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Your application

How to write a CV, application form and covering letter

Your first step in getting any job, placement or internship is your application. For graduates, summing up your skills and experience on a page can seem an impossible task. So we're here to show you what employers are looking for, how to present yourself effectively and what makes a great CV, covering letter or application form.

The majority of employers now use online application forms, rather than, or in addition to, a CV and cover letter.

Common questions

  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?
  • What relevant work experience do you have for this role?
  • What relevant skills do you have for this role?

Always refer back to the job description, and relate your answers to the role, and organisation, you are applying for.

Competency-Based Questions

These questions look for evidence a particular skill or competency, for example:

  • Describe a time when you had to work in a group to accomplish a task
  • Describe a time when you were faced with a challenging situation, and how you responded to it
  • Describe a situation when you had to influence other people

Competency-based selection methods are based on the assumption that past behaviour is the best predictor for future behaviour. It's not enough to just say what you can offer; you need to do this by giving evidence. Selectors are less interested in what you've done than how you've done it.

The best way to prepare for a competency based question is to

  • Read the employer's web site and/or job description, and note the skills and competencies they require.
  • Note down any examples you can think of, when you have put these competencies into practice. These could come from vacation or part-time work, clubs and societies, voluntary work, holidays and travel or personal and family experiences.
  • Compose a paragraph or so for each situation, outlining what happened, how you approached it and what the outcome was.
  • Think about the underlying question. What is it that they want you to tell them about yourself?

You can use the S.T.A.R Approach to answer these questions:

  • Situation – set the scene
  • Task – what were you asked to do?
  • Action – what did you do?
  • Result – what was the outcome?

When answering these types of questions:

  • Try to give quantifiable results if possible. This gives a much better impression of your achievement.
    • "during my time as Chairman, membership rose by 20"
    • "we raised £200 for charity"
    • "my marks improved from 55% to 65%"
  • Sometimes, interviewers will ask you about a situation where you were unsuccessful. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how well you learn lessons from failure, but also to demonstrate qualities such as resilience; determination; strength of character; flexibility; initiative; and lateral thinking.
  • The examples you give can be from work, study or personal life – but try to give a variety.
  • Don't go into too much background detail - keep to the point!
  • Think of the most relevant examples, rather than the most impressive. If you are asked to describe a time when you had to give a presentation in front of the public, a seminar paper which involved research and planning will carry more weight than "presenting a bouquet to the Queen when I was four years old"!

Any other information

Sometimes, an application form has an “any other information” section. What you put here is entirely up to you. You could use it to cover anything you have not included in previous sections, to expand on your skills and experience, or your interest in the company, or to give more detail about your degree, such as projects or dissertations. Use this space - don't waste an opportunity to make a good impression!

Top tips

  • Read the instructions carefully and make sure you follow them.
  • Read the Job Description and Person Specification, to understand what the job entails.
  • Research the company and role beforehand and find out as much as possible.
  • Be clear and concise in your answers, and check your spelling and grammar. Don't use informal language.
  • Cut and paste from your CV or other applications. Save your work, so you can reuse these answers in other applications, and refresh your memory before interview.
  • Answer Competency Based Questions with concise but specific details, using the S.T.A.R. method.