Employers have countless job application to sift through so dashing off some answers and hoping for the best won't cut it. You'll need to carefully prepare and demonstrate sought after skills
While for some jobs you will be asked to send just a CV and cover letter, many graduate roles require you to fill in an application form instead.
You'll need to complete most job application forms online via the company's website, but paper forms are still accepted in some cases.
How do I prepare for making an application?
When you find a job you'd like to apply for, don't start filling in the application form straight away. Take some time to prepare, as this will make the task much easier.
Gather together all the information that you'll need, including details of your academic achievements, employment history and contact information for your referees.
You'll make a great first impression if you do your research - find out the aims of the company you're applying for, the sector they operate in and who their main competitors are. Browsing their social media channels is a good place to start.
Study the job description so that you can refer back to the specific skills and qualities that the employer is looking for as you complete the form.
Finally, read the instructions carefully to ensure that you complete the correct sections of the form and know when the deadline is.
What information should I include on an application form?
The application form should make the employer want to meet you to find out more and demonstrate your skills. Typical sections of an application form include:
- Personal information - give basic details, such as name and email address.
- Educational background - provide information on your academic achievements, including the institutions you've attended, courses taken and qualifications gained.
- Work experience - list your employment history and describe your main duties and responsibilities in each role, emphasising those most closely related to the job you're applying for.
- Competency-based questions - give specific examples of times when you've demonstrated the skills required for the role. Avoid being vague, and don't waste space writing about skills you have that aren't relevant - see example questions and answers for help.
- Personal statement - write a well-structured, well-argued case that you are the right person for the job, again referring to the person specification set out in the advert.
Don't be afraid to sell yourself. Demonstrate your passion for the company or job and any past achievements you can relate to the role. When writing your answers, always consider what skills employers want and how you can show that you have them.
Most application forms will also require you to provide details of at least two people who can provide references. You may sometimes be asked to attach a CV and cover letter as well.
Never lie on your job application form. Not only is this dishonest, but there can be more serious consequences - for example, altering your classification from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is considered degree fraud and could result in a prison sentence.
How do I fine-tune my application?
Refining your writing style will improve the quality of your application. Employers are looking for confident applicants who can convince them of their capabilities - demonstrate your suitability by giving short, to the point and positive answers.
You should also:
- use power verbs such as transformed, delivered, achieved and inspired
- choose descriptive words like effective, consistent, determined and adaptable
- focus on answering the questions and avoid waffling or being too vague
- select appropriate examples of your achievements from past experience
- demonstrate enthusiasm for the role
- ensure your spelling and grammar is correct.
Ask somebody else, such as a careers adviser, parent or friend, to read through your application form. A second pair of eyes will help pick out errors that you may not have spotted.
Do I need to disclose personal information in a job application?
Many graduate employers are committed to promoting diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace and the Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Nine characteristics are protected by the Act:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnerships
- pregnancy and maternity
- sex (gender)
- sexual orientation.
When making an application it's important to remember that you're not obliged to give details of any of the above characteristics and that it's unlawful for recruiters to discriminate against applicants on these grounds. You might be asked to provide these details on a confidential equal opportunities form, usually the last page of an application, or on a separate form. This is used solely for monitoring the employer's commitment to equality and diversity. It shouldn't be seen by people involved in recruitment or used in the selection process. If you'd prefer not to answer some or all of these questions there is usually a 'prefer not to say' option that you can select.
While there's no legal obligation for you to disclose personal information to your employer it's entirely up to you if you choose to do so. If you don't feel comfortable disclosing on an application form there will be other opportunities to do so, such as during an interview, after a job offer has been made or once you're in the workplace.
For example, if you want to disclose a disability at the application stage our example cover letter shows you how. If you'd like to disclose that you're trans during an interview you could ask what policies are in place around the treatment of trans employees or ask if there are any groups of initiatives you could get involved in.
You can make a complaint if you feel you have been discriminated against during the recruitment process. In the first instance it might be useful to visit Acas, an independent public body who provide free, impartial advice on workplace issues.
How do I submit my application form?
You'll complete the majority of job application forms online. On most employers' websites registering your details means you can save your work as you go, meaning you don't have to finish the form in one sitting.
Typing your answers into Word document, before copying and pasting them into the application form, is easier than typing directly into the web browser. You'll need to double-check your formatting as you copy and paste - for instance, if you've gone over the word count, the online form may simply cut off the ends of your answers - but going about your application this way means you won't risk losing your progress if your logged-in session times out.
Print the completed application form out and read it through before you submit, as it's much easier to spot spelling and grammatical errors on a printed page rather than on screen.
Finally, ensure that you have attached any requested documents, such as your CV, and click submit to send your application. You should receive email confirmation that your form has been received.
What happens if my application is successful?
Employers receive hundreds of applications per job and if they've chosen to progress yours on to the next step you should feel proud of yourself.
Depending on the role and employer you may be asked to complete a series of online exercises such as psychometric tests. Before inviting you to an in-person interview some recruiters may set up a telephone or video interview. Others may invite you to attend an assessment centre.
To find more advice on how to handle this stage of you application, see interview tips.
How do I respond to job rejection?
Whether the rejection comes at the application form stage or after an interview, everyone experiences it at some point. While it's disheartening and can have an impact on your confidence, especially if it happens a few times, the important thing to remember is that many others are in the same position.
You should contact the company by sending them an email within a week of the rejection, politely thanking them for their time and asking that they retain your details for any future opportunities. Ask for feedback - the majority of employers will be happy to provide this. Enquire about what you did well and where your application fell down, as this can help you approach the next one more confidently.
If you're struggling to get to the interview stage you need to develop an action plan of achievable mini-goals such as:
- improving your CV
- gaining extra work experience
- using social media to job hunt
- meeting and connect with new people.
This Prospects webinar aired May 2021.
Find out more
- Search for graduate jobs.
- For those who've graduated and are ready to find work, explore the Office for Students' (OfS) Graduate employment and skills guide(2021).