Completing application forms – common mistakes

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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

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“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.

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.

Guest blog: 5 CV mistakes that can jeopardise your career prospects

Applicant Selection Concept with Business CV Resume - Job IntervYou might not realise how important a CV is when you start job hunting, but it’s the barrier between getting an interview and not hearing from the company ever again.

There are quite a few CV mistakes that can jeopardise your career prospects, especially if you’re applying for a part-time student role or graduate job, as the competition is often quite tough.

Here, we have highlighted five of the biggest CV mistakes to remain aware of throughout the job application process and your career.

1. Typos

Of course, you might make a mistake and miss a spelling error, especially if it’s buried way down deep in the middle of your CV. You can hope that the recruiter misses it too, but the chances of that happening are fairly slim.

So, what impact will that one little typo have on your career prospects?

Maybe very little, maybe a lot.

At best, it can weaken your chances of getting through to an interview. At worst, your CV will be dismissed instantly and you’ll have to scrape the bucket of your overdraft for just a few weeks more.

How do you mitigate against typos?

By double, triple, quadruple checking your CV before you click submit – the same way you would with a piece of coursework.

Once you have written your CV, step away from it. Give yourself a break from job hunting and do something distracting before coming back to it. Fresh eyes should help you pick up any silly mistakes and typos.

If you’re still in any doubt, give it to someone else to proofread.

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Preparing a CV for part-time work

Joe Cronin, Application Adviser

Now that Freshers Week is over, you might be thinking about taking on a part-time job while you study. These are increasingly valued by employers as evidence that candidates are familiar with a working environment and possess some of the skills (organisation, time-keeping, interpersonal skills) that are essential to working life.

Applications for these types of jobs are generally much more straightforward than for graduate careers, but there are still some important points worth bearing in mind. In particular, the CV you send to employers for part-time work should be different to the one you use for graduate applications. Here are a few tips for preparing a CV for part-time jobs:

  1. Reshuffle

When applying for graduate jobs, the Education section of your CV should come before Work Experience. However, when applying for part-time jobs, reversing this order can be a good idea so that you emphasize what the employer is more interested in.

  1. Emphasise skills

You don’t need to stress your academic achievements as heavily (so no lists of the modules you’ve taken, for example), but you do need to draw attention to the broader skills you’ve gained at school or university or through other jobs. If you haven’t done this before, think about what these could be: being a prefect at school shows evidence of responsibility, for example, while being a captain of a sports team shows leadership and organization skills.

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Get fit and get your CV into shape – join a club or society and boost your CV

Did you know that getting involved with a club or society is a great opportunity for you to gain experience and develop your skills, which you can use to demonstrate to recruiters that you have what they are looking for when you apply for a job?

Whether you are going for graduate positions, work experience or part-time work, recruiters look for evidence that you have the ability to do the job. This means they will be looking out for examples of the key skills (competencies) that they require for the role on your CV/application and at interview. So whilst you’re keeping fit, you will also be giving your CV a good workout too and getting it into shape for future applications!

How, you might ask?

First of all, being part of a club or society is a great example of team working, communications skills and initiative. Running events for a club or society can demonstrate organisation and planning skills, and contributing to a newsletter or blog will prove your experience of  written communication skills.

Joining a drama group can help enhance presentation skills, communication skills, thinking on your feet, team working… and the list goes on! Most of all, it shows enthusiasm to get involved with university life outside of lectures, helping you to stand out from the crowd when applying for a job.

Further down the line, there could be an opportunity to get involved with committee roles e.g. president… this demonstrates leadership, responsibility and commitment, all of which are highly valued by employers.  These positions could also be an introduction to management skills.

Once you have had a taste at trying different things and developing new skills,  you can also think about what you have enjoyed and what you have been good at – a great way of working out what sort of jobs you might want to do when you graduate.

Head to Freshers Fair or contact the Students Union to find out what is on offer this year. If you think there is something missing, you could always start your own club or society.

Good luck and have fun!

The Basics: Cover letters

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter (sometimes called a covering letter or supporting statement) allows you to personalise your job application and explain your CV, explaining your motivation for the job, your enthusiasm for the particular role and, most importantly your understanding of the organisation that you are applying to. You should always send a cover letter with your CV unless you are told otherwise. 

  • It’s a single page letter, which is a tailor-made personal statement for a particular job and organisation.
  • A cover letter is not just a repeat of your CV.
  • The advice below is also applicable when completing an application form and responding to: ‘Please use the space below to indicate why you feel that you are suitable for this post, including details of relevant skills and experience’ (but this will not be addressed to a named individual).

How do I write a cover letter?

Your cover letter should have a clear beginning, middle and end.

Beginning:

  • Address your cover letter to a named contact whenever possible to show you have sent it to them personally. You will usually find these details in the application pack – make sure you have spelt them correctly!
  • A clear introduction – explain who you are (e.g. a recent QMUL graduate), what position you are applying for, and how you heard about the role.

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