An application form is your opportunity to market yourself to a recruiter and convince them you have the skills and experience they are looking for. In order for your application to be effective, make your answers specific to the organisation you are applying to (known as targeting). Remember to save a copy of your form, as this will be useful reference if you get invited to interview and can help when making future applications.
Get it right:
- Read the job description carefully. You won’t be able to sell yourself effectively if you are not sure what the recruiter is looking for and what the specifics of the job are. You will then need to address each of these points in your answers. If it is an unadvertised role, read job descriptions for similar positions and use the Prospects job profiles to get a sense of what the recruiter is likely to be looking for.
- Use examples from when you have successfully used a skill in the past as evidence to prove you have the skills required for the role. (See the STAR technique below for information on how to structure your answers). Think about what you have been involved in over the past few years where you have used and developed your skills (your CV can be a useful starting point) to identify the most appropriate situation to use for your answer.
- Part time jobs, volunteering and involvement in clubs / societies can also be used as evidence of skills e.g. working in a team or taking the initiative. Examples from work, study and extra-curricular activities show you have a range of experience.
- Find out about the organisation you are applying to. What makes them different to their competitors? What are their biggest achievements? Look beyond just the department you are applying to. Knowing more about them will allow you to sound confident and informed when answering why you want to work for them.
- What are the key issues affecting the industry? Understanding this will mean you can show your interest in the industry and your ability to contribute to the organisation.
Your mission in a nutshell is to persuade the employer:
You can do the job
You will do the job
You’ll fit in
Employers want evidence of what YOU have done. If you have used a skill before, you are more likely to be able to use it again in the job.
This is only half the battle – making your CV clear and easy to read is vital if you want it to make the right kind of impact.
Language and format
- Omit pronouns – I, you, he, she, they and articles – a or the. Saves space and ego
- Balance –Are the long sections the most relevant ones for the job?
- Dates – ensure there are no gaps but don’t worry about day dates – month and year will be fine
- Whilst you do not need to list all your modules, an employer will appreciate a list of relevant modules as this demonstrates an understanding of the requirements of the role
- Prioritise – Check the personal specification
- Achievements – Include anything that was IMPLEMENTED
- Evidence – Think about HOW you are a good communicator and team player. Use examples to show this
If you study a STEM subject, you may be expected to include more technical information in your CV when applying for work experience, internships, placements and graduate jobs. The trick is to create a CV that introduces a rounded, human candidate who has the relevant technical expertise, rather than one that presents list of technical skills but not a person! Here are some tips:
- Consider a profile at the top of your CV: this can be a short paragraph or a few bullet points which clearly and succinctly state your key skills and experience and, most importantly, your career ambitions. Naturally these should relate to the position you’re applying for!
- Bear in mind that the first person who reads your CV will probably not be an expert in your field. They will understand that you need to use technical language, but at the same time, they need to be able to understand enough of your CV to see that you’re filling the criteria for the position. So, make sure that you’re using the same kind of terminology/buzzwords as are being used in the job specification and also be sure to include some evidence of broader, transferable skills (such as teamwork, leadership and communication), especially if these have been asked for.
Whether you are approaching an employer speculatively about a role that isn’t advertised, or you are applying for a role where you are given little information, looking at the organisation’s website can give you helpful clues about what to include in your application.
So if you don’t have a formal job description listing essential skills, how do you make your application fit what the employer is looking for?
You can find out this information yourself, by learning how to research the company or organisation using their website.
Here are some common areas that you might focus on:
Most employer websites will have an “About us” page, which gives an overview of the organisation and what they do. These pages can be really useful for finding out about:
- Specific services that the organisation provides
- Sectors the organisation works in
- Relevant language or terminology that the employer uses to describe their work
- The ethos or history of the company
So, you’ve found an opening for a job that you just know you’re right for. You’ve spent time putting together the perfect CV and now you’re ready to apply, right? Wrong. Usually, as part of the application process, you will also be expected to provide a well-written cover letter. The purpose of a cover letter is to inform your prospective employer of exactly which position you’re applying for, while at the same time demonstrating your suitability for the role. There’s plenty of great advice out there on what you should and shouldn’t include, but knowing the basics isn’t always enough.
To maximise your chances of success, it’s important to remember the following:
- It’s not a rewrite of your CV
Your CV is basically a list of previous experience and qualifications. Your cover letter is the chance to pick out your most relevant and impressive achievements and go into more detail. For example, your CV might include something like the following:
Mathematics Tutor (September 2016 – June 2017): independently planned and delivered one-one lessons in GCSE mathematics on a weekly basis to students with learning difficulties.
This is great, but very brief. In your cover letter, you have the opportunity to explain what challenges you faced, how you overcame them, and what skills you developed which make you the ideal candidate.
Your cover letter is also your opportunity to prove that you’re a good cultural fit. You want to show that you share the company’s values and that you like the way they work. Taking the time to explain in this way why you want to work for them specifically shows that you’ve done your research and that you’re taking the application process seriously.
A CV tells a story about you and your professional journey to date.
As a student it can be common to have a varied range of work experience, such as part-time jobs, internships, or even placements during your degree. This can mean that your CV can seem quite broken up, with some of the work you did before or during university no longer feeling as relevant to the career you want to pursue now.
But by focusing on the skills you got from these jobs, rather than just the tasks they involved, you can refocus your CV to tell a story about a portfolio of skills you have developed across these different experiences.
Here are three quick ways to try this on your CV:
- Start with skills: When describing your work experience, start each bullet point with a skill. Then describe the actions you took in the job that evidenced that skill. Even if you have done lots of different kinds of jobs, you will then be able to highlight the similar skills that connected them. Here are some examples…
- Written communication: wrote weekly mail outs to inform customers of new services.
- Teamwork: chaired monthly staff meetings, ensuring that all staff were able to speak and raise their concerns and thoughts.
- Organisation: updated the online room booking calendar daily on Microsoft Outlook.
- Include a profile: Try writing a profile at the top of your CV, which gives potential employers some context about you and highlights the key skills that link together your different experiences. The profile should be short (no more than a couple of sentences) and specific to you, for example…
I am a bilingual BSc Mathematics student, who has developed strong communication skills across a range of customer service jobs, and is now seeking to apply my knowledge of statistics in the public sector.
- Use a cover letter: If you have the opportunity, submit a cover letter alongside your CV. On the cover letter you can select the most relevant aspects of your work history and education, to create a narrative about how your previous experience has given you skills to undertake the job for which you are applying. You can find advice on how to structure a cover letter here.
Good luck! And don’t forget you can always book a 1-2-1 appointment with an Application Adviser to get some feedback on your CV, cover letter or application.
Eleanor, Application Adviser
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