Employers use application forms as a selection tool, so it's essential that you demonstrate your skills and experience effectively.
Employers use application forms as 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're completing an application form for postgraduate study, see our guidance on applying for further study.
Preparation is vital before you start to complete your application form. Read on to find out how you can prepare and how to demonstrate your skills and experience to potential employers.
Find out as much as you can about the position and research the organisation you are applying to. You will also need 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, for example:
- in a vacation or part-time job
- when undertaking a voluntary activity
- within your academic course
The following links include useful information to help you demonstrate relevant skills:
Types of Questions
Read on for examples of the types of questions that appear on application forms.
We've listed below some typical application form questions that are used to test whether:
- you can do the job
- you want the job
- you want to work for the organisation
Testing 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?
Testing that you want 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 this position?
Please tell us what steps you have taken in deciding your proposed career choice.
Testing that you want to work for the organisation
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.
Find advice on answering different types of questions on application forms.
The different types of questions on application forms test that you have the ability and interest to do a job. Here we've listed ways you can demonstrate this and how to structure your answer.
Demonstrating your ability, skills, interest and motivation
You can demonstrate your ability to do a job and your interest in the role through:
- academic studies, eg relevant modules, project work, dissertation
- work experience, eg vacation, voluntary, part-time, placement
- involvement in student societies
- interests and activities
- areas of responsibility
Demonstrating your interest in the employer
Find out about the employer by visiting their website, but don't just copy extracts from the site onto your form.
You can also demonstrate interest in an employer through:
- employer presentations you've attended
- recruitment fairs you've attended or any other events where you've had discussions with employers
- contacts you have made, eg through Graduate Connections
You can find further information and advice at the Careers Service.
Structuring your answer
When structuring your answer, use the 'STAR' approach to outline situation, task, actions and result.
Describe the situation: 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: 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 - be reflective, rather than just descriptive. 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 that is important.
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.
Ten key points to remember
- 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
The Careers Service provides advice and resources to help you write effective application forms. We've also collated links to some useful websites that provide more advice.
The Careers Service can provide feedback on application forms at our drop-in sessions. Bring along a printed copy of your form to get feedback from a careers adviser.
'Writing successful applications' workshop
Attend our careers workshop Writing successful applications.
Advice for international students
We provide advice for international students on how to present overseas qualifications on applications.
Help with grammar and punctuation
The Writing Development Centre has online resources to help you use grammar and punctuation correctly.
Tips for completing application forms
The following links include useful information about writing successful application forms:
- applying for jobs (Prospects)
- applications and CVs for graduate jobs (TARGETjobs)
- application forms (WikiJob)
- how to get your job application shortlisted (the Guardian)
- understanding job application forms (The Open University)
You can find profiles of graduate employers which include advice on their selection procedures at TARGETjobs' employer hubs. Some profiles also include examples of application form questions and tips on how to answer them.
Our Journey to Work video (University login required) includes useful advice on standing out in applications.