Completing application forms – common mistakes


Application Advisor Melisa sees QMUL students from all subjects, and gives them feedback on their applications, cover letters and CVs. Read on for 3 common mistakes and how to avoid them…

Being too generic: a typical question in job applications is why you want to work in that particular organisation. The key to answer this successfully is RESEARCH! (Google is your friend! 😉) Why do you want to work for them and not for their competitors? What has that company done that made you interested in them in the first place? Imagine you are applying for a position within the banking industry – why have you applied to Barclays and not, say, HSBC?

A good technique to check whether your answer is specific enough is to cross out the name of the company you are applying for and write the name of their competitors instead. Does your answer still make sense? If so, then you are being too generic!

Ignoring the job description and person specification: it is really important that you study these (long!) documents in depth when completing an application form as they contain the key elements that you need to focus on. Once you have read them carefully, make a list of the essential requirements for the job. What skills are the employers looking for? Can you think of specific examples to back up your claims?

Language: Keep it straightforward and simple. Avoid contractions and clichés. Focus on how your experience and skills make you a suitable candidate for the post and explain clearly why the company appeals to you. “It would be my greatest honour to work in this world-renowned company” is something to avoid!

Melisa, Application Advisor


“Why do you want to work for us?” Demonstrating your motivation in application forms

Many job applications will include a question about motivation: a question that asks about why you want to work for a company, or what you think you will get out of doing a particular role.

It’s important to understand that when you write about your motivation, the employer will want specific reasons. Avoid generalisations such as “I want to work for your highly-esteemed company”, or “I have always been passionate about customer service”.

Imagine that you are the employer. What kinds of questions might you have when reading about an applicant’s motivation?

Here are some ideas:

  • Have you read the job description? The employer wants to know that you understand what the job entails and what tasks or activities you would be doing on a day-to-day basis. They may also expect you to show that you understand how this job role fits into their wider organisation, and even the wider sector. Make sure you acknowledge what you would be doing in a job when you talk about why you want to apply for it.
  • Are your expectations of the job realistic? Show that you understand what the reality of doing the job would be like, and that you have the key skills to cope with its challenges. One of the best ways to show that you understand this is by talking about your past experience, and the ways in which it might compare to this new role. Lay out the relevant skills you gained from this experience that you can bring to the job.
  • What are you career goals? Most employers are interested in investing in your future, and so they want to understand what goals you have for your career. Be realistic, and think about what your plan for the next three years will involve. Convince the employer that you will make the most of this job, and explain why it will help you to develop your longer-term career within this sector or company.

Remember, we offer 1-2-1 appointments where we can give feedback on your application. Call 020 7882 8533 to book.

Student story: My first assessment centre group exercise practice

Nadim1Nadim Ahmed, second year BSc Accounting and Management student, recently attended the Grant Thornton group exercise practice. He tells us more about his experience below…

What happened?

We were given an assignment brief which outlined the objectives of the project and the main questions we were required to answer; this was supplemented with theoretical data. Then we were given 30 minutes to discuss the case study together and prepare a short five-minute presentation and discuss our answers with colleagues from Grant Thornton.

How useful was the experience you had?

We were all given one-to-one feedback, and I believe this was very important and has highlighted attributes and skills which I demonstrate clearly and also highlighted areas where I could potentially improve. Overall feedback was very positive and has boosted my self-confidence.

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5 common CV mistakes… …and how to avoid them!

The art of writing a strong CV can sometimes feel hard to grasp, but with these tips to avoid common mistakes, you will be well on your way to a stellar draft.

  • Target your CV. One of the main mistakes candidates make is to think that they can keep their CV the same for every job application they do. CVs need to be targeted for each job to make sure that you are meeting the key skills asked for on the job description. If you have some older work experience that is relevant to a job for which you are applying, you can bring it onto the front page of your CV in a targeted section (i.e. “Marketing Experience” or “Customer Service Experience”).
  • Avoid complicated layouts. You want to make your CV stand out from the crowd, but using an unusual font, different colours, or a complex format is not the way to do it. Employers want to read a CV easily and quickly, without being distracted by unnecessary details. Format your CV in reverse chronological order, with clearly labelled sections for your education, work experience, and other key information. You can find examples of CV formats in the Knowledge Bank on our QMPlus page.
  • Don’t assume they know what you did. Often students forget to explain their work experience in enough detail for an employer to understand what they did. Before writing your CV, try doing a mind map of the key tasks and skills it involved. Note down any statistics or figures that show your achievements, such as the number of clients you worked with or the amount of sales you achieved. Have you given enough information for an employer to get a clear picture of you in that role
  • Don’t underestimate transferable skills. Transferable skills – such as team work or communication – sometimes get called “soft” skills, however they are anything but! It is as important to demonstrate these skills on your CV as it is to show your technical or specialist knowledge. Flag up these skills in your description of your work experience, providing clear evidence for how you used them and the outcomes you achieved.
  • Remember your degree! Sometimes students focus solely on describing their work experience, and forget one really important area of current experience they have: a degree! Talk about your degree on your CV, giving an employer a sense of relevant modules you are studying and key skills you are getting from it. Degree courses vary between universities so don’t assume that an employer will know what was involved in yours.

If you want further advice on CV writing skills, you can book a one-to-one session with an Application Adviser by calling 020 7882 8533.

How to survive Assessment Centres – expect the unexpected

Can you think on your feet?
Are you good at coping with a range of tasks?
Do you enjoy being challenged?
Do you work well in a team?

If you answered yes to the above then you will probably thrive at any Assessment Centre.

What is an Assessment Centre?

qpIf you are in your final year or have just graduated, the chances are that you are applying for Graduate Schemes that may involve taking part in an Assessment Centre (AC).

The employer will invite you for a day or half a day to take part in a set of activities that have been tailor-made to show how you deal with work related situations. This will also probably include one or sometimes two interviews – either with a panel or an individual. You will be invited as part of a group of other students ranging from just 4 to as many as 30 applicants to demonstrate that you have the specific skills and abilities required by the employer.

Hopefully, you will have already demonstrated this range of skills in your written application – the employer is now looking to see if you can deliver these in person at an AC.

Why do companies hold ACs?

Competition for graduate schemes is very tough. ACs are the most effective way for employers to assess whether you have not only the exact skills they need but, most importantly, whether you will fit with their individual work culture.

Applications to graduate schemes has risen 40% since 2012 according to a recent FT article. In addition the article reported that JP Morgan only hires 2% of graduate applicants to its investment banking division and Citigroup appoints just 2.7% of all applicants. These figures clearly reveal why companies are increasingly using even tougher ACs to identify the best candidates for their Graduate Schemes.

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Guest blog: How to become a barrister

Lawyer holding document and speaking to jury in courtroom

The Bar is an infamously difficult and competitive career choice. The Bar Council, the industry’s regulatory body, even goes so far as to post a ‘Health Warning’ prominently on its website in an attempt to deter potential future barristers from wasting money on the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course). This is no standard career path.

However, though difficult, this is a phenomenally rewarding career. If you have confidence in yourself, and are willing to put in the long hours work required, then there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t find yourself fighting for a client in front of a judge at some point in the near future.

The Lawyer Portal, in official partnership with the Bar Council and CILEx, has three things in particular that you, as a student, can start preparing now to give yourself the best possible shot at the Bar! 

  • Academic Credentials

A barrister’s life can be essentially distilled down to reading, writing, and arguing. Barristers therefore have to be intellectually robust, able to construct their own persuasive arguments and point out the flaws in that of their opponent.

The best way to demonstrate that you have this vital intellectual quality is to do as well as possible in your undergraduate (and postgraduate) degree, no matter what subject you may currently be studying. The Bar is a place where your degree classification counts. The better you do, the better your chance of success in pupillage application season. At the two biggest BPTC providers in the country, BPP London and City Law School London, typically 50% of graduates who commence pupillage have First Class undergraduate degrees.

Work hard, get a First or a high Upper Second, and you will set yourself up brilliantly.

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Getting into teaching – new routes in and subject options available


Applications are now open for teaching courses for next academic year. Find out more about the different training options and funding available, as well as that you might be able to teach more subjects that you had thought.

What are the different ways to become a teacher?

There are two different routes to qualifying to teach – university led training and school led training.

University led training has traditionally been the most common route. This is where graduates take a one-year postgraduate course (PGCE), which is a combination of university study and practical school based placements.

There are now a number of options for School led training, including a new Postgraduate Teaching Apprenticeship. These offer the opportunity to start your training ‘on the job’ in a school from day one, and some routes offer a salary. These are particularly ideal if you have some experience of teaching already or have some years of work experience.

The image below provides an overview into how the options differ. For find out more about each of them see:

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