Application forms – What recruiters look for

Be specific when answering application form questions such as “Why are you applying to us?”.  It is really important to avoid generic statements such as “you are a reputable firm, deal with top clients and offer excellent training prospects”. This can be said about a lot of companies, so is actually a poor response. Employers are looking for answers which show what it is about the business that stands out for you. Whatever your reasons are, they want to know why it is important to you.

Stand out from the crowd by giving clear evidence to demonstrate your transferable skills. For example by talking about some charity work you were involved in – helping people, raising money, working with people to achieve a goal – it shows useful skills important for a variety of careers.

In addition, what makes candidates stand out is not just studying hard and getting good grades, but also being committed to a number of additional interests.  This shows how you are a well-rounded person, who is likely to have gained a broad range of skills from a wide range of experiences.

Commercial Awareness is a common competency that recruiters look for. To perform well when answering questions relating to this on an application form, make sure you give an opinion as there is often no right or wrong answer. For example, they may ask questions like “what do you think is going to happen to interest rates in two years?” or “Do you think banks should be privatised?”.  Make your answer even stronger by talking about how the industry you are applying to fits in with this, e.g how law firms can help make sure this is being done correctly.  Reading  magazines for the industry you are interested in, such as ‘The Economist’, ‘Marketing Week’  or ‘The Lawyer’ etc, are useful to keep up to date with developments in the business area.

Work experience in the field you are interested in is vital. This does not have to be a formal internship or vacation scheme. Even a week in a local firm or some work shadowing is valuable, as it shows you have commitment and an understanding of the job.  If you have a part time job in retail, or a restaurant for example, use your existing contacts to see if you can gain some experience in the head office doing work experience within the finance / marketing / sales etc department.  Working for a charity in one of their business functions is another way of building experience.

Communication is key. When reading your written communication employers are impressed by writing which is to the point and articulate. It is  important it is to maintain a professional image in ALL communications with the company,  as text speak or lower case ‘i’s’ in an email about your interview date for example can really destroy your image with them.


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