Some organisations only ask for a CV and covering letter when you are applying for roles, whereas others require you to fill out an application form. These can sometimes be quite lengthy and ask for lots of information, so it is important to get it right.
Remember that the purpose of the form is to present individuals’ information in a standard way so that everyone can be considered on the same basis. Therefore, make sure you give yourself a nice amount of time to complete the application form. If you rush or leave it until two hours before the deadline, chaos will ensue.
To help you we have put together a guide on how best to maximise your potential and demonstrate this in an application that is well written and prepared. Doing this will help you to meet the selection criteria so that your application is likely to be shortlisted.
Visit the Resources section of the website to access further tips and hints on writing job applications, as well as information on organisations you can contact to help assist you further.
Key Advice – Job Applications
Don’t just apply because you like the look of the job title/organisation/salary
Read through the job description fully. Think about if you would like to have this role and if so, do you have the skills and experience to carry out this role successfully? If you do, pick out the most important aspects of the job description and person specification and write in your application how you meet these and how you would demonstrate them in the role.
Identify the job criteria
Throughout the selection process you are looking to provide evidence of the skills and experience the employer is looking for. You will usually find these in the job description, but you may also have gathered additional information about what is important to the employer by attending careers events or through your own research or contacts.
Choose examples from your life
Having made a list of the criteria for the job, you should then jot down examples that demonstrate you have the skills or experience they are looking for.
You can demonstrate these by using examples from your academic life and extracurricular activities: tutorials, team projects, work experience, part-time jobs, fieldwork, dissertations, sport, music and societies you’ve been involved in. Try to find examples from a range of activities.
- Give specific examples and evidence – don’t generalise.
- Think of evidence that you can quantify: how much, how many, how often.
- Vary your use of examples, and draw from different areas of your life.
- Don’t undersell Saturday jobs or part-time, holiday jobs. Recruiters often tell us at the Careers Service that they like to read about these experiences as they can demonstrate many skills. You don’t have to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to be impressive!
- Draw on your most recent, relevant experiences and achievements wherever possible.
Fill out each section carefully
Don’t rush your application! Take your time reading through all the information fully and think about your answers. Make sure you answer relevantly in each section they ask you to.
Read through your application before submitting it
Once you have completed your application form, it’s important to read back over it. Check you have included all the necessary information and that what you have written makes sense. Check your spelling and grammar as the employer will want to see that you have good written communication. It might also be a good idea to get someone to read your application for you, such as a friend or family member, as they might spot mistakes or areas you have missed that you hadn’t originally seen.
Have a look at when the application deadline is. Some organisations might have a fixed deadline, whereas others might specify that they close the applications when they have reached a certain number of applicants. Make sure you don’t miss out!
Provide good supporting information
The main part of the application form is usually the supporting information section. This is where the employers look to see what skills you have and how you can bring them to this role, so it’s your chance to really stand out! Look at the job description and person specification, then show how you meet them and what you can bring to the role. Don’t just say you are good at something or have a certain skill, back it up with real examples of when you demonstrated it, such as during school, work experience, a past job or through hobbies.
If you haven’t got one of the requirements they are asking for, say how you would tackle this in the role, to show you are willing to learn and that you have thought about how you would handle a new situation.
Match the essential requirements
Employers often specify which are the essential skills or experiences they are looking for in applicants, such as ‘At least one year’s experience in a customer service role’, as well as the desirable skills. Try and match the essential requirements as closely as possible, as this is what they will assess your application against. It’s important to note, if you can’t match most of the essential requirements, the chances are you probably aren’t suitable for the role!
This is your chance to really show why you are the best applicant for the role, so talk about your experiences and what you have done well. Be positive about your achievements and demonstrate why you would do the job well. Show the employer how you are different from other applicants and why you should be invited to the interview.
An example of the process
Not only do you have to summarise your skills and experience, you also have to make sure it’s relevant to what you’re applying for.
Summing up the specific skills and experiences that make you perfect for the position will prove your suitability and convince the recruiter to read on. It can be easier to think of it in three parts:
- Who are you?
- What can you offer?
- What are your career goals?
Below are some things that can be helpful to think about:
- Why are you suited to this role?
- Why does the role interest you?
- Do you have any previous experience that relates to this line of work?
- Have you taken part in any projects that help demonstrate your capabilities?
- What skills do you have that make you an ideal candidate?
Use the CAR Technique
The diagram below shows how the CAR technique can be used to give focus to your job application answers.
The CAR approach can make at least a part of the process more coherent and can give real focus to your application. Using CAR is an especially appealing choice because it aligns with the qualities that employers actually look for in job applicants. That’s no small advantage.
How to use the CAR technique:
- Make a list of 6 to 8 headings, use the person specification to do this.
- Under each heading write 2 or 3 bullet points. For each, give a specific example of where you have developed the skill or knowledge in question. If possible, make the examples directly relevant to the tasks listed in the job description.
- You need to give very specific examples to back up your claims.
CAR Technique – Tips
1. Start with a strong example
Use an example that is at, or above, the level of the job you are going for. Make sure the situation was challenging, something outside the day-to-day routine.
2. Focus on what’s most important
Keep your discussion of the situation and task as brief and relevant as you can.
3. Make your role shine
Be very clear about what your role and responsibility was, and what actions you personally took. If it was a team effort, say so, but you still need to say exactly what you did within the team.
4. Go for a big finish
Think about how you measured success, by what you accomplished.
5. Write it well
Remember, everything in your job application displays your written communication skills. Use plain English and short sentences, avoid jargon, and use active rather than passive verbs (e.g. say ‘I organised a meeting’, not ‘a meeting was organised by me’).
CAR Technique – Example
For a job with a Housing association which emphasized the need for good team players in the person specification:
In the second year of my degree I carried out a piece of research with a small team of five into the area of student housing. The outcome was a series of recommendations to meet the needs of students and offer support when dealing with landlords. As a group we worked well together, holding weekly meetings and maintaining communication electronically in between meetings. One person became ill at a crucial time and I offered to reorganise the tasks to ensure the project met the deadline. We received a good mark for the project (68%) and the work was forwarded to the University’s Accommodation Office to be included in a review of their services.
You can clearly see in this example the candidate has used the CAR technique: The applicant describes the circumstances of the event or situation, outlines their individual contribution to the situation (action) and relevant outcomes are mentioned (results).
This candidate explained why he/she thought the team worked well together, rather than just stating that they did.
This technique can be useful in application forms, CVs and interviews.
CAR can be a powerful tool to show the selection panel how well you meet the selection criteria, competencies or capabilities, but it’s up to you to use it well in your job application.
Find a strong example that displays your abilities, set it out clearly and succinctly, and show how it contributed to achieving your objectives.
A good example in your job application, that is also well written, will go a long way towards getting you an interview, and ultimately the job!
In written applications, you should convey your relevant skills and experience with impact by using action verbs. These can help make your application stand out, particularly if you start bullet-points with them. Here are some examples:
Accomplished • Achieved • Administered • Advised • Advocated • Analysed • Assembled • Authorised • Awarded • Budgeted • Captained • Chaired • Coached • Completed • Conducted • Co-ordinated • Counselled • Created • Decided • Delivered • Demonstrated • Designed • Determined • Developed • Devised • Directed • Discovered • Earned • Edited • Employed • Enabled • Encouraged • Engineered • Enjoyed • Ensured • Established • Evaluated • Examined • Expanded • Explained • Facilitated • Founded • Gained • Generated • Handled • Identified • Implemented • Improved • Increased • Initiated • Instituted • Instructed • Interviewed • Invented • Launched • Led • Managed • Marketed • Maximised • Mediated • Negotiated • Obtained • Operated • Organised • Oversaw • Performed • Planned • Prepared • Presented • Prioritised • Produced • Promoted • Raised • Ran • Recognised • Recommended • Reconciled • Recruited • Represented • Responsible • Saved • Set up • Simplified • Solved • Supervised • Targeted • Transformed
If you lack experience
Job searching without much work experience can be frustrating; employers will tell you that you need more experience, but how are you supposed to get it if no one will hire you? Whether you’re a recent school leaver or a stay-at-home parent re-entering the workforce, below you will find some tips to help you combat your lack of experience in your job search.
Don’t forget to visit our Gaining Skills and Experiences section to discover a range of programmes available to help you build your experience.
Focus on what you DO have
Experience is important, but so is your attitude to work, personality, motivation, resilience, ideas for the future and your understanding of the organisation and its service – the list is endless, so don’t get too hung up on any one thing.
Don’t forget your soft skills
Soft skills are important to all employers, regardless of the role. Every business needs their staff to be able to communicate well, or be able to contribute to a team. Soft skills are required for every job, therefore, it is just as important to show you have those necessary skills. You’ll then already be in a better position than other candidates who may have the hard skills, but lack your capabilities.
Highlight how you have used these skills practically, to contribute towards your employer’s or university’s financial gain. This will allow you to prove your value to hiring managers.
Be willing to learn
No doubt when starting out in your career or education you had to learn a lot of new information. This is valuable experience, since you’ll have to do it again if you go through a career change.
You should market yourself as adaptable and enthusiastic to learn. By demonstrating this you’ll be gaining an advantage, as technological advancements in most sectors mean things are always developing. If you can show that you’re ready to challenge yourself by learning something new and updating your skill set, you should see serious interest from hiring managers.
Whether you fancy a career change, are noticing signs you need a new job or have recently graduated and looking for a new role in a different sector, demonstrating your adaptability and enthusiasm can help you move in the right direction.
Think outside the job
Want some free advice? Treat your extra-curricular activities like jobs. Evidence shows that employers are willing to take voluntary experience into account when considering a candidate for a role. Therefore, spend time mentally sifting through the last 10 years and think about the times you may have volunteered at a company, conducted charity work, completed mandatory work experience in high school – anything that will look good on a CV. It may not have been paid work, but you certainly would have gained some valuable skills doing it.
If you want the job, then go for it
Don’t apply for a shift manager job if you’ve never worked a shift – obviously. But if you fit most of the qualifications for a job except the experience level, consider applying anyway. Employers may ask for a year or two of experience, but if you have a great personality and stand out they’re likely to consider you. Don’t forget to show off your positive attitude, excitement and willingness to learn.
Read Jordan and Charlotte’s application tips
So you’re interested – but how do you apply and what is the best way to apply successfully for a job? Luckily for you, two of our members of staff, Jordan and Charlotte, have drawn up a list of pointers to help you!
What to Do
Do your research
Before applying make sure that you know and understand the organisation’s values, mission, vision and future plans.
The job is there to help you develop your skills and improve your weaknesses. You are not expected to be perfect or know it all – just be yourself.
It’s in the small things
Things such as grammar and punctuation may seem insignificant, but can make a big difference in your application and put you one step ahead.
You will have gained transferrable skills from previous experiences, such as in your everyday life or from previous jobs. To be successful, make sure you reflect on such experiences and learn from them.
Get in touch with the recruitment team if you have any questions specific to the role. If you need someone to read through your application form, why not ask one of the careers advisors at school, your best friend or even your mum!
What not to Do
Don’t worry if you don’t hear back for a while
There can be a long time between submitting an application and the interview, due to the large amount of applications. The length of time you have to wait does not dictate success.
Don’t think you aren’t good enough
Mindset matters more than being a master at everything. Your willingness to learn and develop is much more important than already having lots of experience and skills.
Don’t lose heart!
Even though the application process may take time – the end goal is worth the effort. You can do it!
We hope that you have found our advice useful.
Good luck with your applications!
By Jordan Moss (PICU Intern) and Charlotte Saunders (Corporate Nursing Intern) at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.