Most of us are familiar with application forms; they tend to be lengthy and time consuming, forcing you to repeat what you have on your CV already. If you are applying for lots of jobs, having to complete an application form for each one can be an arduous process.
From an employer’s perspective, asking applicants to complete an application form is the first test in finding out who is really committed and who isn’t. If you take the time to complete their application form, you’re obviously serious about the job!
Many application forms cover the following types of questions:
- Biographical/ historical. These are the details such as name, nationality, permissions to work in the UK, education, work history etc. These questions are fact based and fairly straight-forward to complete; you can copy your responses from one application to another.
- Traditional. Towards the end of your application you are likely to encounter a page where you are invited to share whatever you feel is relevant about yourself, your work experience, your interests, aptitudes and objectives in order to stand out to the selection panel. This is usually the section which cause the most headaches because it’s hard to know what to include or if you are doing yourself justice.
- Evidence or competency based. These are specific questions which ask for evidence of different situations where you feel you have demonstrated certain relevant skills e.g. problem solving, communication, team-working etc. There will be a specific question and you need to think of a time you have shown your abilities in this area. It can be easier said than done to get your answers to these sort of questions right. Most people make mistakes in both how they structure their answer and the content they include.
Making the most of your application form
Unremarkable application form answers aren’t going to get the attention you need….here’s how to make yours count.
You need to make your experience memorable, but not everyone is able to drop everything and hike the Himalayas or volunteer with VSO. When commitments are keeping you stuck, what can you do to make your life and accomplishments stand out?
It’s important to make the experience you do have relevant to the job you are being assessed for. You may have braved white water rapids while river rafting in New Zealand, but how can you link that to the challenges you are facing now? It may be that that experience taught you about safety and risk; the power of working as a team; about testing your limits and being pleasantly surprised by what you are capable of. With thought you should be able to make your experience count. There will be times when an interesting example or experience will make you stand out from the crowd so think ‘outside the box’ if you can. However, if it’s not a good fit, don’t force it, find something else to include.
Transforming current experience
Part of it is looking at what you have got with fresh eyes. It might not seem a big deal to you if you are used to it, but to an employer it might tell them a lot about you. So whether you help deliver meals on wheels to elderly folk in your neighbourhood every fortnight, help out at kids’ gym practice at the weekend, or however you fill your time, it might say more about your relevant skills i.e. caring, problem solving, team working etc, than you might think.
If you’re not sure you fall into this category, keep your eyes open for new possibilities. There may be opportunities for you to get involved with something that will boost your application. It doesn’t have to be something massively out of your comfort zone, you could just go along with a friend who volunteers for a charity, or offer to help out at a local community club, but you’ll gain new experience and it may broader your skills enough to make employers want to take a second look.
Sell your skills
Extra activities will look good on any application especially if you can write about them well. Extra activities will also help you to develop your employability- what team wouldn’t value the addition of someone proactive, caring, motivated and altruistic?
For an excellent application form, you must…
- Provide enough detail that the reader knows what you’re talking about and why it should matter to them
- Avoid clichés- assessors will read ‘I am a highly motivated individual’ and ‘I work well in a team’ a hundred times. And a hundred times it will tell them nothing useful about the person who has written it!
- ‘Example’ type questions (e.g. give us an example of a time when…) need step by step answers- if you skim over the details and just present a broad overview you will likely miss out the key information i.e. how you do things.
For instance, you may describe being a great organiser, but give no indication about how your approach to this would vary from someone else also claiming the same. The fact is, one of you might genuinely be good at this, the other applicants just saying it (and it’s not particularly true). How can the assessors differentiate unless you give them the detail to prove your case?
- Break down your answers- instead of stating that you ‘helped a client resolve a problem’ you need to cover what you did, why you did it, how exactly you did it, why you settled on that course of action and how you evaluated it.
What’s the difference?
If you are asked how was your holiday? You might answer ‘good thanks, it was hot and the resort was nice’.
But if you wanted to really answer the question you might say ‘it was good, we stayed in a hotel with a sea view with no kids so it was nice and quiet, we ate tapas at a lovely local taverna and got to know the owner who told us about some beautiful beaches, I went jet-skiing for the first time and loved it, the pool was warm and was next to a bar which had a happy hour with amazing cocktails…’ etc.
Which one paints a better picture? The one with the relevant detail!