The main aim of any application is to get you an interview by matching yourself to the role and and convincing the employer that you are the right person who brings the required skills, knowledge, experience and motivation. This section provides a short overview about how to make strong applications.

1. Before you startdoing research

Allow for plenty of time. An application can take up to two hours easily, and you may want to register, fill in standard information first, save it and prepare yourself further. Most companies will allow you to go back as often as you need to, before you finally submit it.

Be clear what the employer is looking for: read the job description, read the person specification (a kind of shopping list the employer provides with essential requirements and the list that the employer also uses to check your application against in order to help them decide whether to interview you).

Next, take note of the person specification and write down your best examples against these skills. You will be asked for examples in the application form to show your skills in context. The examples can come from work, study or any other activities.

2. Your motivation

This is another point for which you will need to show clarity. Why do you want to work in this role, for this company, in this industry sector? What research have you done to demonstrate this? If you are not sure, go to Business Insights.

3. General tips

  • Answer all the questions. Some forms tend to be used for all kinds of jobs and not all questions might apply. If that is the case, put N/A (not applicable), to show that you have read the question. Don’t leave any boxes empty.
  • Answer all parts of the competency question. More information below.
  • Take ownership – avoid phrases like these: I had to …, I was asked to …, I was given the opportunity to …
  • Always proof-read and spell-check. Do not say ‘i’ when you mean ‘I’. Attention to detail is equally important.
  • Never send your application off on the same day – sleep over it, return to it another day and read it again. aloud)
  • Avoid giving opinions instead of evidence (Example: I believe that team working is really important in any business and this is one of my strongest skills.)

4. Answering competency-based questions & examples

Competency-based questions …

  • …. typically focus on skills such as teamwork, problem solving, communication, leadership
  • … ask you to describe your past performance in the context of a specific scenario
  • … are used to judge how competent you will be in a job

To answer these types of question well, the STAR formula will be useful in structuring your answer:

STAR formula

EXAMPLE 1 (team working):

Describe your role in a team situation. How did you contribute to the effectiveness of the team and what was the outcome? (100 words)

I was part of the membership committee of the Jujitsu society. We set ourselves the task of increasing our membership by 20%. During our initial brainstorming meeting, I agreed to organise a public demonstration event that included teaching some basic moves to people who knew nothing about this sport. I negotiated a suitable space, persuaded our coach to give free taster sessions and coordinated and liaised with fellow committee members who were producing advertising leaflets. The event attracted a lot of attention, and many students enjoyed the free coaching session. In the end we increased our membership by 30%.

Note: If there is a word count, do stick to it as closely as you can and usually under and not over, as extra words may get cut off when submitting. This answer is 99 words.

EXAMPLE 2 (problem-solving):

Please tell us about a time when you had to overcome a challenging situation. What was the situation? Why was this a challenge for you? How did you overcome the difficulties and what was the final result?

To answer this, apply STAR. Start with a brief description of the challenge (problem), consider pros & cons, facts and constraints (e.g. budgets, deadlines, timing), think about the potential consequences, show a contingency plan, and don’t forget the outcome (either positive or learning opportunity).

EXAMPLE 3 (achieving a goal):

From your academic, work or personal experience, please give an example of a challenge that you have set yourself and describe how you have gone about achieving it?

A good answer will show a situation where you have set yourself a clear target, broke the task into smaller parts, made a clear timed plan and achieved your goal. An example might be about planning to take part in a marathon to help raise money for a charity, not normally being into jogging, but deciding to train three times a week over a period of 6 weeks and then taking part and finishing with whatever time was achieved (but the example would need to be realistic, not made up). The judgement will not be on the action itself, but about the process of breaking down a large task into smaller, realistic, achievable components and achieving your target.

5. Motivation questions

Examples:

  • Please provide details of the personal skills you have developed to date that are relevant to this role.
  • Please explain in no more than 100 words why you wish to work in this particular role?
  • From your research you have done on our industry, how does our organisation fit in with your career aspirations?
  • What attracts you to this placement or graduate position or internship and especially to us?

This is where your initial research into the role, organisation and industry will pay off, as this will enable you to answer this well. You might also wish to look up the employer website, especially the About Us pages or any press release there.

6. Commercial awareness questions

Examples:

  • Given current market conditions, what do you think [Name of business] should do to remain competitive?
  • [Business Name] is passionate about providing our clients with exceptional services that contribute to their business success. Please identify a business issue that currently interests you and explain how [business name] could potentially be involved. We will be assessing your suggestions of how [business name] could be involved rather than looking for in depth knowledge of the business issue that you choose’ (maximum 150 words)

Answers to these questions need to show that you have some idea about what goes on in the industry sector within which the business operates. To help you with your research, you could use Google News (just type in your employer’s name) or other resources for business news. The BBC Business News web pages, for example, give quick information. Lastly, you could also look up some additional information on this blog about Researching Employers for job interviews.

Finally,

before you submit your application, proof-read one last time. You can also copy and paste your questions and answers and get professional feedback. See Careers Advice for appointments at KBS and the Careers and Employability Service.

You are now ready to press that button and submit your application.

Good luck!

apply now button

For further information go to the Careers and Employability Service’s website for Application Forms.