Female students working at laptop in the library

Graduate applications are based on a matching process. Put simply, an employer will analyse their vacancy and decide which qualifications, aptitudes, personal qualities, skills and interests are required to do the job. Your objective is to clearly demonstrate to the recruiter that you match their requirements by providing specific and relevant evidence of what they are looking for.

Applications are used by employers as the first stage in the selection process and it is where the vast majority of applicants fall down (in high volume recruitment up to 75-85% of applications do not progress to the next stage). It is therefore worth spending time and effort on learning how to complete applications effectively to give you the best chance of securing an interview!

What employers expect

Follow The Instructions

Employers may provide information and advice on completing their application form at the beginning of the process, or at each stage. Even if you have completed (online) applications for other companies, make sure you read all of this information as it may include details specific to the (online) system this company is using such as details of correctly saving applications.

Good Language, Spelling And Grammar

Online applications need the same level of attention to detail as paper applications. Informal language and shorthand which you may use in email and text messages to friends is not appropriate for an application form. Always read through your answers before submitting your (online) form. If you are drafting your answers in a word processing document you may be able to use an automatic spelling and grammar check. However, if you are using these automatic checks, you should still read through your answers, as they are not guaranteed to pick up all errors.

Chronological Order

When detailing qualifications and work experience, the general rule is to place them in reverse chronological order - i.e. the most recent experience first. On online applications the form may prompt you to do this automatically. In any instance always stick to this order unless otherwise specified.

Preparation

Preparation is Vital. Find out as much as you can about the position and research the organisation you are applying to. You will also need to analyse yourself.

  • Make a list, using the vacancy advert, recruitment brochure or company website, which specific qualifications, skills and experience the employer has highlighted.
  • Reflect on your academic study, work experience and spare-time activities to identify situations and activities where you have clearly demonstrated the very same skills.
  • ‘Grab' the questions that are on the online application form (if possible) and copy them into a word processing package (e.g. MS Word).
  • Read through all the questions carefully and produce your ‘draft' answers.
  • Make an appointment with your Careers Adviser to discuss and review your draft answers.
  • Make adjustments/amendments until you are happy that you have answered all the questions to the best of your ability

Copy your final version answers into the online form and submit your application.

Types of Questions

Questions About Your Career Motivation

Why do you want to join this company?

What have attracted you to this role?

Employers ask this type of question to be certain that you have done your research and have made a positive and informed decision to join them in the role you are applying for.

They are looking for evidence that you have thought carefully about your career and are able to explain why this particular company is the one that stands out for you and what you can offer them.

Questions About Your Experience

Please provide details of any work experience/volunteering/project work etc.

Employers ask these questions to find out what impact you have made on any work related activities you have taken part in. They are looking for evidence of how you have used your skills and personal qualities to add value to the organisation you were working for.

Questions About Your Skills, Strengths and Competencies

Give an example of a time when you….solved a problem/made improvements/motivated team etc.

Employers ask these questions to get evidence of how well you have already demonstrated the skills that are essential to do the job you are applying for.

Questions About The Business Area/Sector

What are the problems facing our industry at this time?

What changes have there been in our industry recently?

Who are our competitors? What are the main differences between them and us?

Employers ask these questions to determine your real understanding of the sector they operate in.

They are looking for evidence that you keep up to date with developments in their sector and that you are aware of issues that might have an impact on them or their clients/customers.

Additional Information/Personal Statement

Please supply any additional information that might support your application.

Employers often add this section to allow you to add information that you have not been able to include elsewhere. They are looking for evidence of your skills, drive, determination, and knowledge that they have not been able to get from the set questions.

Answering Questions

Questions About Your Career Motivation

You might want to include some of the following as evidence:

  • When thinking about your career/company choice, what was important to you?
  • What research did you do to investigate the job/company that matched your strengths/interests?
  • What specifically was it about THIS company/role that made you feel that this is the right choice for you?
  • What you can offer them in terms of your strengths, skills, experience, subject knowledge and personal qualities?

Questions About Your Experience

You might want to include some of the following as evidence, as and when applicable:

  • Example of your main contributions
  • Examples of you dealt with problems effectively
  • Examples of contributing to team efforts
  • Examples of taking responsibilities
  • Examples of successes you have had
  • Examples of using and applying relevant degree subject knowledge

Questions About Your Skills, Strengths and Competencies

You might want to include some of the following as evidence:

  • Examples of activities that show you performing at your absolute best.
  • Examples from a range of sources such as university, work, volunteering, extracurricular activities etc.
  • Focus on WHAT you did and WHY you did it that way
  • Emphasise the skill in question in the process of you coming to a successful resolution.

When structuring your answer, use the 'STAR' approach to outline situation, task, actions and result.

Situation - Describe the situation; briefly provide context to help the employer understand the example you're giving. You don't need to go into a lot of detail at this stage.

Task - Explain the task; provide a concise overview, ensuring that your example is relevant to the question.

Actions – Describe and analyse your actions. This part should form the bulk of your answer. State what action you took, focusing on your contribution. Explain what, how and why you did it. Avoid ‘we' if talking about a situation in a team.

Result - Explain the result – what was the outcome? What did you learn from this example?

Remember, it's not just what you did, but how you did it that is important.

Additional Information/Personal Statement

This is your chance to:

  • Fill in the blanks that you feel will add value to your existing answers
  • Emphasise personal qualities such as enthusiasm, determination, self-drive, ambition etc.
  • Reiterate your genuine desire to develop your career with that company
Remember to...
  • Read through questions and guidelines carefully before you start
  • Complete every section and closely match the stated criteria
  • Show your knowledge and understanding of the role, company and industry sector
  • Have a practice copy and get feedback on your answers from a careers adviser
  • Make sure you actually answer the question, especially if it is in several parts
  • Use a range of examples in your answers.
  • Make sure your answers are succinct, avoid lengthy descriptions
  • Check your spelling and grammar carefully
  • Always write in the positive and never make excuses for not having skills or experience
  • Keep your answers close to, but not over, any word limits
  • Keep a copy of your form and the original vacancy details for future reference