Application Form Dos and Don’ts

Applying for jobs usually involves some kind of application form. They might be fairly straightforward and ask you to list all your all your exam grades and previous roles, or they might be a bit more quirky and want you to tell them what kind of biscuit you’d be and why*. What’s going on?

Writing jobs applications can really take the biscuit.
Writing jobs applications can really take the biscuit.

Jenny Woolacott-Scarr, Career Zone Support Officer looks at the dos and don’ts of application forms.

Do…

  • Give clear, concise answers using the STAR technique The R is really important as you need to provide evidence of your successes. I always think of STAR like telling a joke, and R is the killer punchline that everyone’s waiting for, don’t leave it out.
  • Personality counts, so be yourself. They’re employing you, not a robot; show you have a life outside of your studies. It’s unlikely you’ll have a ton of experience, so they’re looking for your raw talent and ability, and life outside your studies shows us who are.
  • Employers love facts and figures. Imagine two students run the same marathon for charity and both include it in their job applications. Student 1 writes “I trained for and ran a marathon.” But Student 2 writes “I trained for and ran the 2022 Bristol Marathon raising over £500 for Cancer Research UK, demonstrating my commitment, resilience and dedication.” It’s the same event, but which one sounds more impressive?

‘Employers love facts and figures.’

  • If there’s a word limit try and write up to it as much as possible, no one wants to interview someone who can’t think of anything to say about themselves or the job.
  • When you talk about your work experience it’s not just what you did, it’s the relevant transferable skills like teamwork, time management and leaderships that employers are interested in. Don’t be subtle, tell them clearly what you can bring to a role and relate the skills you talk about to those in the job description and person specification.
  • Show the company that you’ve researched them, the role and the sector, but go beyond what’s on their website. Employers want you to go the extra mile.
  • Every employer thinks they’re different (and better) than the competition. Evidence you know what sets them apart from the crowd. Dig deep, do they have a new CEO? What are there plans for the company and how can you help them meet their objectives?
  • Answer the question you’re asked – if you try and avoid it they’ll notice. If you’re stuck, think about it from the employer’s point of view, they’ll only ask you a question that’s going to help them decide whether you’re worth interviewing or not. (This is where biscuit style questions come in – how do you react to a question where there’s no right answer? And what thought processes do you go through to get there?)
  • Demonstrate that you really want to work for the company, show your passions and enthusiasm by making your application as good as possible.

‘How do you react to a question where there’s no right answer? And what thought processes do you go through to get there?’

Do and Don’t… I get asked ‘how many job applications should I make?’ We say, do apply for as many as you can, but don’t apply for so many that the quality of your applications suffer, and/or that it impacts on your academic work and/or your own mental and physical wellbeing.

Don’t…

  • Write over the word limit (if there is one). Most jobs will need you to create some kind of reports or documents, and brevity is always appreciated.
  • Poor spelling and grammar could ruin your chances, some employers have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule.
  • Don’t forget to show your academic successes from Exeter, being at Uni is a huge part of of your life and professional development, and employers want to hear about it.
  • Your voluntary roles might be just as important (or more so) than your paid work, employers don’t care at this stage, they just want you to tell them about your skills and experience.
  • Don’t be shy about ‘selling’ yourself, tell the employer what sets you apart from other candidates.
  • Don’t give generic answers, be specific and keep it relevant. We know it can be hard work applying for jobs and sometimes boring but employers can tell if you’ve copied answers from other application forms.
  • Try not to use the same experience to answer every question – use examples from academic work, work experience (paid or unpaid), Uni societies and sports clubs etc.
  • Don’t undervalue yourself. You’re at a top Russell Group university, that’s already a huge achievement.
  • Don’t get the name of the employer wrong. You might think you’d never do that, but it’s surprisingly common and employers are likely to instantly delete your application.

If you take one piece of advice from me, think about this – what employers know about you is entirely based on what you tell them. So you need to be as clear and direct as possible. Job applications and interviews aren’t a time for subtlety, hinting that maybe perhaps you’d be kind of OK in the job. 

Looking for more info and advice on applications and everything else careers-related? Our ‘Help with…‘ pages are great place to start. And if you need an application form review you can book in via Live Chat on our website, or come in and see us in person in the Forum (Streatham Campus) or the Exchange (Penryn Campus).

*Personally, I’m a milk chocolate digestive; works well in most situations, outside melts easily but retains a robust centre.

Get started with the Career Zone

Chloe Mabberley graduated from University of Exeter in July 2022 with a BA in History, she worked in the Career Zone as a SCP Career Zone Assistant in her final year. We spoke to Chloe about her internship experience and asked what advice she would give students thinking about their careers or considering an internship with the Career Zone and what skills she had learnt to take her into the workplace.

You were recently awarded a First in History. How did you find balancing your studies and an SCP role?

It’s all about time management and learning what to prioritise. Luckily, when you are an SCP or SBP, your employer knows that your studies will take priority sometimes and they are very flexible with shifts and if you need to change or swap shifts with someone. When you have a deadline looming, it’s often quite nice to come to work and think about something else for a few hours. I use planners to help me stay on track of daily and weekly goals, meaning that I never fell behind and could always find time to do university work. Making sure you have a good sleep schedule too. Having a 9am shift twice a week, meant I was up early, and once I had finished work at 1pm I still had lots of time to do essays in the afternoon.

What 3 things would you like to tell students now you have worked in the Career Zone?

“Use the Career Zone website, there is a vast amount of information on there that is incredibly useful. CV advice, Interview help, information about different job sectors, and personality tests to find out what kind of job might suit you if you are feeling lost!”

  1. Use the Career Zone website, there is a vast amount of information on there that is incredibly useful. CV advice, Interview help, information about different job sectors, and personality tests to find out what kind of job might suit you if you are feeling lost!
  2. Make a LinkedIn account early and start connecting with people you know. Make sure your profile is up to scratch and keep it professional. Recruiters often reach out to people directly on LinkedIn, so you never know what opportunities are out there for the taking.
  3. Start early! Trying to figure out what to do after university can be stressful, so the earlier you start gaining experience and looking at your options, the better.

“Start early! Trying to figure out what to do after university can be stressful, so the earlier you start gaining experience and looking at your options, the better.”

What have you learnt about yourself since working in the Career Zone and how has it helped you in your steps towards your future career?

It has helped me to identify my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. It has taught me that I enjoy working with people and helping others in a role. It has also taught me that I love looking at CVs, applications, and that sort of thing, as I find it really interesting seeing how people sell themselves on paper.  It has given me more experience in customer service, problem solving, attention to detail, communication skills, project management, and many more skills that I can take into the workplace.

I now know that I want a job that involves working in a team and for an employer that values your opinion and input.

What have you enjoyed and gained from the experience as an SCP in the Career Zone?

As someone who has always struggled with not knowing what career path to take, I have really enjoyed helping students who are in a similar situation. When students come to see us in person, looking worried and a bit lost, it makes my day when I see them leave feeling much more confident about their career after I’ve given them lots of resources to look at, or booked them in for an appointment.

When students come to see us in person, looking worried and a bit lost, it makes my day when I see them leave feeling much more confident about their career.”

Have you received any career advice since you have been working at the Career Zone?

Yes, I recently had a CV review with an advisor, and it helped me massively. She showed me how to take my CV to the next level and really impress employers. She also showed me how going into more detail about my degree, achievements, and work experience can demonstrate to employers the skills I have, instead of just simply listing them on my CV. I would definitely recommend having a CV review at the Career Zone.

What advice would you give to students who are writing their CVs or cover letters now?

Use all the resources on the Career Zone website, there is a CV builder that will make your CV for you, an instant reviewer called CV360 that uses AI technology, example CVs, webinar recordings from Career Consultants, and loads more. If you still feel stuck, book in for a review appointment with one of the advisors!

Have you had any other appointments whilst at the Career Zone?

I had a Career Guidance appointment with a Careers Consultant, which was very useful. I had done some research on different sectors I was interested in, but she gave me some more expert knowledge about them and where I could look for opportunities and find out about potential qualifications I would need. I would encourage students to do their own research first before an appointment, as this means you can get much more out of the 30-minute slot and have more of an in-depth discussion with the consultant.

We understand that you are going to take some time out to travel, as you were unable to during the pandemic.  What are your thoughts about what you want to do with your career planning for your return and longer-term?

The plan at the moment is to apply for some graduate roles for the September 2023 intake and see how those applications go. If I’m unsuccessful or don’t find any roles I am interested in applying for then I would like to look for other opportunities in London. I’d like to live there for a few years for the experience, maybe in sectors such as HR or recruitment, but who knows, I’m open to lots of things!   I’d like to end up in a role that enables me to work with people and something that I genuinely enjoy. Seeing the work that Careers Consultants do has sparked an interest in potentially pursuing this line of work or working in a university setting in general.

What would you recommend to any student thinking of taking an internship with the Career Zone?

Apply! It has been great working for the Career Zone during my final year. The internships that the University offers are flexible, well-paid, look good on your CV, and can teach you loads of new skills to bring to the workplace after you finish your studies.

What is the best advice you have been given regarding your employability, career planning?

Do a job that you enjoy! If you’re going to be working for 30 years, you may as well do something you like.

What advice would you give to others who are thinking about their next steps in their career planning?

Start planning early, but if you haven’t don’t let it stress you out too much as it’s not worth it. See rejection as a sign of redirection, sometimes the job just wasn’t meant for you and means you could potentially land the perfect job at your next interview. If you are really struggling or don’t know where to start, contact the Career Zone who will be happy to help you out.

“Start planning early, but if you haven’t don’t let it stress you out too much as it’s not worth it. See rejection as a sign of redirection, sometimes the job just wasn’t meant for you and means you could potentially land the perfect job at your next interview. If you are really struggling or don’t know where to start, contact the Career Zone who will be happy to help you out. “

The Career Zone recruit SCPs in the Spring and sometimes the Autumn term. Find out how you can improve your employability and find SCP internships by visiting the Career Zone or by searching on Handshake.

 

My Placement at Siemens Energy

Claire Humphries is currently on a Placement Year with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern, alongside her Geography and Business Management (Flexible Combined Honours) Degree. At Exeter, Humanities undergraduates can get work experience across a wide range of sectors as part of their degree on programmes such as ‘with Employment Experience’ or the ‘Humanities in the Workplace’ module. If you’re a Humanities student and want to find out more about work placements head to: https://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/careers/undergraduatestudents/

Claire Humphries is currently on a Placement Year with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern, alongside her Geography and Business Management (Flexible Combined Honours) Degree.

I chose to do a degree ‘with Employment Experience’ because I wanted to gain some real-life experience in the workplace to help me understand and get a feeling for what it’s like out in the world of business. I thought this experience would benefit me massively in helping understand what I’m interested and passionate about within a business setting going forward to help with my future career.

“I found placements by looking online, and the Career Zone also had placement adverts. The Career Zone have very useful documents to help with the process such as information on how to improve your CV and how to write a Cover Letter which I found really helpful.”

The search for placements is a tricky one and I would suggest starting sooner rather than later as lots of different companies have different closing dates and there is a lot of competition. It’s also really important to read the information about the placement properly and ensure you fill out everything required to better your chances of getting to the next stage. I found placements by looking online, and the Career Zone also had placement adverts. The Career Zone have very useful documents to help with the process such as information on how to improve your CV and how to write a Cover Letter which I found really helpful. With placement applications I found that practice helps, particularly with on-line tests, and I think it’s really important to remember that even if you get to an interview or assessment stage and don’t get beyond that, it is still a really good learning experience and you should not be disheartened as you will take that experience with you for other jobs that you apply for later on.

“I think it’s really important to remember that even if you get to an interview or assessment stage and don’t get beyond that, it is still a really good learning experience and you should not be disheartened as you will take that experience with you for other jobs that you apply for later on.”

My Placement year has been with Siemens Energy as a Sales and Marketing Intern. Despite my year being severely impacted by the Coronavirus I have gained good business experience, even if it was very different to what I was expecting when I first applied. I may not have experienced working in an office environment, but I have learnt a valuable skill in ‘working from home’ and being part of a ‘virtual office’.  My placement taught me the importance of networking within the workplace as well as the value of informal conversations and catch-ups which help maintain motivation and a healthy mindset. For me this took place in the form of weekly catch-ups with my fellow interns and also some informal team building sessions throughout the year. I also learnt a number of new business skills that I will take with me for my career including time management, project work, presentation skills and the use of different IT platforms.

“Choosing a placement as part of my degree was one of the best decisions I have taken… Having real job experience integral to my degree has helped me discover what I enjoy and also perhaps what I don’t enjoy so much in a work setting.”

Choosing a placement as part of my degree was one of the best decisions I have taken. It’s given me the opportunity to go through rigorous job application processes and it will allow me to use the work experience I have gained to help with future job applications once I graduate. Having real job experience integral to my degree has helped me discover what I enjoy and also perhaps what I don’t enjoy so much in a work setting, and this will help me tailor what modules I choose in my final year.

The Career De-Stress Series: Helping you take some stress out of career planning

In my role as Employability and Careers Consultant, it’s always a mixed bag of conversations and situations, but one thing is clear

Kate Foster Careers Consultant
Kate Foster – Employability and Careers Consultant.

– life for students is currently challenging and stressful – but we are here to help, advise and support you to be in the best place you can be with your career planning.

There is no doubt we’re all living through unique and complex times, add in the usual pressures of University and  life in general – deadlines, assignments, dissertations and demands on our time. I’m not surprised that making career decisions elicit feelings of stress, even panic and avoidance, if you don’t know where to start.

Help is at hand as the Career Zone is here to support you. Our staff have a wealth of expertise and experience to offer students and graduates, and we’ve put together a range of online sessions and podcasts to help guide you through making career decisions and developing employability skills as part of our Career De Stress campaign this week (18-22 January).

We’re all pushed for time trying to fit in as much into our busy lives as possible. If this is you and you’re feeling overwhelmed consider signing up to our Time and Stress Management and Personal Resilience sessions. You’ll have the chance to explore not only how you’re feeling but also through sharing experiences realise that you are not alone. You’ll also pick up some great practical tips and techniques.

Do you dread being asked about your future career plans, and find yourself starting to avoid those people who might ask you?

It can be overwhelming not knowing what to do and where to start, but instead of putting it off and burying your head in the sand (apologies for the cliché) think about booking onto the Choosing a Career session. You’ll find out about different ways of exploring careers, and have the opportunity to focus on YOU in terms of what is important to you and what motivates you.  Our fantastic colleagues in Wellbeing are also working with us as part of “Career De-stress” so look out for the following sessions – Looking after yourself whilst Exploring Careers and Disclosing a Disability to a future employer. These focussed sessions will enable you to not only focus on the key elements of making a career decision or finding a supportive employer, but also explore resources and sources of further help, and identify practical tips and techniques to enable you to manage those stressful situations such as the dreaded recruitment Interview!

If you don’t have much time our podcast series may be just the thing for you as you can download and listen in your own time – https://careerzonepodcast.podbean.com/. Topics include “Delegation”, “How will graduate jobs be impacted by COVID-19”, “How can I beat Interview nerves?” and “How do I choose a Career?”

In addition, there is a wealth of online resources available including the Career Planning section of the Career Zone website, which is organised around Decide, Plan, and Compete – http://www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/ with hints, tips and resources aimed at whatever stage you are at with your future decisions.

My Career Zone Digital includes some great interactive information including professional insights into different industries and sectors, and online tools (like video interview practice) where you can improve your skills and confidence.

My top tip would be…..start somewhere…… look at the Career De stress activities. Grasp as many opportunities as you can and break out of your comfort zone.

Planning and managing your career is a lifelong employability skill so this won’t be the first or the last time that you’re faced with deciding what to do and which direction to take. Some people find it easier (or appear to find it easier!) than others.

My top tip would be…..start somewhere…… look at the Career De-stress activities. Grasp as many opportunities as you can and break out of your comfort zone. You never know what you’ll find out about yourself, you might even start piecing together some ideas for a future career.

For further information on Career De-stress and to book onto sessions – http://www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/events/careerde-stress/