Andrew Fennell
April, 2016

With competition to secure places on company schemes especially fierce, discover how to really sell yourself to employers and produce the best possible apprenticeship application

An apprenticeship is a great way to learn a specific trade or profession, while earning money and gaining an industry-standard qualification. This is in addition to the valuable work experience that it provides.

Many of the UK's leading employers now offer apprenticeships. However, with each position attracting an average of 12 applications, landing one can be tough.

If you want to increase your chances of a successful apprenticeship application, follow these handy pointers.

Do your research

Find out which employers are able to provide apprenticeships in your chosen field - and establish what they require from candidates.

Search online for vacancies that interest you. Make a note of the person specification criteria that consistently appear across the site, plus any buzzwords and phrases used; for example, excellent customer service or time management skills. Search for apprenticeships.

For apprenticeships, the most important factors will be your:

  • qualifications - most apprenticeship programmes will require you to have certain qualifications, such as A-levels, or at least be working towards them;
  • skills - hard skills, such as technical IT ability, design skills or languages, and soft skills like communication or teamwork;
  • career aspirations - apprenticeships are a long-term commitment, so as with any job, candidates will be expected to have a strong desire to work in the industries for which they are applying. It therefore pays to properly research your options and be determined in pursuing your chosen career path;
  • experience - some employers will want to see specific experience from candidates, but this doesn't necessarily have to be work-based. It could have been gained through school, college, volunteering or extra-curricular activities.

You'll have a much greater understanding of how to make a good impression once you've fully researched what your target employers are looking for in an apprentice.

Write a tailored CV

A strong CV is the backbone of any job application, so it needs to look professional and highlight you as a suitable candidate. Most importantly, your CV must demonstrate that you meet the personal profile for the role you're hoping to secure. You can get some useful advice on how to write a CV.

Use a simple font, divide sections clearly and break up text for ease of reading. You will need to include the following:

  • profile/personal statement - start with a punchy introductory paragraph that summarises all of your most relevant qualities and how these can be applied to this specific role. Ideally, you should mention your most recent qualifications, skills and experience, demonstrating your passion to make progress in this profession and be an asset to the employer;
  • education - with your work experience likely to be limited at this point, take this opportunity to showcase your knowledge by listing all your qualifications, highlighting specific modules, papers, exams and projects;
  • work experience - list your paid employment in reverse chronological order and include any significant non-paid experience acquired through college work placements, voluntary work or freelancing. Even if you feel that your part-time work isn't relevant to the job, you can still use it to demonstrate transferable soft skills such as teamwork, organisation and communication. For college students and those who may not have gained any experience, take the initiative by arranging a short-term work placement at the weekend or during the holidays;
  • interests/hobbies - only include them if they're relevant to the post or demonstrate a particularly impressive achievement. For example, if you're applying for a computer programming role and build websites in your spare time, then that would be worth adding.

Adopt a professional approach

The application process for apprenticeships can be time consuming, but it is important to make sure that you read the advert carefully and follow all employer guidelines, including providing any additional supporting documents that have been requested. For example, you may be asked for copies of your exam certificates. You will not only be judged on your suitability, but the professionalism of your application - so check it thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors.

You'll also need to consider:

  • your cover letter - some apprenticeships will specify the length and content of your cover letter - but if they don't, politely address the recruiter and provide a brief summary of why they should hire you. Remember, they probably receive hundreds of applications, so keep it short and sharp;
  • following up - if you haven't heard back from an employer after a few days, don't give up hope. A friendly follow-up email or call will make you appear keen and proactive.

Prepare for your interview

Before you first meet the employer at interview, you'll need to ensure that you have comprehensively researched the company and have a good understanding of what your potential role on the programme might entail. You should also prepare any questions that you may have, and be ready to discuss your main strengths and weaknesses with the interviewer. You'll need to back these up with evidence of times when the skills have come to the fore. Ask a friend or teacher to list your best qualities if you can't think of anything to include.

Your application may also involve:

  • assessment centres - some employers will expect you to attend an assessment centre, where they will set you a series of tasks and judge your abilities accordingly. If asked to attend, seek further detail on the planned activities, and practise these tasks before the day if possible;
  • presentations - if asked to present to the management team, you'll need to prepare what you are going to say in advance. You can run through it in front of friends or family, to ensure it flows. Discover the format of the presentation in advance, requesting information on the topic, length and the use of visual aids.

Employers looking to take on an apprentice may be sympathetic to the lack of work experience gained by younger recruits - with the programme open to any individuals in England aged 16 or over and who are not in full-time education - but they'll still expect to see other attributes, such as examples of your punctuality, reliability and digital expertise. An appetite to learn and a passion for the company and industry are also crucial to any would-be apprentice.

Irrespective of the job role, you'll need to capitalise on the skills that you have developed so far in your career. At interview, show you really want to be there and be the one selected for this fantastic opportunity.

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