Careers and Entrepreneurship

Application forms

Application forms are designed to ensure applicants are judged against the same criteria, so that recruiters can shortlist for interview. Find out how you can write an effective application

Recruiters decide on the skills, qualities and experience that they would like their ideal candidate to have and it is your role to show how you meet these criteria.

Read our applications booklet

Our booklet How to write application forms offers guidance on writing application forms and answering questions.

Do your background research 

Before you start your application, you need to find out more about the role and employer. This will help you when you come to write your answers. 

Find out about:  

  • the requirements of the role by reading the job advert and job description
  • the employer by visiting their website and researching them online e.g. news articles
  • how you need to apply by reading the applicant information pack or job advert

If you are applying for a graduate scheme, find out about the key competencies for the role. These are likely to be included in your application pack.

Make sure to read all the guidance you're given on completing the form e.g. the word limit, deadlines, and how to submit the form. 

Types of questions you can expect 

Graduate recruiters often use a combination of competency-based questions and motivational questions. 

Competency-based questions

Competency-based questions are based on the principle that how you behaved in the past is an indicator of how you will behave in the future. 

Examples:

  • Can you tell us about a time when you worked as part of a team?
  • What was your role and what did you do?
  • Can you give us an example of when you showed good communication skills?

Common competencies include:

  • teamwork
  • communication
  • leadership
  • motivation.

You need to give a specific example of how you demonstrated the competency in the past and structure it using STAR.

STAR 

When you have identified an example, you can use the STAR method to give your answer a clear and concise structure. 

Situation - I worked as an activity leader at a children’s summer camp in America. (What was the occasion/setting?)

Task - There were 10 leaders and due to bad weather we had to come up with a plan to keep the children busy indoors. (What did you need to do?)

Action - I suggested that we brainstorm some ideas and then get into groups of three to spend an hour developing one idea each. Then I created a rota so that we all knew what we were doing and when. (What did you do? Describe the action you took.)

Result - The extra activities were popular and the other leaders were happy to have shared the workload and limited the amount of additional work.

Motivational questions

Motivational questions are designed to help the employer find out why you want the role and if you will fit into the organisation. Your research into the role and the employer will help you with answering these questions. 

Examples:

  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What are the major challenges facing our sector currently?
  • Who are our competitors? 
  • Where do you see yourself in X years’ time?

When discussing your motivation for the role or employer, it is important to explain why this particular position and/or organisation are right for you.

Completing a blank section 

Some application forms, particularly for public sector roles, will include a blank section to complete. This is often known as a personal statement or motivational statement.

Use the criteria on the person specification as headings and write your examples underneath. This will give your writing structure and help the person shortlisting to see how you meet the criteria. 

Identify your relevant skills and experience 

To give effective examples that demonstrate you have the relevant skills and experience, you can draw on all areas of your life. 

This could include your: 

  • academic studies e.g. presentations demonstrate communication skills, the ability to communicate complex information and research skills 
  • extra-curricular activities e.g. a society events co-ordinator can demonstrate interpersonal and organisational skills
  • part-time work e.g. balancing work with studies shows time management skills and responsibility 
  • volunteering e.g. demonstrates initiative and a range of transferable skills according to the role 
  • responsibilities at home e.g. caring responsibilities and raising children show time management skills 

It is also important to show that you understand what the organisation does and what the role involves, by linking your experience to the job.

Visit our Skills page for more help with identifying and evidencing your skills.

Deciding whether to inform an employer about a disability

Most application forms will ask you to complete a diversity section that may cover disability. If you decide to tell an employer about a disability, they must make reasonable adjustments to support you during the application process and in the workplace.

Whether to tell an employer about a disability is a personal decision – you can discuss your options with a Careers and Employability Consultant. You can also read our further information on informing an employer about a disability.

Deciding whether to inform an employer about a criminal conviction 

Employers are likely to ask if you have had a criminal conviction. If you are unsure of how to answer this section, you can discuss this with a Careers and Employability Consultant. Nacro also has information on disclosing criminal records

Tips for writing your application

  • Write your answers and examples in Word first so that you can check your spelling and grammar.
  • Depending on your application, you may want to send a covering letter with your form i.e. if you are sending it via email or post.
  • Save the job description and person specification for future reference, plus a copy of your application.
  • If your application isn't successful, you can ask for feedback, which will help you when you write future applications.