Application forms are an opportunity for you to demonstrate to recruiters that you have the appropriate skills, personal qualities and experience for a role, and the potential to be successful. They are generally used in the first stage of the recruitment process to shortlist candidates for interviews or assessment centres.
What to include
An effective application, whether it's by CV, covering letter or application form will contain the same key information about you, so prepare now to make applying for any job more straightforward.
Firstly, take a blank sheet of paper (or open a new Word document) and list your experience, achievements and skills:
Experience and achievements
This should include your university, college and school education, any work experience, placements or voluntary work which you have done, involvement in the community, university societies and sports clubs, plus any positions of responsibility you have held.
Include any achievements which you are proud of or which demonstrate transferable skills, such as awards, prizes, travel, hobbies and interests.
Even if your experience is unrelated to the roles which you are applying for, anything which you have listed in ‘experience and achievements’ will demonstrate your skills.
For example, working as a sales assistant might have developed your ability to communicate with different people, work under pressure at busy times and handle difficult customers. Likewise, a university group project may demonstrate that you could work within a set timescale, meet objectives, and work as part of a team.
Tailoring your application
Match your skills and experience with what the employer is looking for and you will have the basis of a really effective application. To do this, you will need to know about the role and organisation:
Research the job
Read the job specification, or other information provided about the job carefully, and research the occupation. What is it exactly that the organisation will expect you to do? How can you demonstrate you have the skills that they require within your application?
Go through each of the requirements of the job and give an example of how you have comparable skills and experience.
Research the organisation
Why do you want to work for this organisation specifically? Employers will understand that you may be applying for a few different roles, but expect you to demonstrate an understanding of their organisation and the nature of their business. Visit the employer’s own website but also look for information about the employer on business and news websites.
Try and reflect the way the organisation writes about itself in your application (without just copying and pasting!). This shows you have done your homework and you understand what the company is all about, and also helps to demonstrate how you would be a good fit for the role.
Completing the Form
Give yourself plenty of time to complete an application form, and allow time to review what you have written before submitting it.
Aim to send the form as early as you can once it has been advertised, as some employers close their recruitment when a certain number of applications have been received - don't wait for the closing date.
Read the instructions carefully and fill in all the required sections :
This section is fairly self-explanatory, asking you for your name, address and contact details, and possibly other information such as date of birth and whether you hold a driving licence.
- Present your qualifications to display your best results prominently.
- Insert your qualifications in reverse chronological (date) order - put the most recent first.
- List your highest grades for each set of examinations at the top of each list.
If the form asks for specific qualifications which it is not easy for you to list – for instance, if it asks for UCAS points when you have international high school qualifications– ask Career and Employability Services on how best to present your own set of qualifications.
Employment / work experience
Use reverse date order for your employment details unless the instructions say otherwise. When writing about what you did in each job, describe your duties and responsibilities, linking it where you can with the skills the employer is asking for.
Include information about voluntary work, particularly if it is related to the role or if you don’t have a lot of work experience. This will highlight the transferable skills you have gained, which an employer should recognise. On the other hand, if you have insufficient space for all your jobs, you can group similar jobs together or summarise your experience.
Make the most of this section by drawing attention to particular achievements you have accomplished at work or when volunteering.
This is often a blank text box in which to write your statement, so you may find that it is easiest to break the supporting statement down into different sections. You can create your own headers from the job description or person specification to demonstrate your skills in an easily readable manner (see the writing a personal statement section below).
Alternatively, these may be grouped as competency questions, which are specific scenario-based questions set by the employer which you are required to answer (see the answering competency questions section below).
There is no need to formally introduce your supporting statement as you would with a covering letter.
It is usual to include the details of two referees – usually a current or previous employer, plus an academic referee such as your tutor or course leader. Remember to ask your referees for permission before adding their details to your application.
Here you can add any information which you feel is relevant to your application, but has not been covered elsewhere on the application form.
You can also use this to list dates you are not available for interview, or to attach a covering letter or scans of your qualifications, etc.
This section will not be seen by the people involved in selecting successful applicants, and will remain confidential to the Human Resources department. It will be used to monitor equal opportunities policies and often asks for your gender, sexual orientation, date of birth, nationality, ethnic origin, disability, etc.
Criminal records disclosure
This section is usually stored separately from your application form to protect confidentiality. Details that you provide will be treated confidentially, and will not automatically exclude you from being considered for vacancies.
Hints and tips for online applications
- Download a copy of the application form so that you can complete it offline in a Word document to start with. You can also count the number of words you have used in sections of the forms which specify a word limit. Make sure that you stick to the word limit.
- Don’t automatically cut and paste information from other application forms or your CV, without adapting it to suit exactly what the form is asking for.
- Most online forms don’t let you use features such as bullet points, but you should still make sure you layout is clear and easy to read.
- Some forms may also include personality questionnaires. The best advice for these is just to go with your immediate response and give an honest answer.
Answering competency based questions
“Describe a situation where you have worked as part of a team. What was your role? What did you do? How did you overcome problems? What was the outcome?”
Competency questions such as the above can be tricky to answer, but using the STAR technique can help you structure your answers and fully demonstrate your skills and experience.
|S||Define the Situation|
|T||Identify the Task|
|A||Describe your Action|
|R||Explain the Result|
Here's how to use it to structure your answers, along with an example answer to the question "How can you demonstrate your experience and skill in providing excellent customer care, particularly when dealing with difficult customers?"
Define the SITUATION: (where were you; what were you doing? what was the context)
During my part-time work in a large local hotel I dealt with a difficult situation involving a customer who wanted a drink after last orders. The man became rude and offensive when I told him that I could not serve him as last orders had been called five minutes ago. His behaviour was affecting other guests, and I could see the embarrassment being caused by his shouting and foul language.
Identify the TASK: ( what was your aim? what was the problem?)
Recognising the need to take control of the situation so that all customers could enjoy their time at the hotel, I decided to try to calm the customer down.
Describe the ACTION you took: (be clear about what you did)
I knew that he was a speaker at an important conference being held in the hotel and, to keep things discreet, I tried to deal with this without calling security. I calmly repeated the fact that I could not serve him and offered him a glass of water. I also told him that in his hotel room his mini bar would be stocked with drinks.
The man continued to shout and referred to his position as a key speaker at the conference. I politely told him that I could not make exceptions to the bar rules and that if he continued to behave in that way I would have to have him removed from the bar.
Highlight the RESULT you achieved: (what was the outcome of your actions, what did you achieve?)
On hearing this, the man quietened down and accepted the situation. I offered to organise an early morning telephone call for him the next day to give him enough time to get ready for his conference presentation. The following morning the man passed me in the hotel and apologised for his behaviour in the bar.
Top tips for answering competency questions
- Stay focused on your own actions (you are the STAR!)
- Use positive language to reflect your achievements.
- Be specific with the detail in your answers e.g. 'I was responsible for handling and resolving up to 50 queries per day.'
- Avoid making vague statements that may sound good but provide no specific information about what you did such as “the project team created a plan...”
- Avoid giving opinions about a situation or task.
- Avoid making theoretical statements such as “I would do…” or “I always…” as these provide no information about what you actually did.
- Try to choose examples with positive outcomes. However, if you did not meet the aims/objectives, state what you’ve learnt from the experience, e.g. “I have learnt from my mistakes and have become a more confident and self assured person as a result.”
Variations on STAR
There are several versions of the above technique which are used to answer interview and application form questions. The most regularly used are:
- STAR-D: Situation, Task, Action, Result, D = what you would have done differently)
- SBO: Situation, Behaviour, Outcome
- CAR: Context, Action, Result.
All of these will help you provide a full answer, so you can use which ever you feel most comfortable with.
Other common challenging questions
Describe your most significant academic achievement
Some questions, such as this one, have no right or wrong answer. This particular question is aimed at finding out what motivates you, or the things you value. Try to link your answer to the qualities the employer is looking for.
Why do you want to work for this organisation?
An employer wants to be convinced that you have researched their organisation and have thought about why you want to work for them. This is your chance to provide a good quality answer with interesting, well considered reasons. Steer clear of shallow and obvious reasons and use this space to demonstrate you have a clear understanding of what the employer does, their values and company ethos.
What attracts you to this kind of work?
You need to show that you know what the job involves and can express why you are suitable for it. Refer to specific aspects of the job which appeal to you, not just “retail has always interested me”. Have you had any work experience in this field or spoken to someone doing this type of work? If so, what did you find out which confirmed your decision to apply for this kind of job?
The purpose of a personal statement is to allow the employer to decide if you meet their requirements. Unlike competency questions (see above section), you will only have one field to complete. This field will often be preceded by a statement such as “in this space, please give your reasons for applying for this job and information showing how you meet the person specification, including relevant skills and experience”. As it is one block of text, you are given the chance to write freely about your suitability as a candidate, without being restricted to specific questions.
Planning your personal statement
A personal statement needs to be well-structured, logical, clearly written, and free from grammatical and spelling errors. Speak about your reasons for applying for the post and your understanding of the particular organisation, as well as your skills, experience, and relevance of your studies if applicable. It may help you to consider it from the employer’s perspective. What would they like to hear from candidates? Make it reader-friendly and positive, and tailor it to the job description and person specification as closely as possible.
You can divide a personal statement into different sections through subheadings. Take the titles of your subheadings from the person specification, to make it easy for the employer to check that you have covered all the relevant points. Any essential criteria in the person specification must be addressed, plus as many desirable criteria as possible.
If the vacancy details do not include a person specification, use the job description, advert and company information to understand what skills they want.
What to include
Think about what you can bring to the job, paying close attention to the employer’s requirements as detailed in the person specification. Some suggestions of what to include in your statement are:
Your reasons for applying for the job
- If you are asked to give your reasons for applying for this job, this can be a good starting point for your personal statement. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the job, your motivation to do that kind of work and your interest in that particular organisation. You need to give strong reasons for applying for this particular role.
- Keep the focus of your answer on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.
The relevance of your studies at university
- Your degree subjects might be directly relevant to the job, in which case emphasise any modules and your dissertation which are particularly useful. If your degree is not relevant, there will still be transferable skills you have developed on your course which the employer is likely to be interested in. See the section below on skills for more about this.
Your work experience, including voluntary work
- This is important to refer to, even though you will have recorded this on another part of the form. Experience in the workplace will have given you an appreciation of employers’ perspectives, their business needs and their expectations of their employees.
- Draw attention to any particular achievements and responsibilities you have experienced at work and the transferable skills you have gained, unless you have written about these in some detail already elsewhere on the form.
- Providing evidence of the skills the employer requires is usually a key part of a personal statement. Make sure that you complement rather than duplicate any sections you have filled in about your skills in competency based questions.
- Give examples of when you have used the skills, but in a more concise way than you would in the competency based questions sections, if these occur on the form.
Interests and responsibilities
- These can show you to be a well rounded person and can also provide evidence of some of the personal qualities and skills the employer is looking for.
- State what you have got out of hobbies rather than just listing them e.g. have you been able to show leadership ability through your interests, taken part in team based activities or shown excellent planning and organisational ability?
- Keep to any word limits and check to see if you are invited to continue on a separate sheet.
- Avoid long, complex sentences and be clear and concise. Use positive language and express your enthusiasm for the job.
- Check your draft statement for spelling and grammatical errors.
Don't forget that when you have written a personal statement you can get it checked by a Career Consultant.
Top tips for personal statements
- Keep to any word limits and check to see if you are invited to continue on a separate sheet, if you wish to.
- Be clear and concise and avoid long, complex sentences. Use positive language to express your enthusiasm.
- Check your draft statement for spelling and grammatical errors.
- Use formal English at all times (i.e. no slang or jargon).
- Ask yourself after each sentence: is this relevant? Does it add to the statement or is it just a ‘filler’? If so, you could be using that space more to your advantage.
- Don’t focus on what you haven’t got to offer. You will only create a negative impression of yourself. For instance, if you can’t meet one of the desirable criteria but do want to mention it in your statement, write about how you would go about meeting it in the future. Perhaps, for instance, you have not used a specific type of software which is desirable; instead, you could mention the fact that you have used similar databases, have transferable skills and that you are a quick learner.
- Allow plenty of time to write this section; it may seem straightforward but you should always proofread carefully.
- If you have particular information which you want to provide, for instance a prize or scholarship, sporting achievement or anything else which doesn’t fit easily into your personal statement, this could go in the Additional Information section.
- Arrange to see a career consultant for feedback on what you have written.
- Keep a copy of your form. It will be useful at the interview stage
Example personal statement
This example uses the requirements of the person specification as headings to specifically address each point.
Business and Technical IT Consultant - Person specification
Please demonstrate how you meet the Key Criteria on the person specification
I believe that I am a strong candidate for the role of Business and Technical IT Consultant due to my education, skills and experience, and feel that I would grow into the role and make a real contribution to the company. I have outlined below how I meet the criteria of the person specification:
A degree in Business, Economics, Finance, Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics
I graduated from the University of Bradford in July 2018 with a BSc (Hons) in Business Economics 2:1. My studies gave me an excellent grounding in core economic ideas, how these apply to business and the environment within which firms operate.
Have a genuine interest in business and IT with a drive towards achieving a successful career
My studies confirmed to me that I am definitely interested in pursuing a career in business economics, and I consistently scored high marks in modules where the use of IT tools was necessary to analyse and assess data. In addition, I am a confident user of a wide range of IT software such as Microsoft Office, economics applications including SAGE and various company-specific software packages.
I would appreciate the chance to develop my career at your company, as your close links with the University have given me the chance to see how other alumni have gone on to successful and satisfying careers and this is something I hope to emulate.
Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
Through group working on projects at university, my role as a career ambassador and my part-time job at Tesco I have developed excellent communication and interpersonal skills. I have been required to negotiate disagreements between fellow students, communicate information about careers to a wide range of students from varying backgrounds and work closely with my team-mates at Tesco to ensure customers were served promptly and efficiently.
An analytical, problem solving mind-set
My final year dissertation involved the analysis of a small business. Looking at its finances and other factors I put together suggestions to improve the efficiency of the organisation, particularly through the use of a new IT system, to increase profitability by an estimated 25%.
Proven ability to work under pressure within a fast-paced and challenging environment
My job at Tesco has given me lots of experience working under pressure, particularly during the Christmas period where customer footfall and product turnover is at its highest. After a year on the produce team working weekends, I was made team leader in the lead up to Christmas.
I was responsible for monitoring stock levels and ensuring my team communicated effectively and worked together to ensure all customers were served satisfactorily and all products were available on the shop floor.
You are a team player who takes the initiative and shows a high level of commitment
When working on a group project at university, it soon became clear that one of our group was not participating fully. I decided to take the initiative and call a group meeting to discuss the sharing of the workload. At the meeting, it turned out the person didn’t fully understand what was expected of him and was struggling with some of the details. I took it upon myself to spend some time to help him understand these details and I kept in touch regularly to make sure the project stayed on track. The project was a success and our group achieved the highest mark in the class.
Geographic flexibility throughout the UK
I am willing to relocate for the role and am happy to travel as necessary. I have a full clean driving licence and enjoy experiencing new cities and people.
Next steps and further information
- Appointments with Career Consultants: Once you have a draft copy of your application form, we recommend that you arrange to see a Career Consultant for feedback on what you have written. To arrange this please telephone us on 01274 234991, or call in to arrange an appointment at Level 0 of Student Central, City Campus.
- For careers appointments at the Emm Lane campus, please call 01274 234376 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Information Room: We have a number of computers in our Information Room in Student Central which can be used to research any aspect of your career planning and job seeking. Our staff can assist you with identifying appropriate resources to research your careers ideas and make effective applications.
- Careers Workshops: See the schedule of our regular workshops on a wide range of topics including application forms.
- Build My Career: Log in to Build my Career, our online career management resource to access advice on completing your application form and personal statement, plus interactive help, videos and more: please note the student login and graduate login are different.
- Useful words and phrases: If you are finding it difficult to find words to describe yourself and your experience, see our useful words and phrases page for suggestions that can help you portray a positive and proactive image.
- Useful websites