The graduate's guide to job application forms
Online applications are commonplace in graduate recruitment. They make the job application process more efficient and practical for both you and the recruiter. But despite advances in recruitment technology, the principles of completing an application form haven’t changed all that much from when candidates had to break out a pen and rediscover their best handwriting. So, take a moment to slow down and follow these tips on how to apply for a graduate job online.
1. Preparation is everything
Ask any careers adviser or graduate recruiter for their number one application tip and they’ll tell you ‘preparation is everything’. Recruiters want you to show evidence that you have done your research into their organisation, the job you are applying for and… yourself.
2. Practise some psychometric tests
Sometimes psychometric tests are part of the application process, so it’s a good idea to practise doing these before you start to tackle the job application. For example, you might be set aptitude tests such as verbal or numerical reasoning tests, or you could be asked to complete a personality questionnaire. Don’t forget to visit your university’s careers service to see whether it runs practice sessions.
3. Print off the application form and read through it carefully
The next step is to look through the application form and read through the instructions so that you know exactly what’s involved. Print it off or download it so that you can look through it in your own time without feeling any pressure. You can jot down some notes, and start thinking about responses to the questions that require longer responses.
4. Prepare longer responses before you paste them in
Prepare longer responses in a word-processing application so that you can edit them to your heart’s content. Decide what the question is asking and think of a suitable example that will demonstrate the skill or competency the graduate employer is seeking.
To keep your responses concise, try the STAR approach. This is where you describe briefly the Situation, the Tasks you had to do, the Actions you took and the final Results.
Once you’re happy with your response check your spelling and grammar carefully and make sure you’re within the word count.
5. Give yourself plenty of time to fill in the job application
Now you’re ready to return to the online form and fill it in. Give yourself plenty of time and make sure you won’t be disturbed, particularly if the form doesn’t have a ‘save and return’ facility as you will have to complete it in one sitting.
Don’t rush and don’t lapse into the informal email habits when filling in online job applications. Think formal and professional, and don’t be surprised that an online application can take a couple of hours and a lot of concentration to fill in.
6. Check, check and check again
Once you’ve completed the application, read through everything carefully. Check you have supplied information accurately and that your contact details are correct. Do you need to give them term time and home contact details? Is your email address appropriate and professional?
Poor grammar and spelling mistakes will blow your chances of creating a good impression. It’s easy for the correctly spelt, wrong word to slip in, so make sure you check your job application very carefully.
If you can save your work and return to it later, then take a break. You’re more likely to spot mistakes when you return. Get someone you trust to look through your application if you can.
7. Print off a copy of the application for your reference
Print out a completed copy of the form. Proofread it again and, assuming everything is perfect, keep it for future reference.
8. The point of no return: hit the send button
The moment of no return – click on the send button and keep your fingers crossed!
The online application form checking checklist
Before you press submit, check:
- Spelling and grammar: use your word processing application's spell check, but don’t rely on it.
- References to the employer’s name: is the name spelt correctly?
- All questions have a response: don’t leave blanks.
- Your personal details: check all is correct and accurate.
- Your contact details: do you need to include both term-time and home address and telephone contacts, and is your email address appropriate?
Tips for electronically scanned applications and CVs
The employer may use scanning software to filter and screen application forms. If you’re asked to attach a CV to your application form, this may also be electronically scanned. Take care to follow any instructions you are given about format and formatting, as otherwise your application could be automatically rejected by the system.
Using clear, factual language to list your qualifications, work experience and skills will help to maximise your chances, both with scanning software and with busy recruiters. A wacky CV with fussy formatting, unusual or misspelt headings and information that is irrelevant to the job description is unlikely to make it past any scanning software the employer may use. Even if it did, it wouldn’t go down well with the recruitment team. Instead, you should be direct and explicit in referring to the requirements for the role and showing how you meet them.