitment, enthusiasm and motivation include:
What do you expect to be doing during your first year?
This question aims to assess how well you understand the job that you will be doing – how much responsibility you will have, the way that you will be working, the tasks involved and the skills that you will need to do the job well. Some job roles, such as accountancy and actuarial work, will also involve study for professional exams and you should show that you are prepared to combine this with the demands of the job.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Who knows! Don’t worry – you will not be held to whatever answer you give. Again, employers will look for an understanding of likely career progression and for ambition combined with realism. There is no need to be specific about job titles etc but you can use this opportunity to set out what you hope to learn on the graduate training scheme (through formal training and what you can learn more informally through your colleagues/mentors/buddies) and what skills you hope to use or develop with this organisation. Many companies include profiles of past graduate trainees on their website, which will help to give you an idea of possible career progression – LinkedIn may also be useful.
Why are you interested in this job role?
Again, this question is finding out whether you really understand the job that you will be doing. There are many misconceptions about careers and answers such as “I am interested in human resource management because I really enjoy helping people with their problems” or “Working as an advertising account manager will allow me to use my creative skills” show that the candidate has not done their basic research into these areas.
Your answers, though, should go beyond this information. As well as being accurate, the reasons that you give should be specific and, where possible, based on personal experience.
“Human resource management attracts me because of the variety of the work and the opportunity to work with other departments through the organisation. During my work as a sales assistant at BigCo I was intrigued by the range of tasks covered by the HR manager, such as recruitment, training, finance and legal issues, and discussed this work with the manager”
“Working as an advertising account manager involves knowing the client, their business, the advertising market and the different job functions within an advertising agency. It requires excellent communication, leadership, time management and organisational skills, all of which I have developed at university through directing large-scale drama productions. I feel that this work is the ideal way to use these skills in a high-profile and exciting business environment”
Why do you want to work for us?
It can seem difficult to work out what makes one manufacturer/bank/law firm different from all its competitors, but even a small amount of research will help you to stand out from other candidates – and the more research you do, the more you will stand out!
Don’t give very general answers such as:
- I have chosen to apply to Company X because it is a highly reputable organisation which offers challenging opportunities in a friendly and supportive environment. The company’s graduate training programme is well respected and would be an excellent start to my career”
This may be true, but it is equally true of dozens, if not hundreds, of other organisations. An answer that could be used for all of these other organisations is not a good answer! An answer such as:
- “The relatively small intake of 10 graduates makes Company X particularly appealing to me. I want to work in an environment where I can make a real contribution at an early stage and will not simply be a small cog in a large machine. I was also interested to read that Company X was awarded the top 3-star rating in the “Best Companies to Work For” list which encourages me to believe that it would offer me high-quality training.”
is more focused and specific and will make a much more positive impact on the employer.
Doing your research
Don’t just rely on a job advert to tell you everything about an employer but take time to look at their website!
On the website, don’t just look at the graduate recruitment pages – use sections such as “About Us” or “News” to find out more detailed information.
Does the company have a Twitter feed or Facebook page? If it does, use it! LinkedIn www.linkedin.com can also provide useful information about companies and their personnel.
Sites such as Rate My Placement www.ratemyplacement.co.uk/ give feedback from students on their placement and internship experiences with many major graduate recruiters.
If you are applying by CV, instead of an application form, your covering letter should include your reasons for being interested in this role and this organisation – see www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/coveringletters.htm
How and why employers use motivational questions: the FSA
A recent review of the graduate selection process at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) revealed that competency-based questions were no longer a reliable indicator of a candidate’s ability, as applicants had become familiar with these questions and were well-prepared to handle them (perhaps they had all visited their careers service!).
Assessors were surprised by the number of candidates who were unable to say
- why they had applied to the FSA
- what the organisation did
- what appealed to them about the job
- how they could contribute.
Many candidates had failed to research the organisation sufficiently, at best only looking at the company website and making no attempt to read more widely, to talk to current employees and alumni at the organisation or to understand its core values and culture.
These faults demonstrated a lack of motivation and business acumen, so the FSA looked at methods to test these qualities earlier on in the selection process. As a result, competency based questions were removed from the application form and replaced with motivation and business acumen questions such as:
- Why you have applied for a career at the FSA, why are these reasons important to you, how have you prepared for making this application?
- Why you have applied for this particular graduate programme. Why are the reasons you have stated important to you?
- The FSA has frequently been in the news over the past two years. Please outline the main issues the FSA are currently facing or will face in the future.
Candidates were then asked to pick two of these issues and to talk about these in depth:
- What action should the FSA take to deal with this issue? Why? What might the implications be?’
Motivation questions were also included in the telephone interview and face to face interview. The recruitment team could screen out candidates who had not carefully considered the FSA as an employer or who did not have the capability to be successful.
Making the form harder also meant that candidates who did complete it were more focused and that the unfocused were weeded out. Over six thousand people who registered on the FSA website did not complete or submit their application. Those who were motivated enough to apply, though, had a much higher success rate with 70% of candidates who reached the final selection stage getting a job offer. This meant a much more productive use of time for both graduates and FSA recruitment staff.
Advice from KPMG on preparing your applicationWe realise deciding where to begin your career can be difficult and that you might apply to a number of different organisations. However, we also hope you’ve identified why you want to work for us in particular and have thought carefully about why you want to work in your chosen field. Have you:
- Thought about why you think you’d enjoy working for KPMG?
- Found out as much as you can about the work involved?
- Read this site thoroughly and looked for any further information?
- Got an understanding of what you’ll be doing early on in your career?
- Finding Out About Employers www.kent.ac.uk/careers/jobs/finding-employers.htm
- Commercial Awareness www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/commercialawareness.htm Much of the information on these pages will help you to research employers and the environment in which they work
- Advice from TARGET Jobs on researching employers, including a checklist http://bit.ly/XFDonB
- You can get help with your application form or covering letter from the duty careers adviser, available from 10.30 am - 12.30 pm and from 2 - 4 pm, weekdays.