An application form, whether it is paper or online, is a tool used by employers to collect relevant information from applicants such as personal details, education details and work experience.
Employers also use them to assess the skills and abilities of an applicant, their motivations, and whether they fit with an organisation.
They are usually the first step in the recruitment process, often alongside a CV and cover letter, and will help employers decide who to invite to the next stage of their process, which might be an interview or an assessment centre.
Stop! Before completing the application form
Researching the company
Researching the employer and what they are looking for is crucial if you want to prove that you are the right candidate.
Employers will also expect you to demonstrate commercial awareness which is an understanding of their company – its products or services, customer base and an awareness of business trends in the sector. So before you start answering the questions you need to :
- Thoroughly research the company
- Be clear on what the job involves
- Learn about the experience, skills and abilities the company is looking for
The advert, person specification and job description will usually list what skills and experience are essential to the position. You will then need to demonstrate how you meet this criteria through your experiences during your course, work experience or extracurricular activities.
Different types of questions with examples
Some questions will require factual answers, such as your personal details. However you’ll also find there are other questions such as motivational, competency or strengths-based questions which require you to talk about your skills and experience in more depth.
Motivational questions are designed to assess that you understand the job you have applied for, what you have to offer, and what you want from a career.
While detailing your skills and experience will show and employer you can do the job, showing that you want to do the job, your motivations, will put you into the ‘must interview’ category.
For the example opposite, you need to show that you’ve done your research, that you understand what the job entails and how it fits in with you career aspirations.
What interests you about working for our organisation?
Your organisation stood out to me when I was working on a recent research project on waste management as a company that is leading the way in sustainability in your sector.
As a BSc Chemical and Environmental Engineering student I am aware of the importance of sustainable practice and I believe that my research and experience in this field would make me the perfect fit for your organisation.
Competency questions are designed to assess your knowledge, skills and behaviours that are integral to the role that you are applying for. They require you to provide one example of a situation where you have demonstrated the required competency. A simply way to structure your response is to use the STAR technique:
- Situation: outline the problem you faced
- Task: explain your task – what was required of you?
- Action: explain your actions – what did you do?
- Result: explain the outcome - use examples of positive outcomes.
In the example opposite, you need to demonstrate your ability to analyse complex information, and communicate it in a way that an audience can easily understand.
Describe a situation where you have had to communicate complex information to a group of people.
As part of my market analysis project, I had to report back to year group on findings from my qualitative and quantitative research into consumer trends (Situation).
This meant I had to analyse numerous data sources, filtering the information and summarising my findings in a simple way that everyone would understand (Task).
I made use of my skills in Excel to produce an initial report and then produced a PowerPoint presentation to summarise my main findings which I presented back to an audience of over 50 people. (Action).
My presentation was well received and my findings also influenced the way in which other groups approached their research (Result).
Strengths-based questions are designed to assess not just what you are good at but what you enjoy doing so that an employer can ensure that you are recruited into a role where you make the most of your strengths.
While strengths-based questions are predominantly used at interview stage employers sometimes use them as part of the application process. Think about what types of activities you are good at and that you enjoy doing – these might indicate they are a strength.
For the example opposite, you need to demonstrate self-awareness about the types of activities that you are good at and that you enjoy, that would ideally be relevant to the job you are applying for.
What energies you?
I am somebody with a great attention to detail which was prevalent while studying Maths at A-level but has come to the forefront during a research project at University. I spotted mistakes in vast quantities of data which subsequently changed the conclusion and overall findings of the project.
Through my volunteer work in a charity shop and at my local animal rescue centre,I have learnt that I have a real compassion for helping those less fortunate and I have also learnt that this enables me to engage effectively with customers and I have received positive feedback as a result.
Personal statements - the blank A4 page
When writing your personal statement try to ensure that you draw on example from both university and extracurricular activities to showcase your breadth of experience. You could also include points you were not able to make elsewhere in your application.
Personal statements as part of the job application process are different from the personal statements that you write for further study because you have to understand exactly what the employer is looking for and then give examples that evidence your knowledge, skills and motivation in applying.
Consider what the employer is looking for using the person specification, job description and advert. Make a list of the knowledge and skills required and then plan how you will structure your personal statement to demonstrate each requirement using the STAR technique.
If you don’t have one or more of the skills they are looking for then explain the transferable skills that you think will meet the requirement and what you will do to develop is this area.
Example personal statement structure
- Why I am interested in the job?
- Why I am interested in the company?
- What are my reasons for applying?
- Attention to detail
- Effective time management
- Strong team working skills
Example: Demonstrating time management skills
While studying for my A-levels I had a part-time job as a waiter at my local restaurant and I also played rugby for a local club team. The team had a good chance of winning the County Cup so we agreed that we would add extra training sessions after school.
Studying for my A-levels was my main priority so I planned my revision and developed a schedule which meant I would study for an hour before school and on alternative nights to my training. On the approach to my exams I also requested leave from my part-time job so I could spend two extra weekends revising.
My schedule meant that I was much more focussed and I did not waste any time. I am proud to say that my team won the County Cup that year and I managed to get the grades to get into the university of my choice. Overall I learned that by constructing a plan and working hard I can achieve whatever I set out to achieve.
Example: Demonstrating strong team working skills
In the second year of my degree I signed up to participate in a team consultancy project.The project involved working with a local charity to assess the impact of a change in government policy.
After an initial meeting with the charity we met as a team to formulate a project plan and assign research areas to each team member. I also set up a meeting schedule so we could keep track of progress. A few weeks into the project a team member had to pull out of the project wihtout completing their research.
I instigated an emergency team meeting to review the plan and discuss how we would cover the additional workload. As a team we had been communicating regularly so everyone else was on track with their work so we were able to adjust our plan and divide up the outstanding research in a logical way.
I spent extra time devising the final report and presentation for the charity. We received outstanding feedback for both the organisation and from our university on ‘a comprehensive piece of research and insightful findings’. Furthermore the charity has made adjustments to their procedures based on our recommendations.
Frequently asked questions
The word count for the question is 400 words – do I have to use the whole word count?
Ideally – yes!
You should make the most of every opportunity to tell the employer why you are the right candidate for the position. Make a list of the points and how you can evidence each point, then structure your response accordingly using the start technique if appropriate.
I’ve only used examples from my academic work, is this ok?
Highlighting your experiences and achievements from an academic perspective is important but you do need to make your application stand out and you can do this by drawing on a variety of examples from both academic and extracurricular activities.