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Graduate guidelines to completing financial services online application form

Acing online application forms for insurance, retail banking and actuarial graduate jobs

Essential advice on answering questions on application forms for insurance, retail banking and actuarial graduate jobs.
When answering questions about why you want the job, you need to provide evidence that you have the skills they seek and that you will thrive in the firm’s culture.

Be warned: online application forms for graduate jobs with insurance and retail banking employers tend to be lengthy and can take three hours or so to complete.

What to expect in a financial services application form

The online application forms vary for different employers:

  • Some application forms ask you a series of competency and motivational questions, in addition to your personal details and education and work experience history
  • Some require you to answer competency and motivational questions and upload a CV and covering letter as well
  • Some require you to submit a CV and covering letter and do not ask you further questions.
  • Some forms also include online aptitude tests, such as situational judgement and numeracy exercises, as part of the process.

When you do upload a CV, the form's software often automatically scans your CV and fills in the work experience, education and contact details sections of the form for you.

When forms do ask you to answer questions, they are designed to assess:

  • What you know about the employer, the job role and/or graduate scheme
  • Why you want to work in that job role
  • Why you want to work for that insurer, actuarial consultant, broker or bank in particular
  • Whether you are the sort of person to do well at the employer, ie do you have the appropriate skills? Do you share the insurance employer or bank’s values?

The employer may also want to test your commercial awareness by asking you how the firm is doing against its competitors, but they are more likely to ask this at interview.

Typical actuarial, insurance and retail banking graduate application form questions

RBS’ retail banking scheme asks: 'Please tell us what excites you about the programme and why you think that it is a good fit with your future aspirations.'

Standard Life’s graduate application form asks:

  1. Why have you chosen to apply to Standard Life and this particular graduate programme? What makes Standard Life the right place for you?
  2. Describe a time when you have faced a major challenge. How did you respond and looking back, what would you do differently?
  3. Tell us about a time where you have led others to change the way something was done? What did you do and why was this important?
  4. We’d like you to tell us about 3 achievements you are most proud of and why? Try to tell us something new, that isn’t covered in the previous sections.
  5. Please describe any positions of responsibility you have had in the last few years (this may include within a club/society or any voluntary/community work you have undertaken). Tell us why these were important to you?

The questions for Mercer's actuarial graduate scheme are:

  1. What do you think you will be doing on a day to day basis in the role? Why is it of interest to you?
  2. What industry based challenges do you think our retirement clients face?
  3. Please state the professional qualification you would like to take. Why do you feel you would be successful in these exams?
  4. Describe a time where you made a suggestion to improve an established process.

Nationwide asks you the application form question: ’At Nationwide we want to work with people who share our values. In 200–300 words what do Nationwide’s values mean to you? And how do you exhibit these when you work with others?’

Santander's applciation form questions are:

  1. What do you find personally appealing about working for Santander?
  2. What is your understanding of the role you have applied for?

When answering questions about why the scheme, the employer and what you know about your job...

Obviously, do some detailed research: You need to find out:

  • What does the employer do (what are its products or services)?
  • In which markets does it operate? In which locations?
  • Is the company expanding, downsizing, reaching out into new markets or pulling back its activities? Why?
  • Who are its main competitors?
  • What general happenings in the economy and finance industry might affect the employer, eg an increase in regulation?
  • What key skills and competencies does it seek in its graduate employees?
  • What are the company’s core values? What does its brand promote? How does it like to see itself? How is it viewed externally?
  • How is the graduate scheme structured? What training would you receive?
  • What does the day-to-day work involve?

You can find this information from:

  • Our employer hubs, where we've put everything you need to know about applying to specific employers in one place
  • The employer’s website – the corporate site, their press office webpages as well as their graduate recruitment site
  • The financial press – the FT and the business pages of broadsheets
  • People who work at the organisation – your university careers service should have a database of university alumni who would be happy to talk to you.

Don’t copy and paste. Don’t just regurgitate information: Write what you’ve found out about the organisation in your own words and don’t copy and paste. When answering Mercer’s questions about the industry, for example, you need to discover who Mercer’s typical clients are and how events affecting pensions generally would affect those particular types of clients. Are there particular challenges of rolling out auto-enrolment in FTSE companies, for example? Perhaps; perhaps not – but is there a challenge for them in meeting the obligations of final-salary pensions?

Relate the employer to you, your experiences and your values: When answering questions about why you want the job, you need to provide evidence that you have the skills they seek and that you will thrive in the firm’s culture. For example, one of Santander’s values is innovation – you could easily talk about how you also value innovation and what you’ve done to change or improve something or a process. When talking about what the job involves, relate the general information you find out about the job (eg what an actuary does) to the type of clients that company works with.

When answering questions about you and your skills...

Use your whole life when answering the questions: Don’t confine yourself to only talking about the finance internships you’ve completed. Take examples from all of your work experience, extra-curricular activities and travels: skills are transferable and employers will like you if you come across as the fabled ‘well rounded individual’.

Don’t forget to say what happened and what you achieved: As retail banking and insurance jobs are, to a greater or lesser extent, target driven, say what you achieved when giving examples of your skills. For example, if you were in charge of increasing membership of a student society, how much did you increase it by? When giving examples of a time when you completed a skill, use the CAR structure to keep you focused: explain the Circumstances, Actions and then the Results.

Don’t copy and paste answers from other application forms: You may think the questions are similar; you may think it will save you time – but, chances are, you will have missed the point of the question being asked and you’ll probably leave in the other employer’s name. Use the same example by all means – even use some of the same phrases – but write it from scratch. This will ensure you actually answer the question being asked, which is something a surprising number of students don’t do.

Before you submit…

Check and check again: Before pressing send, check for spelling and grammatical errors, check that you’ve answered every question in full (not missed out half a question) and that you’ve filled in the form completely – for example make sure you’ve provided your full email address instead of just half of it, something which has been known to happen. Read it through to make sure that you have explained yourself clearly. It's a good idea to give it to someone else to check too. Don’t put yourself out of the running of an interview for want of checking the form carefully.

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