Are you applying yourself?

If you have not already spent a good while completing online application forms for placements or graduate roles, then chances are you will need to put some thought into this in the near future.

With competition for opportunities pretty tough out there, it is essential that you impress employers at the early stage of the applications process – and this often starts with the dreaded application form.

Application forms are designed to give employers the information they need in the fastest and most convenient way to enable them to make a decision about whether or not to proceed with your application. All applicants will be filling in the same form so it’s a good way for employers to compare candidates’ potential and suitability for the post. It’s vital that you show in your answers the skills and qualities they’re seeking, using relevant examples from all aspects of your life.

Prepare your pitch

Rather than rushing your responses to the questions, it is well worth doing some preparation first:

  • Before you start entering information, check you know the procedure for that specific form
  • If you can, read through the whole form and get a feel for what the employer is seeking. Print it out and begin your planning ‘offline’, for example, using Word.
  • Research the company and the job role, so you know that what you say will be relevant and of interest to the employer.
  • Identify examples from your experience which will enable to you to promote the skills that employers look for.
  • Consider how you can make your application stand out.  Choose the most powerful examples you can and summarise your selling points in a clear, concise and confident way.

Select your skills

The following list covers many of the key skills employers need graduates to offer. Use these as a starting point to identify your own skills and work out how to put these across well to an employer in your application.

  • Written and spoken communication
  • Team working
  • Willingness to learn
  • Self- and time-management
  • Analytical ability
  • Presentation skills
  • Initiative
  • Decision-making
  • Planning
  • Influencing
  • Self-awareness
  • Networking
  • Leadership
  • Computer literacy
  • Commercial awareness
  • Self-confidence
  • Problem-solving
  • Negotiating
  • Tenacity

From this list, think about the skills that you’ve developed in all areas of your life, not just academic work.  Examples from employment, volunteering, interests and other achievements are usually the ones that impress most.

STAR quality

For competency-based questions you may find the STAR technique useful to ensure you’ve answered all parts of the employer’s question, provided evidence to support your claims and kept your response concise.


Situation: What was the context of your example? Where were you and who were you working with? Set the scene for the employer.

Task: What was your task or challenge? Explain what you were trying to achieve?

Action: What did you, personally, do to ensure that you met your objectives and goals?  Always relate the situation back to you and your role, rather than talking too much about what others did.

Result: What was the outcome? How might such an outcome be improved next time? Summarise what you learnt from the experience as it’s a good indicator of how you may perform as an employee.

Impress for success

Make sure your application forms demonstrate excellent written communication skills. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are vitally important to an employer. So, check your answers thoroughly. Check your spelling using a UK spell check and also read through a printed version to ensure you don’t miss anything.  A professional style works best, but if you are not sure if you have it quite right, ask someone too look over it for you.

Help is at hand

If you find application forms particularly daunting or you would value a second opinion on your early versions, print out a few examples and bring them along to show a careers adviser during a 15-minute Quick Advice appointment at the Careers and Employability Centre. You can book this on the day you would like to come in using Careers Online.

Further advice to help you succeed at the application form stage and links to other useful resources can be found at

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