Jenny Woolacott-Scarr is Career Zone Information Officer based in the Forum, Streatham Campus.
You’ve seen your dream job, and only one thing stands between you and getting an interview; the application form. Little boxes? Impenetrable questions? STAR technique? Don’t worry, we’ve seen it all before and we’re here to help.
Answer the question. If you’re stuck, think about it from the employer’s point of view; they’ll only ask something that’ll help them decide whether to interview you or not. If they ask about leadership then the role you’re applying for will involve leadership.
Give clear, concise answers using the STAR technique; think of it like telling a joke, we’re waiting for the punchline, the employer is waiting for the Result. Employers don’t just want to know what you did, they want evidence that you’re good at it too.
If there’s a word limit use all the space available, otherwise it looks like you don’t have much to say. If there’s no word limit try and keep your answers around 500 words.
When you talk about your work experience employers are also looking for transferable skills like teamwork, leadership and time management. Have a look at the job description and person specification and try and mirror the language. Job applications are not a time to be subtle.
Show evidence that you’ve researched the company, the role and the market; but go beyond what’s on the website. Every employer thinks they’re different (and better) than the competition, you need to show them you know what sets them apart.
Demonstrate that you really want to work for them; show passion and enthusiasm. You wouldn’t interview someone who didn’t care about your company.
Book an appointment to have your application form checked, we’re here to help.
It might sound cynical, but at the end of the day, when an employer sees your application form, cover letter, CV, or you, they’re really only thinking one thing; ‘what value can you bring to my company?’ Once you get used to this idea, job applications can get a lot easier.
Poor spelling and grammar could ruin your chances; some employers have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule, no matter what language you’re applying in.
Don’t forget to show your academic success; be proud of your achievements. If you don’t tell the employer about them, how will they know?
Don’t be shy about ‘selling’ yourself; tell the employer what sets you apart from the other candidates, but don’t be arrogant and never put anyone else down.
Don’t give generic answers; be specific and keep it relevant. We know it’s hard work applying for jobs, but employers really can tell if you’ve copied your answers from other application forms.
Don’t try and dodge the answer. Employers find this really annoying; reading anything other than a direct answer wastes their time.
Don’t repeat yourself. If you’re an undergraduate employers won’t expect you to have loads of relevant work experience, but don’t use the same example for every question.
Unless the employer specifically asks for it, avoid phrases like ‘I have exceptional attention to detail’ or ‘I have excellent spelling and grammar’. Whenever I see that on a form I think ‘challenge accepted!’ and search until I find a mistake.
Dealing with the weird ones…
Occasionally employers will throw a curve ball and ask something like ‘if you could invite anyone living or dead to a dinner party, who would you chose?’ The way to deal with these seemly pointless questions again goes back to the kinds of skills the employer is looking for. Some might want a quirky answer that sets you apart, but most of all they’re looking to see how you cope with a problem that has no correct solution, and how your thought process led you to your answer. They’re basically trying to get into your head.
One question we get asked a lot is ‘how many application forms should I fill in?’. The answer depends on you; the more applications you make the greater your chance of getting an interview. However, don’t do so many that the quality slips, and above all never do so many that your academic work or your health suffers.