One of the major hurdles of job hunting is filling in application forms. This process of trying to squeeze your life into often too-small boxes needs to be as perfect as your covering letter or CV. Used wisely, forms can be the perfect way to sell your skills.
Application forms for graduate jobs are designed to create a level playing field: each applicant is given the same opportunities to provide information and to answer the same questions. However, it’s easy to succumb to application form fatigue, particularly if forms are long or involve difficult questions. Here is some advice to make sure your application makes it to the top of the interview pile.
Why Employers Use Forms
Unlike CVs and covering letters, application forms give recruiters the chance to ask for specific information from applicants. As well as finding out about candidates’ education and work experience, recruiters can ask questions about skills and achievements and the times when applicants have demonstrated these. That’s why it’s so important to tailor each of your applications to the individual organisation to which you’re applying.
The key to a good application is knowing what graduate recruiters are looking for, and then match yourself to their specifications. Doing your research at this stage will make all the difference. As well as looking at the job description and person specification for the role you’re interested in, find out about the organisation too. Is it somewhere you can see yourself working?
Look at the organisation’s website and marketing literature and find out about recent and ongoing work. It’s also important to use the Careers Centre to boost your chances of getting a job; their student advisors will have advice about the different organisations.
Dealing With Online Systems
Many graduate recruiters have now jumped on the technological bandwagon and have opted for online application forms (see sidebar). These are used to collect and store information on applicants, and many online systems are now used to book online tests and interview and assessment centre appointments. Most online systems also filter out applicants who don’t meet recruiters’ basic criteria.
It would be wise to mention that you should have all your information backed up, eg as a saved text document. While the reliability of online application web pages has improved dramatically over the years, there is always the possibility that you might lose your Internet connection or that something will go horribly wrong with your computer when you’re five minutes from completing the form.
Practice makes perfect
It’s an old adage but it’s true – practice really does make perfect. So whether you’re filling in an application online or on paper, try to leave time to practise first.
Practice for paper application forms calls for a little more preparation on your part. Before you start writing, photocopy application forms and write your answers in pencil to check they fit in the space provided. It’s worth making a few copies of the form in case you make a mistake later on.
Practical Tips for Applications
Whether you’re using a paper form or an online one, there are a few key dos and don’ts:
- Hit ‘send’ or post your form without printing it out or reading it through carefully. Read it out loud or ask a friend or one of the student advisors to check it first
- Copy and paste generic responses into a form. Instead, tailor your answers to each individual employer
- Leave your application till too late. Forms can take longer to complete than you might think, particularly if you need to contact referees or tutors
- Try to lower the tone. Attempts to be witty or informal in an application will not impress; likewise, ‘textspeak’ and chatty language are unlikely to convey the formal tone recruiters expect.
Sell Your Achievements
Besides filling in your name, address and academic achievements, you’ll need to include information about your skills and achievements. This is the part of the form where you can really sell yourself: look for the attributes recruiters are looking for and then match yourself to them using specific examples. The ‘STAR’ method can help here:
- Preparation is Everything
Ask any of the student advisors or a graduate recruiter for their number one application tip and they’ll probably tell you ‘preparation is everything’. Recruiters want you to show evidence that you have done your research into their organisation, the job you are applying for and yourself
- Practise Some Psychometric Tests (Aptitude tests)
Some online application forms have built-in psychometric tests, so it’s a good idea to practise doing these before you start to tackle online applications
- Print Out the Form and Read Through It Carefully
The next step is to look through the form and read through the instructions so that you know exactly what’s involved. Print it off or download it so that you can look through it in your own time without feeling any pressure. You can jot down some notes and start thinking about responses to the questions that require longer responses. Read through the instructions so that you know exactly what’s involved
- Prepare Longer Responses Before You Paste Them In
Prepare longer responses in a word-processing document so that you can edit them to your heart’s content. Understand what the question is asking and think of a suitable example that will demonstrate the skill or competence the employer is seeking. To keep your responses concise, try the STAR approach. Once you’re happy with your response, check your spelling and grammar carefully and make sure you’re within the word count
- Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Fill in the Form
Now you’re ready to return to the online form and fill it in. Give yourself plenty of time and make sure you won’t be disturbed, particularly if the form doesn’t have a ‘save and return’ facility as you will have to complete it in one sitting. Don’t rush and don’t lapse into informal email habits when filling in online applications. Think formal and professional, and don’t be surprised that an online application can take a couple of hours and a lot of concentration to fill in
- Check, Check and Check Again
- Print Out a Copy for Your Reference
Print out and proofread the form again and, assuming everything is perfect, keep it for future reference
- The Point of No Return: Hit the ‘Send’ Button
Click on the ‘send’ button and hope for the best.