Apprenticeships are a viable alternative to university, with the number of opportunities in all sectors continuing to increase - but to secure a position, you need to ensure your application stands out from the crowd
Do your research
Before you start to apply for apprenticeships, it's important to know what employers in your chosen field will be expecting of you, as well as what each specific apprenticeship will involve.
As apprenticeships are open to a range of applicants, with some asking for no more than being over the age of 16 and not in full-time education as entry requirements, employers aren't necessarily looking to hire candidates with the most prior work experience or highest level of qualification.
Your ability to demonstrate hard skills, such as IT literacy or a grasp of a second language, and soft skills, such as excellent communication and organisation - as well as your career ambitions - will be highly valued.
For instance, you don't need to have had an office job to apply for an HR apprenticeship. You'll be able to impress if you discuss the time management and organisation skills you picked up by completing school or college work.
Search for apprenticeships on individual employers' websites. Some may not display their opportunities, so try making speculative applications to companies you'd like to work for. You'll prove that you're driven, confident and have fully researched the organisation.
By doing your research, you'll have a clearer picture of how to make a good impression, which will vary depending on the level of apprenticeship you're applying for. For instance, to apply for a degree apprenticeship you'll usually need at least two A-levels and some relevant experience. Explore what is an apprenticeship?
Tailor your apprenticeship CV and cover letter
A strong CV is the backbone of any apprenticeship application. It needs to look and sound professional, demonstrating clearly and concisely your suitability for the position.
Use a simple font, divide sections clearly and use bullet points for ease of reading. Your CV will need to include:
- Profile - a punchy opening paragraph displaying your most relevant qualities, skills and experience to the role you're applying for. Don't explain too much here - your profile should entice the employer to keep reading. Learn more about writing a personal statement for your CV.
- Education - many apprenticeship applicants have limited prior work experience. If the apprenticeship you're applying for will be your first position outside of full-time education, take the opportunity to list your academic achievements, highlighting the transferable skills you've developed through group work, coursework and end-of-year exams, such as excellent organisation and timekeeping.
- Work experience - in reverse chronological order, list all previous paid employment and any relevant non-paid experience you may have. This could include voluntary work or college work placements. Only include information that will support your apprentice application - if you're worried your experience isn't relevant, you can still use it to highlight transferable skills. For instance, if you're applying for an engineering apprenticeship, your past experience working in customer service shows excellent communication and the ability to think on your feet - valuable qualities in any future engineer.
- Interests/hobbies - only include interests and hobbies 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 this would be worth mentioning.
Your cover letter is another important part of your apprenticeship application. You'll use it to expand on the achievements and skills you've listed in your CV, as well as explain why you'd like to be considered for the apprenticeship. Keep it short and sharp - your employer may have hundreds of applications to read through.
As tempting as it may seem to send out duplicate CVs and cover letters, especially if the apprenticeships you're applying for offer similar qualifications and opportunities, still take the time to research each company and tailor each application to the specific employer. This way, you'll know a company is best suited to your needs, strengths and career ambitions, and employers will see that you're invested in working for them.
Prepare for the interview
Before submitting your apprenticeship application, research the company - this will come in useful if you're called for interview. Before you meet your employer, you'll want to have a good understanding of the company's values and what your potential role with them would entail.
Be prepared to discuss your strengths, areas for improvement and career ambitions with confidence. If you're feeling nervous, ask a friend, teacher or parent to help you think of what to include.
Dress smartly to make a good first impression. This doesn't always mean wearing a suit - dress appropriately for the position you're interviewing for. Business casual is a safe bet.
Employers looking to take on an apprentice will be sympathetic to a lack of work experience if you're a younger recruit, with the majority of apprenticeships being open to anyone aged 16 or over and not in full-time education. They'll be more interested in your other attributes, such as examples of your punctuality, reliability and digital expertise. Relax, show your passion for starting an apprenticeship and prove that you're the perfect candidate for the role.
Get more interview tips.
Find out more
- Discover whether you should go to university or do an apprenticeship.
- Find out more about apprenticeships in Scotland and Wales.