Think about the skills we're looking for. Try to demonstrate them through your application. Be clear and concise. Quantify and qualify what you say. Support all claims with evidence of your achievements. Use positive language. "I organised" sounds more dynamic than "I helped". Explain what you have learnt from your experience. Use it to make your case.Graduate recruiter
The application form is the first hurdle that must be overcome in a graduate's quest for employment. Successfully negotiating this stage takes you one significant step closer to your goal but it is easier said than done; employers are actively looking for reasons to reject your application. Application forms are challenging and time consuming, particularly if you are applying to a number of graduate employers. Use the guidelines outlined below to help you make your application a successful one.
A good application:
- must convey your awareness of the job applied for.
- must show your knowledge and enthusiasm for the organisation in question.
- must convey confidence that you meet the selection criteria.
If that sounds daunting then remember that for graduate positions, employers are judging an applicant's potential rather than expecting the finished article. Selection is based on finding evidence of intellectual ability, of particular skills (communication, organisation, negotiation, problem solving, time management, decision making, team working, etc.) plus perhaps, certain personal characteristics (adaptability, decisiveness, creativity, motivation and determination). All of the aforementioned can be demonstrated in the context of your student life (academic studies, societies & clubs, college responsibilities, etc.), employment, work experience and travel.
As with anything that you want to do well, whether it is an academic assignment or a job interview, effective preparation is absolutely key and this most certainly applies to graduate job applications.
Career research is vital. You can guarantee at some point there will be a question ‘Why are you interested in becoming a…?’. Remember too that an employer will be just as interested in how and why you make decisions. Give good, positive reasons; let your enthusiasm show.
Employer research is just as important. It is important to consider your reasons for applying to a particular company and what differentiates them from their competitors. This does not mean sycophancy but it does mean demonstrating a clear understanding of the organisation. The employer folders and graduate reports available in the Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centreis a good starting point when researching organisations. Company websites, business pages in broadsheet papers, news organisations (Reuters, BBC) and specific business websites and directories (e.g. FT or Kompass) are further sources of information that will hopefully offer a balanced overview of a company's activities and profile.
In addition to researching your choice of career and employer, it is necessary to conduct some self-research. This may sound a little strange but when you consider that all application forms demand evidence of a range of skills and qualities, your ability to understand yourself is a significant component of the key that will unlock the door to graduate employment.
Finally, part of the preparation process is realism. Before engaging hours of your time in an application form, be careful to check the entry criteria, particularly in terms of academic requirements. If it is highly likely that you will achieve a 2:2 and have BCC at A level then applying to highly competitive graduate schemes requiring at least a 2:1 and BBB minimum may lead to disappointment unless you can prove mitigating circumstances. Popular employers will initially use academic criteria to sift potential recruits. In some respects it is a numbers game and a means of managing the volume of applicants. They may justify this by pointing to research that highlights correlation between A-level performance and ability to pass professional exams. On a positive note however, there are many, many employers that don’t specify a particular class of degree or points score at A-level when recruiting. Realism in this sense does not mean preclusion from a fantastic graduate career with an excellent organisation.
Employers want you to show them your potential on a form. This does not mean telling them absolutely everything that you have done but drawing upon the experiences that best evidences the potential that they are trying to assess.
Work experience, both paid and unpaid, is a good way to demonstrate evidence of skills. Don’t ignore bar work, food service or factory production. However irrelevant and routine these jobs may seem to be they will nevertheless demonstrate teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills as well as working under pressure. Understanding how a company operates from the bottom up can also be important, particularly in the context of commercial awareness, and this can be gained from any form of employment.
Other activities and interests, particularly those in which you've held or hold a position of responsibility, made a contribution or achieved something are a further means of demonstrating your potential and it is something that employers actively look for.
Finally, don’t forget your degree. You have developed a broad range of transferable skills and knowledge from your studies: research, analysis, oral and written argument, influencing and persuading, presentation, teamwork and time management to name but a few!
There is a temptation to artificially enhance your CV or application form with fabricated experience. This is a very dangerous strategy and one that can be very easily seen through at interview when you are being challenged and probed about everything that you documented in your application form! There is a big difference between making what you’ve got look good and making something up to look good. It is your aim to articulate very positively your experiences and achievements; this does not mean you are being arrogant or egotistical, only marketing yourself as effectively as possible.
The acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. It is a really useful technique when approaching competency based questions, such as 'Tell me about a time when you have effectively influenced someone?', on an application form. It is a strategy that will enable you to structure your answer and market yourself effectively. If you only have 150 words to answer a question such as the aforementioned example then it is essential that you are concise in your expression. Briefly outline the situation and the task but give more weight to the action (what did you do and how did you do it) and the results of your actions:
As secretary of the college football team it was my responsibility to raise funds to contribute towards team expenditure. This concerned team strips, footballs and travel expenses. I contacted 20 employers local to Durham to discuss the issue of sponsorship. A number of employers expressed interest and I arranged to visit each one. In order to effectively communicate the concept of sponsoring a college football team I pulled together a presentation, with supporting documentation, outlining the advantages to the employer as well as clear figures in terms of the level of financial support requested. I had anticipated questions that might be asked and was able to effectively deal with any concerns. This led, following a period of negotiation, to a year long sponsorship deal with a local pub. The pub concerned has reported an increased student trade and partly attributes this to the effectiveness of the sponsorship campaign. (148 words)
One of the great things about online applications is the fact that you don’t have to write it, which is good news for those whose handwriting is not very good. However, that doesn’t mean that less effort has to be put into completing an on-line application. It is worth downloading a copy of the form and practising filling it in properly. You can also edit and redraft answers so you get them just right. This is a good idea for paper applications too.
Along with issues of neatness and legibility, accuracy is vital. Getting a Careers Adviser to check your application is a good idea. Common mistakes include date of birth (putting the current year), putting surname and first name in the wrong boxes and missing sections out entirely. Take special care when cutting and pasting answers. Every year employers tell stories about applicants who express at application stage their strong desire to work for a completely different company, and often one their competitors!
The purpose of completing an application form is obvious but you must not lose sight of how, why and to whom you are applying!
Many students will make multiple applications. Some will make as many as thirty or forty in a relatively short space of time but quantity does not necessarily equate with quality. The first few attempts will usually take more time, be carefully researched and have good, positive examples used as evidence of skills. However, it becomes very easy to fall into ‘application mode’ after a dozen or so forms and simply go through the motions. It is important to use experience gained from making applications to help inform future ones, but remember, an employer doesn’t want to receive the impression that they are number twenty two in a list of thirty four applications you are making. They want their applicants to be motivated, enthusiastic, and intelligent and have the drive to succeed. They also want you to answer their questions and not rehash an answer to somebody else’s.
Taking a step back from the application process is a useful way to reassess the purpose and direction of your applications. Do I really want to work for this employer, or do I just want a marketing job so badly that I will apply to anybody? Am I so desperate to work in a certain location that I am prepared to apply to a disparate range of graduate employers in that area? Challenging yourself like this is a very positive and on occasion may lead to rethinking your strategy.
- Print out the form first to practice on
- Fill in all relevant boxes
- Read the question carefully and answer all parts of a multiple question. Think why the question is being asked and what skills are being looked for
- Avoid using negatives e.g. ‘Although I haven’t much experience...’ ‘I chose x because I hated y...’ etc...
- Be honest
- Don’t be too modest – you have to show how good you are
- Avoid cliches such as, ‘I want to work with people’, ‘I’m looking for a challenge’
- Look at the form as a whole – not each question individually. You don’t need to repeat four times that you are studying Theology at Durham.
- Get someone else to read it - it is easy to miss your own spelling mistakes and spell-check can't identify words correctly spelt but used out of context
- Keep a printout of your completed form.
- Attach a brief covering letter if it’s not an on-line application.