Careers Service

Application Forms

Application Forms

Many employers and educational institutions ask you to apply online using an application form. This can be instead of, or in addition to, submitting a CV.

Employers use application forms as a selection tool. They’re 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) 

Recruiters also use application forms as a de-selection tool. Forms with incomplete answers or which don’t fully evidence your skills are likely to be rejected. 

If you're completing an application form for postgraduate study, see our guidance on applying for further study.

Click on the sections below to help you get started. 


Get Started

Research is vital before you start to complete your application form.

Find out as much as you can about the position and research the organisation you are applying to.

Gather the information you’ll need to complete the application form, such as your academic grades and details of any work experience or jobs, including the dates you worked there.

The job description and person specification will help you identify the skills, qualities and experience the employer is seeking. You’ll need to think of specific examples of when you have demonstrated these.

Your examples could come from a range of contexts such as: 

  • your studies, eg a group project you took part in
  • internships or placements
  • part-time jobs 
  • extra-curricular activities, such as volunteering or peer mentoring 
  • hobbies and interests, eg your involvement in a team sport or club

If the job description doesn’t go into detail about the skills the employer is looking for, Prospects can help:

How to make your application stand out

  • Read the instructions carefully before you start, eg can you save the online form and come back to it? When is the deadline? Do you need any supporting documents, eg degree transcripts?
  • Complete every section and try to closely match the stated criteria. Keep referring to the job description to help make sure you’re evidencing the skills they’re asking for.
  • Don't cut and paste extracts from your CV or from previous application forms. Instead, tailor your answers and show how your experience relates to the role.
  • Make sure you actually answer the question asked, especially if it is in several parts.
  • Use a range of examples in your answers and focus on how and why you were successful.
  • Draft your responses in a separate document rather than straight onto the form and get feedback on your answers from a careers consultant.
  • Make sure your answers are succinct; avoid lengthy descriptions.
  • Check your spelling and grammar carefully. You can find online resources to help you use grammar and punctuation correctly on the Academic Skills Kit (ASK) website. If you're an international student and would like some support with your written English, you can access the In-Sessional English Language programme.
  • Write positively about yourself and never make excuses for not having skills or experience.
  • Keep a copy of your form for future reference. 

These websites include useful information about writing successful application forms:

Next: How to Answer Application Questions

Application form masterclass. To view with subtitles, click the CC button in the player.

How to Answer Application Questions

Most application forms have set sections for you to complete, for example:

  • Personal details – name and contact details
  • Education and qualifications – including your degree, secondary education and grades and any professional/vocational training courses you’ve completed. If you have international qualifications, we have advice on how to present these on a UK application form
  • Employment history – include any internships, placements and volunteering, as well as part-time or full-time positions, and focus on the relevant transferable skills you’ve gained. If you had a gap year, include details of what you did, where this took place, how you organised/funded your trip and what skills you gained as a result of the experience
  • Competency-based questions – see Typical application form questions below
  • Personal statement – usually a blank section where you are asked to evidence your motivation for applying and suitability for the post. Make sure you address the criteria on the person specification and provide specific examples to back these up
  • References – employers will usually ask for the name and contact details of one or two referees. Make sure you ask their permission before adding their details

Other questions/sections you might come across include: 

Typical application form questions 

Recruiters often include questions that find out whether:

Assessing your ability to do the job

Employers use competency-based questions to find out about your skills and experience and how they relate to the role. Use specific examples to show when and how you used the relevant skill.

Examples questions include:

  • Describe a challenging project, activity or event which you have planned and taken through to a conclusion.
  • Describe how you achieved a goal through influencing the actions or opinions of others.
  • Tell us about a difficult problem that you have solved, how did you solve it and what did you learn?

Try to use a range of recent examples in your answers, rather than just focusing on one area.

These could come from:

  • academic studies, eg relevant modules, project work, dissertation
  • work experience, eg internships, volunteering, part-time jobs, placements
  • involvement in student societies
  • hobbies and interests

Your experience may not be directly relevant, but you need to show how the skills you developed relate to the position. Employers are more interested in your approach to situations and what you learned, rather than the context.

When structuring your answers to competency-based questions, use the 'STAR' approach:

Describe the Situation (S)

Briefly provide context to help the employer understand the example you're giving. You don't need to go into a lot of detail at this stage.

Explain the Task (T)

Provide a concise overview, ensuring that your example is relevant to the question.

Describe and analyse your Actions (A)

This part should form the bulk of your answer. Describe and analyse your actions, explaining what, how and why you did it and the reasons you took that approach. It’s important to be reflective, rather than just descriptive.

Include any impact your actions made and any key achievements. You could also consider including any obstacles or challenges and how you overcame these successfully. Avoid ‘we’ if talking about a situation in a team – the employer wants to know what you did, so focus on your role and contribution within the team and how you worked effectively with others.

Explain the Result (R)

What was the outcome? Did it make a difference? What did you learn from this example and how might you apply that learning in future?

Remember, it's not just what you did, but how you did it that is important.

See Guardian Careers: How to answer competency-based questions on job application forms for more advice on using this approach successfully.

Testing that you want the job

Recruiters want to know how much you know about the role, why it interests you specifically, and how it fits into your career plans. They're looking for someone who'll provide value to their team and who wants to grow and progress within this role and with the company.

Example questions include:

  • Why have you applied for this job? Please provide evidence of your suitability.
  • Why do you consider yourself to be a strong candidate for this position?
  • What is it about this graduate programme that appeals to you?

Show that you’ve done your research and understand what the role entails and explain how your skills and experience make you suitable for the post. You could think in terms of responsibilities, where the role fits into the organisation, the type of clients you'll be working with, etc.

Be enthusiastic and talk about what appeals to you about both the position and organisation. You could include your knowledge of the business and the industry and how the role fits with your career aspirations and goals.

Always try to make the connection between what the job requires and your own skills and experience.

Try to avoid focusing only on what’s in it for you. The job may give you the chance to learn new skills and develop, but the recruiter also wants to know about the benefit you would bring to them. Instead, try to align your interests with the organisation and how your skills and experience can contribute to their goals.

Exploring why you want to work for the organisation

The recruiter wants to understand your motivation for applying and how you’ll fit into the company’s culture.

Examples questions include:

  • Describe your reasons for applying to this organisation.
  • How do you think you’re a good fit for our company?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing our organisation or industry over the next 5 years?

In your application answers, be specific and show that you’ve done your research:

  • make sure you read the company’s website, social media and any news articles you can find, eg on Google News, but don’t just copy content word for word
  • find out about their core projects and services, their clients and the sectors they work in. It’s a good idea to make a note of any key dates/achievements, for example, any industry awards
  • explore the careers section of their website – graduate employers may have case studies and profiles of students/graduates talking about their career and what they enjoy about their role
  • find out the values/principles of the company – these can give you an insight into the type of candidate they look for. For example, they may focus on values such as inclusion, excellence or integrity. Try, where possible, to show how your values mirror theirs

You can also demonstrate interest through employer and sector insights or recruitment fairs you've attended, or contact with employees eg through LinkedIn.

Go to Researching Employers for more ways to find out about companies. Explore Occupations includes useful links which may also help with your research.

Guardian Careers and The Muse has more advice on answering the question 'why do you want to work here?'

Next: Get Feedback

Get Feedback

The Careers Service can provide feedback on application forms through online and in-person guidance appointments with a careers consultant.

To book a guidance appointment, log in to MyCareer and click on the button below.  

We also offer a drop-in service during term-time in Level 1, King’s Gate from Monday to Friday, 11:00 - 13:00, no appointment required.

You can send your application form to us for written feedback - this can take up to 5 working days, so please ensure there’s plenty of time for us to respond before the application deadline. Click on 'Queries’ in MyCareer (top right-hand corner) to submit your query and application form. Please also include a copy or link to the job description/person specification.