- Do your research – Make yourself the expert on your chosen employer, the type of work and the skills required
- Don’t rush – Applications can be very time consuming. Give yourself plenty of time to complete them well
- Follow the instructions – Take careful note of word counts and other guidelines
- Check it and get it checked – It is your job to get rid of any spelling and grammatical errors. We will be happy to give you feedback on all other aspects of your applications
- Always keep a copy, so you can remind yourself before your interview or assessment centre. You might not be able to access online applications once you have submitted
- The Basics
Application forms help employers to assess and compare candidates quickly and directly on specific criteria. They can vary considerably. Some will ask you a number of lengthy questions, others only for basic details before uploading a CV and covering letter.
Application forms can be tricky and will usually take a considerable amount of time to complete. To do this well, there are some key steps you should consider before you start writing:
- Employers' criteria and requirements can vary hugely. Take time to research them thoroughly.
- Carry out a skills audit to help you identify examples from your studies, work experience and interests which demonstrate these skills. You can use our Skills Map and guide to Creating STARR Examples to help you.
Almost all application forms are completed online. You will usually be asked to create an account which allows you to access the form and work on it over a period of time. Here are some tips on how to handle online forms:
- Copy any questions which require a longer answer into a Word document and take a note of the word count. Any additional words will usually just be cut off!
- Draft your answers, spell check and word count them. You can also print them off easily for feedback.
- Copy your final draft back into the form. Make sure you check the formatting carefully at this point. Apostrophes and other punctuation can go awry.
- What Will They Ask?
Application forms can vary hugely but will usually include questions about:
- personal details and contact information
- academic qualifications and achievements/predicted grades
- work experience and volunteering
- references – always ask permission before you include referees' details. To request permission from an academic referee, you can use the University’s reference request document.
These questions will seem very straight-forward but think carefully about how you describe work experience in particular. Point out skills relevant to the job and use good strong language to outline your duties and responsibilities. You might find the power word list in the job application advice resource helpful.
An important part of many applications are the competency-based questions. These ask you to provide evidence for the skills required by the employer through examples from your own experience and usually take the form of:
- Can you give me an example of when…?
- Tell me about a time when…
If you have a number of these questions to answer, plan carefully which example you will use to answer each question. Once you have selected the most appropriate examples, use the STARR (Situation, Task, Actions, Result, Reflection) structure to shape your answers.
See our guide on Creating STARR Examples for more information on how to answer competency-based questions successfully.
Employers will usually also want to explore your motivation to work for them and in this job. Expect questions such as:
- Why do you want to work for us?
- What attracts you to… (the type of job/area of work/sector)?
Be specific about your reasons for applying to the employer – such as areas of specialisation, training and support, charity involvement – and to the type of work. Ideally, link this to the skills you have to offer.
- Personal Statements
A personal statement is a short piece of writing which gives you the chance to market your skills, experience, and outline your overall suitability. They are most commonly used in applications for postgraduate study or research but some employers also use them instead of asking you specific questions about your skills and motivation.
In most cases, you will be given some guidance on the length of your statement and what you are expected to cover. Read these instructions carefully and take your time in planning the structure of your statement.
A good statement usually includes:
- An opening paragraph which starts with a good strong opening statement and explains why you have decided to apply
- Several middle paragraphs on your relevant experience, knowledge, skills and interests
- A conclusion which sums up what you have to offer
In postgraduate applications, it can also be a good idea to talk about how this new degree programme will help you in realising your career goals.
For job applications, refer to the job description and person specification and make sure that you cover all the skills required in your statement.
- How to Get Feedback
We will be happy to provide you with feedback on the quality and impact of your application form answers or personal statement but we will not correct spelling and grammatical errors for you. Ask friends and family to help with this if you are struggling.