[Job Applications] [My CV] [Covering Letters] [[Interview Techniques] [Oral Presentations] [Psychometric Tests]

Job Applications ::


Applications present a number of challenges. It pays to prepare your responses very carefully.

Challenged by choice

Many applications fail simply because the candidates have chosen inappropriate targets, in terms of type of job or employer. By being realistic and choosing your targets carefully, you can save yourself a great deal of frustration.

Challenged by design

If you have seen a fair number of graduate job application forms, you will have discovered how challenging they can be. Some are designed to make candidates think very hard about themselves and their suitability for the opportunities on offer, and to put off the faint-hearted.

The more difficult forms, while daunting, usually give you ample scope to put yourself across effectively. Short, undemanding forms can frustrate your efforts to do so.

(When the employer is happy for a CV and a covering letter to be used, the challenge for the candidate is to work out her/his own design for the application. CVs and letters are covered in separate leaflets - Your CV and Covering letters.)

Challenged by the odds

At the best of times, large organisations might interview about one in three applicants for graduate posts/traineeships. The odds are often considerably worse. However, the figures by themselves do not give a true picture of the strength of competition.

Employers continue to receive large numbers of applications that are inappropriate or badly done. If you choose your targets wisely and take pains to present yourself well on paper, your chances will be very much better than the figures suggest. The odds are likely to improve if you include in your target list employers who are not household names.

You need to make a case

Making an application is not simply a matter of providing information. Unless you are among the fortunate few with a record so outstanding and relevant to what you want to do that it speaks convincingly for itself, you will need to be persuasive.

You don't need to be a budding sales representative to be persuasive. Essentially, it is a matter of presenting a rationale for your application - of making a case.

A well thought out case can carry you a long way through selection procedures. It can help you make an effective application, to perform well at first interview and come across convincingly at the final stage. Constructing a good case and presenting it clearly on paper can take a lot of time and effort, but the procedure is in principle straightforward.

Work out how you match up to requirements

Find out as much as you can about the job you are applying for and the kind of person likely to fit it best. Some employers provide a lot of helpful information, but often one has to do a bit of research. General information is available in the Careers Service to supplement any that you can obtain from the employer direct.

Sum up what you learn in terms of the knowledge, skills and motivation that the employer is likely to be looking for in candidates and relate these to evidence in your history. Look for examples and, where appropriate, proof that you have the knowledge and skills required, and are inclined to apply them. Take note that any examples you use will need to stand up to discussion at interview.

Present the most telling evidence

Decide what will be the most convincing evidence and ensure that it is included in your application. Where evidence is lacking, try to cover the gaps with convincing arguments. If you find nothing to support your case at all, you are probably applying for the wrong sort of job!

Do what you can to make the evidence hang together in a way that creates a word picture of the kind of person you are, what you are good at and what you like doing. Sometimes you need to complete this in a covering letter.

Try to create a distinctive impression

Evidence that you meet all the employer's requirements might not be enough to get you an interview. Faced with a lot of good applications, the employer will tend to select those which are distinctive in some way. This can arise from one or more of the following:

  • especially relevant experience

  • a record of outstanding or unusual achievement

  • strength of argument

  • an attractive and effective style

  • precision and overall visual effect


Handy hints

  • Read it through carefully and note any specific instructions. If they ask you to write in block capitals or black ink, do just that.

  • Tailor your answers to relate to what you have discovered about the job and the kind of person best suited to fill it.

  • Draft answers in rough first. It may help to take a photocopy of the form so that you can work on the layout of your answers.

  • Think about why an employer may be asking this question. What do they want to know?

  • If a question is not applicable, say so. Do not leave empty boxes.

  • Use positive and specific words to describe your activities and interests, rather than vague terms and tired clich,s. See below for some ideas on words to use.

  • Once your draft is complete, check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors before writing the final version.

  • Make sure that it is legible. If necessary use block capitals throughout. Typing in boxes is difficult so only do this if really necessary and only if permitted by the employer, and you have the competence to do so.

  • Always keep a copy of the form so that you can remember what you wrote.

  • Remember to keep an eye on the closing dates.

Constructing an answer

To take an example, suppose you are answering one of the key questions to be found on the Standard Application Form (SAF):

Explain what attracts you about the kind(s) of work for which you are applying and offer evidence of your suitability.

This kind of question gives you an opportunity to put across your case. The space provided on the SAF allows for an answer of about 250 words.

Decide what you want the answer to achieve

It is worth working out first, on a separate piece of paper, precisely what you want to achieve with your answer. You might set out, for example, to convince them that you:

  • have a long-standing interest in the field of work concerned

  • possess the key skills that the job calls for

  • have a good insight into the nature of the job.

These points could then provide the basis for three short paragraphs. Focusing on three or four key points is a good way of shaping your answer.

Organise the evidence

Then, working again on a separate piece of paper, you might:

  • assemble the facts that support the three points

  • choose the material that seems to be most telling

  • think out how you can use the chosen material in the three paragraphs.

Write about 100 words on each point

If the main points you have decided to make are of equal weight, you could then use the chosen material to produce the first draft of perhaps three 100-word paragraphs. Remember to use positive and specific words (see below).

Edit the three paragraphs down to about 250 words

You will almost certainly need to revise the draft to ensure that it hangs together as a whole, relates appropriately to other answers on the form and will fit comfortably in the space provided. You can try out the answer in the appropriate space on a photocopy of the form.

Write out a fair copy of the final draft on the form

Only when you are satisfied with the answer do you write on the form itself, taking great care to achieve a high standard of presentation.

Stuck for words? Here are some ideas

Strong verbs - to describe what you have done

Achieved, analysed, assessed, budgeted, chose, completed, contributed, co-ordinated, created, decided, demonstrated, developed, devised, directed, elected, enjoyed, evaluated, expressed, gained, handled, increased, initiated, implemented, improved, interpreted, investigated, led, measured, organised, planned, prepared, presented, produced, raised (money), ran, researched, selected, set up, started, supervised, tested, understood, wrote.

Adjectives - to describe yourself

Accurate, adaptable, calm, commercially minded, conscientious, determined, hardworking, impartial, logical, methodical, patient, persistent, persuasive, precise, reliable, resilient, resourceful, responsible, self-reliant, sensitive, systematic, tactful, tolerant.

Use a mix of short and long words, and don't begin every sentence with 'I'.


Further Information

  • How to Complete an Application Form, University of London Careers Service

  • Applications and Interviews, AGCAS booklet

  • Looking Good on Paper, AGCAS Video


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