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Thursday, 22 September 2011

Application forms part two: Preparation, research and answering long questions

Preparation, preparation, preparation – the key to a successful application form. In order to do yourself justice you will need to put in a good deal of effort. You will also need to show that you have researched and understand the role you are applying for.

Research the role
Use the company’s job description and person spec to learn about the job. You can also have a look at their website to see if they offer any sort of advice to potential employees or further information on jobs and graduate schemes. Try reading the ‘about us’ section to see what information you can gather about the company values and look for phrases such as ‘fast moving’ or ‘high expectations’ which may help to indicate the true demands of the job.

Research the company
Not only will this help to identify relevant information to include in the application form, but it will also give you an idea of what it might be like to work there. Try and find its mission statement or marketing slogan, and look for information on its customer service standards. What is the company culture like? Is there anything you need to know about working hours etc.?

This will all help with answering some of the longer questions on the form, such as: “What do you think are the main challenges facing our company over the next three years? Please answer with specific reference to your chosen function.”

It’s also worth seeing what articles have been in the news recently, both about the company specifically and also the sector in which they operate.

Excellent – you’re now much better informed!

Filling in the form
As you are working on a copy, rather than the original (see Part 1 of this blog) you can make sure all of your information fits neatly. Above all else you must be honest and truthful in all of your answers – stretching the truth (is lying!) is not acceptable, and will do you more harm than good in the long run. Also make sure you have read through all of the instructions, so you know which parts of the form are applicable to you, whether or not to attach a CV, application deadline, etc.

After you have completed all of the basic info about yourself, you will probably be left with a few ‘long questions’ which are more concerned with your skills and experience. What they are really asking is ‘Can you do the job?’ Got no skills? Wrong! Have a look here to see why.

You can also use examples of your time at uni to demonstrate your skills. Throughout your studies you will most likely have developed skills in communication, teamwork, organisation, research and problem solving. As a student/recent graduate it is perfectly acceptable to use examples from your studies to demonstrate how you have developed these skills.

A blank box
What you may view as the most daunting part of an application form should actually be the best bit. You know, that part that says ‘Any other information in support of your application.’ What better than the chance to tell them exactly why you passionately want this job and why you are a good fit? This is where you can really demonstrate how you have done your homework, you know just what they are looking for, and why you’re the best person for the job.

Keep your answer structured and in a logical order and include as many relevant examples as evidence of your claims. Think about including:
  • Your interest in this job/company and why it fits with your career plans
  • What skills and experience you have and why/how they are relevant, with examples
  • IT and technical skills, if relevant
  • Your personal attributes and values
Keep all of this information balanced and never assume that the employer will know you have 'xyz' skills because of the degree you have studied. Spell it out for them very clearly!

Remember, employers are looking for the person who:
Can do the job...
Will do the job...
Will fit in!

Good luck!

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