Why do employers use application forms?
Employers use application forms as a selection tool - they are looking for evidence that:
- you can do the job (ability and skills);
- you want the job (motivation);
- you want to work for them and will fit into their organisation (values).
Employers also use application forms as a de-selection tool; badly presented forms or forms with incomplete or inadequate answers may be immediately rejected.
Remember, an application form is your 'personal marketing brochure' - you are trying to persuade the selector that they should interview you.
Application form questions require you to be self aware and to think about your skills and how you have developed these from your study, work experience, interests and activities.
If you are completing an application form for postgraduate study, see Applying for further study.
Preparation is vital before you start to complete your application form. You have to find out as much as you can about the position and research the organisation to which you are applying, but you also have to analyse yourself.
Prepare a list of what the job requires and ask yourself if you possess the necessary skills. Think of examples of when you have demonstrated these skills, perhaps in a vacation or part-time job, when undertaking a voluntary activity or within your academic course.
For information on demonstrating skills see:
If you need help with this, come in to the Careers Service and talk with a careers adviser.
Types of questions
Examples of questions which test your ability to do the job
- Describe a challenging project, activity or event which you have planned and taken through to a conclusion. Include your objective, what you did, any changes you made to your plan and state how you measured your success.
- Describe how you achieved a goal through influencing the actions or opinions of others. What were the circumstances? What did you do to make a difference? How do you know the result was satisfactory?
- Describe a difficult problem that you have solved. State how you decided which were the critical issues, say what you did and what your solution was. What other approaches could you have used?
Examples of questions to test that you want to do the job
- Explain why you have applied for this particular job. Provide evidence of your suitability.
- Why do you consider yourself to be a strong candidate for the position for which you have applied?
- Please tell us what steps you have taken in deciding your proposed career choice.
Examples of questions to test that you want to work for them
- Please describe your reasons for applying to this organisation.
- Tell us why you have applied to this organisation rather than some of our major competitors.
- Please tell us what you have done to find out more about our organisation.
Answering the questions
Demonstrate your ability, skills, interest and motivation to do the job by referring to:
- academic studies - eg. relevant modules, project work, dissertation
- work experience - vacation, voluntary, part-time, placement
- student society involvement
- interests and activities
- areas of responsibility
Demonstrate your interest in the employer by referring to:
- employer website - but please don't copy extracts from the website onto your form.
- information and advice received in the Careers Service.
- employer presentations you have attended.
- recruitment fairs you have attended e.g. JobFest, or any other events where you have had discussions with employers.
- contacts you have made, e.g. through Graduate Connections
Structure your answer - use the 'STAR' approach:
- describe the Situation - briefly provide some context to help the employer understand the example you are giving. You don't need to go into a lot of detail at this stage.
- explain the Task - provide a concise overview, ensuring that your example is relevant to the question.
- describe and analyse your Actions - this part should form the bulk of your answer. State what action you took, focusing on your contribution. Explain what, how and why you did it. Avoid ‘we’ if talking about a situation in a team.
- explain the Result - what was the outcome? What did you learn from this example?
Remember: it's not just what you did, but how you did it!
See Guardian Careers: How to answer competency-based questions on job application forms and the Open University article 'STAR technique' for more advice on using this approach successfully.
Remember these ten key points:
- Read guidelines carefully before you start (eg. can you save an online form and come back to it?)
- Complete every section and closely match the stated criteria.
- Have a practice copy and get feedback on your answers from a careers adviser.
- Make sure you actually answer the question, especially if it is in several parts.
- Use a range of examples in your answers.
- Make sure your answers are succinct - avoid lengthy descriptions.
- Check your spelling and grammar carefully.
- Always write in the positive and never make excuses for not having skills or experience.
- Don't include your CV (unless asked for) or cut and paste extracts from your CV.
- Keep a copy of your form for future reference.
Need more help?
Help available from the Careers Service
- Bring along a printed copy of your application form to get feedback from a careers adviser. Support is available during term time from 10am – 4.30pm, and from 11am - 3pm during vacations; Monday - Friday. No appointment is needed.
- Attend our careers workshop Writing successful applications
- Developing Your Skills - explore ways to develop skills and gain valuable practical experience to help you stand out to employers.
applications in the UK - includes advice for international students
on how to present overseas qualifications on applications.
- Journey to Work (video) - includes useful advice on standing out in applications. Please log in to access off campus.
Writing Development Centre
The Writing Development Centre has online resources to help with the correct use of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Please note that the Writing Development Centre will not proofread or provide feedback on your application form.