Recruiters judge online applications not only on evidence that you meet their requirements, but also on the quality of your writing: think clear, concise answers and good grammar. If written English isn’t your strong point, consider drafting in help. Don’t risk giving the impression that you are slapdash or that you won’t be able to communicate clearly with clients or customers.
1. Put in the time
Online applications take time and preparation, so don’t try to rattle them off in breaks between lectures. Do some groundwork before you start typing and schedule in some blocks of undisturbed time to work on your responses and submit your form.
Before you start, make sure you understand the job or graduate scheme you are applying for and what the organisation does. Check your skills and qualifications match the requirements for the position or the graduate programme. Most graduate IT employers will also have specific core competencies they seek. These typically include communication skills (written and verbal), organisation and planning skills, teamworking ability, etc, which are examples of soft skills. Technical skills might include programming languages. Use our IT employer hubs to read up on individual graduate employers with technology positions.
Print off the application form so you can read it properly without the temptation to start typing. Prepare your long answers in a Word document so that you can more easily review and spell-check your responses.
2. Tailor each application to the employer
A seemingly simple question might be ‘What attracts you to applying for a graduate position within IBM?’ or ‘Why do you want to work at FIS?’. The company does not want you to parrot back facts from its website about how great it is. Instead, it wants you to show that you understand its business and the graduate job you are applying for, and link these to your own interests or experiences. For example, you might want to highlight a technology that is particularly important to the organisation and outline how you are enjoying using it in your final-year project or explain how your work experience has helped you confirm that you want to work in the company’s particular area of business.
3. Never cut and paste
The questions may seem similar from form to form but there can be subtle differences, so avoid cutting and pasting in responses from other applications. It may seem easier, but it also makes it easier to miss the point of the question, or leave in another employer’s name. Moreover, each employer has different expectations and may place greater or lesser importance on different aspects of a competency or skill. Look at the questions and make sure you understand exactly what they mean.
4. Include a variety of examples
What you’ve done in the past is usually a good indicator of how you will perform in the workplace, so use real-life examples and experiences when responding to competency-based questions that ask you to discuss when you used a particular skill, rather than making general statements about yourself (eg ‘I am highly organised’). The examples you use don’t have to come just from your academic experiences. Work experience, IT-related or not, is always a good source to draw upon. Even the most routine summer job can show an employer how you react under pressure, deal with people and solve problems. Internships or part-time jobs can be particularly useful when you are asked to provide an example of a time when you demonstrated strong commercial awareness.
You can also demonstrate your competencies through your hobbies, family situations you’ve dealt with or other personal experiences. For example, you might want to draw on an inspiring personal project to help answer the question ‘Tell us about a time when you showed drive and enthusiasm’. Use a different example for each question – recruiters like variety.
5. Make your responses structured and concise
Applications often have a word limit for longer responses to questions on competencies and skills. Keep them relevant and concise. Use the STAR acronym to help you structure your response to this type of question. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. Write a brief description of the Situation and Task, devote more space to describing the Actions you took, and then briefly sum up the Result of your actions and any lessons you learned from the experience. Many applicants devote too much space to explaining the situation. It is better to use the space to explain the personal actions you took and what you learned from the experience.
Make doubly sure your responses are about what you did. If you use a group project or team-related example, don’t talk about ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘they’.
6. Pay close attention to detail
Accuracy is really important in the life of an IT professional. If you were an IT employer, would you trust someone who didn’t pay attention to detail to code your flagship software application or document requirements for a business-critical system? It is important that candidates take the necessary care to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes.
You will also regularly use your writing skills in the IT business, so a well written application is a good indicator of your ability to present a clear message. When you work online, it’s easy to slip into being informal and a bit too casual.
On an application form you can show your accuracy by:
- always writing full, grammatically correct sentences, using a capital letter for ‘I’
- including all the information requested, leaving no blanks
- checking that you have expressed yourself clearly and that your sentences make sense
- checking your spelling carefully.
7. Do final checks before you submit
- Go away and take a break. When you return, check through the responses again.
- Get someone whose opinion you trust to read through your responses.
- Paste your responses into the form and print out the completed copy.
- Proofread it and, assuming everything’s perfect, keep a copy – you’ll need to refer to it if you get invited to interview.
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