Write a successful job application

June, 2015

A job application form is your chance to show employers that you're perfectly suited to the role and deserve to be shortlisted for an interview

What to include in a job application form

The form should give the employer an insight into you as a person and encourage them to want to meet you to find out more.

All applicants will be asked to fill out the same form, so use the following typical sections to present evidence of how you've developed relevant skills and gained valuable experience through your academic, work and personal life:

  • Educational background - you'll usually be expected to provide information on institutions attended, courses taken and qualifications gained.
  • Work experience - you may be asked to describe or list the main duties of your current job, or any positions that you've held in the past.
  • Competency-based questions - this is where you get to show how you meet the person specification for the role, by promoting yourself as the best candidate for the job.
  • Personal statement - if a supporting statement is required, this should be well-structured - possibly using headings to set out how you meet the job criteria.

Most applications require a minimum of two referees; usually an employer and an academic tutor.

Never lie on your CV or job application. Not only will you demonstrate your dishonesty to a potential employer, but there can be serious consequences too. For example, altering your degree grade from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is classed as degree fraud and can result in a prison sentence.

Style tips

Your application can make a strong impression if you:

  • use power verbs, such as 'transformed', 'delivered', 'achieved' and 'inspired';
  • choose descriptive words like 'effective', 'consistent', 'determined' and 'adaptable';
  • focus on the questions asked rather than waffling or being too vague;
  • select appropriate examples of your achievements from past experience;
  • demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for the role.

Once you've completed the form, check through the final version to ensure that there are no spelling or grammar errors. You may want to ask someone else, such as a university careers adviser, to read it too.

The key to a successful job application is to be succinct, positive and clear, while satisfying each of the points listed in the person specification. To find out how to achieve this, see what skills do employers want?

Disclosing personal information

You're not obliged to divulge personal details regarding your age, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation, and so shouldn't be asked to do so here. Only include information that you feel would help with your application and support your suitability for the role.

You may be asked to complete an equal opportunities form. This information is treated confidentially and will not be used as part of the selection process. The form is normally separate from the application, and used solely for monitoring the employer's commitment to equality and diversity.

Online job applications

While some electronic application forms have to be completed in one sitting, many systems now allow you to register your details and save your progress as you go along. However, be aware that employers may be able to view partially completed forms.

Here are a few useful tips for completing online job applications:

  • If you decide to cut and paste your answers, be careful not to include names of other organisations that you've applied to previously, as this will result in instant rejection.
  • You should always read the supporting documentation very carefully, answering all questions (including sub-questions, if there are any) and sticking to the word count.
  • Print off a draft copy of your application form before submitting it, as this gives you the opportunity to proofread it for mistakes while ensuring that every section has been filled in correctly. You may also want to keep a copy for your own records.
  • Allow plenty of time to complete it, remembering to submit the form and all supporting documents (including references) by the deadline.

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