I want to complete an application form

Why recruiters use application forms

Most students get frustrated at how long it takes to complete an application form, but it does create a clear, consistent structure which is why recruiters prefer them: it provides a fair, comparable set of information for each candidate. In addition the questions they ask are typically tailored to the role you are applying for, so they can make a more accurate assessment of you.

Types of application form

Employer application forms (EAF) (https://www.reading.ac.uk/destinations/units/unit-af017.shtml) are almost all online now, which can be a database you input data into, sometimes with time constraints, or at the other extreme a downloadable form which you complete in word. They capture your personal details, educational and employment history and ask about your motivation for the job and organisation and for examples of how you can demonstrate you have the skills needed to do the job. Those with an impairment can ask for the form in a different format, if needed. Note that you really need to write your responses carefully as some recruiters use specialist software to assess your responses which relies on the precise language used and will recommendations to recruiters whether you should be interviewed or not.

How to prepare

Why launch straight into an application form when a little preparation can make the task much easier? Get all of the relevant documents together: a copy of the form, job description and person specification, a copy of your CV or a previous application form. Reflect a little before you get started on any past unsuccessful applications to try to improve your chances. Start with a careful read all of the questions so you answer them correctly. Although do consider how broadly you could interpret the question, for example, ‘why do you want the job?’ provides an opportunity to discuss what you could contribute to the success of the business: a more ambitious interpretation and perhaps more persuasive. Next, brainstorm examples of the kinds of skills and behaviour they want you to talk about and which ones will go where on the form. Create your own document at first and then you can check it and edit it more easily and copy and paste later.

Common questions from students

What should I include in the ‘personal details’ section?
This section is straightforward: asking you questions like your name, contact details, referees, nationality and work status. In the UK you shouldn’t be asked your date of birth, age, gender, marital status or whether you have dependents. It is important to be honest and give full details, otherwise you may risk dismissal at a later stage.

How do I disclose sensitive information?

If you are concerned about disclosing information about an impairment, health issue or previous conviction then seek advice. How can I succeed in getting a job when I have a disability? can help you with disclosure issues.

National Careers Service (https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/Pages/convictions.aspx) has some useful advice on disclosure of convictions.

How do I make the most of my education and qualifications?

Recruiters will want to know the date, level and title of each qualification and result, plus the name of the institution you studied at. If the form allows this, put your qualifications in reverse chronological order. If they ask for all your qualifications and results you do need to put them all in, even those you failed. If you have space to describe relevant modules, a project or dissertation then include them as they are big selling points, both from the perspective of relevant knowledge and/or transferable skills such as project management and managing risk. Always reflect on the person specification when considering what and how much to write.

How do I organise my employment experience?

Remember that experience is experience whether paid or not. If possible, you could group it into relevant and non-relevant experience, or into voluntary and paid work, or employment and work experience. The main aim is to get the best experience higher up the section so it is read first. If the form allows you to expand on the duties involved in the work then show them how your experience demonstrates your use of the skills, knowledge and behaviours they seek. Choose your language carefully: using positive vocabulary that captures the skills used. You will normally be asked for start and finish dates, the name of the organisation, job title, key tasks and responsibilities and possibly salary information and reason for leaving. You could incorporate simple achievements into your descriptions such as costs managed and awards if you have the scope to do so.

How do I handle the longer questions?

The sections that most students dread are the longer questions, which demand more thought and consideration. There are common themes to these questions:

  • Your motivation for and knowledge of the job.
  • Your motivation for working for the organisation and knowledge of it.
  • Requests for examples of where you have demonstrated the required skills and behaviour required.
  • Questions about your medium/long term career aspirations.
  • Questions about your achievements.

If you want to read more about the kinds of questions you can come across and what they expect you to cover then see our article on Challenging Application Form Questions.

Try the STARL approach to structure your answers and make sure you draw from a range of different types of experience including work, your degree and extra-curricular activities. Read more in the Getting started box.

Getting started…

  1. Select one of the questions on the list of examples in the Challenging Application Form Questions.
  2. Brainstorm the examples you could use in the answer and select the best one.
  3. Draft an answer using the following structure:
    • What was the context of your action? (Situation)
    • What task had you been given to do? (Task)
    • What precisely did you do? (Action)
    • What was the outcome? (Result)
    • What did you learn from this and what would you do differently next time? (Learning)
  4. Use a 500 word limit and push yourself to meet it.
  5. Is your vocabulary appropriate and persuasive? Does it seem to fit with the culture of the organisation you are applying to?
  6. Check for any spelling and grammar errors and ask a colleague for feedback. If English isn’t your first language, get a colleague with strong written English skills to review it for you.

How do I tackle the personal statement?

Many forms require a personal statement which typically asks why you want the job, why you want to work for the organisation and how you meet the job criteria. Not all of these questions are the same though.

  • Why do you want the job? This is an opportunity to reflect on what will motivate you in the job and to sound persuasive to the recruiter. Focusing on salary is not good etiquette in the UK, so consider other options. Limit yourself to about three points to maintain impact. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the job too: it will be expected. Incorporate fundamental aspects of the job, such as a desire to undertake professional qualifications if they are a large part of the role.
  • Why do you want to work for this organisation? Think about your real reasons, identify the most persuasive from the recruiter’s perspective and focus on these. Any more than about three will reduce the impact. You’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of the organisation, at least from the perspective of the role you are applying for. Use their recruitment and client websites, statutory reports as well as online news sources, relevant professional bodies and online magazines in order to prepare.
  • In terms of meeting the job criteria, start by grouping criteria into no more than six sets of skills and knowledge to avoid repeating the same examples. Cover every requirement explicitly. You can adopt the STARL method outlined in the getting started box to provide structure. Use the positive vocabulary and select examples from education, work experience and extra-curricular activities.

Want more?

  • Have a look at the Application Forms (https://www.reading.ac.uk/destinations/units/application-forms.shtml) section on Destinations for more general advice about completing application forms, including what employers look for and some sample questions and tips for answers.
  • Prospects (http://www.prospects.ac.uk/job_application_advice.htm) provides a useful guide to completing applications  including some more detailed advice about online applications.

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