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Application forms and personal statements

Applications forms

An application form is usually the first stage of the application process and is used by employers to decide which candidates they will take to the next stage. Most applications are completed online. Honing the content of a good application is likely to take at least four or five hours and it is vital to show employers that you have what they are looking for. When it comes to making a good application, preparation is everything.

Writing effective applications


Thoroughly research the company – not just their website. Try searching for recent news articles, their annual report. Also find out about the industry such as: What are the current trends? Who are the company’s main competitors?

Check out the role thoroughly so that you know what you are applying for.

Check what is required?

Find out what skills, abilities and experience are required to do the job. This information is often on the company’s website such as ‘who we are looking for’, or ‘our core competencies’, or a person specification may be provided.

Present your evidence

Decide how best to show that you have the attributes required by the organisation. Consider all areas of your life (part-time or voluntary work, work placements, your course and extracurricular activities) to give a ‘3D’ perspective rather than simply using your degree as evidence.

Use specific examples

You need to prove that you can meet an employer’s requirements by explaining actual situations where you have shown the attribute they are looking for.


The employer may include different types of questions in their application form. You need to make sure you answer each as fully and effectively as you can.

Factual questions

These cover areas such as your contact details and employment. They need to be answered fully and carefully checked to ensure they are error free.

Motivational questions

These focus on why you want to do this sort of work, for this employer, rather than on what you can do. This is your chance to show that a) you know about this organisation, what they do and exactly what the role involves, and b) you know what attributes they require and are able to demonstrate that you have them.

Examples include:

  • Give details of your main activities and interests. What have you contributed and what have you got out of them?
  • What is your greatest achievement? How did you overcome any barriers to success?
  • What attracts you to this company and what do you feel you can offer?

Competency based questions

These questions work on the basis that what you have done in the past will show how you might perform in the future. Examples include:

  • Describe a situation when you used drive and determination to achieve a goal. What difficulties did you face and how did you overcome them?
  • Give an example of a time when you had to communicate effectively with a group or a person.
  • Describe an occasion when you had to persuade someone to do something they didn’t want to do. Explain how you motivated them.
  • Describe a situation when you took the initiative to ensure that an objective was achieved. How successful were you?

To answer these questions well you need to give a concise example from one specific occasion. An excellent way of doing this is by using the STAR Framework – Situation, Task, Action, Result. This framework ensures that you include all elements of a situation or scenario. Find out more about the STAR Framework:

Find out more about the STAR Framework

Personal statements

In order to write an effective personal statement, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure you check the employer’s requirements.
    These are the attributes (skills, knowledge or experience) that are required for the role will either be listed on the company website, such as ‘who we are looking for’ or ‘our core competencies’ or in a person specification.
  2. Work systematically through the requirements
    Using a spare piece of paper, take each requirement in turn, jotting down an example against each of them. Remember to use all areas of your life (including part-time or voluntary work, work placements, your course and extracurricular activities).
  3. Avoid unsupported statements
    Statements such as: “I am a good team worker” or “I have excellent interpersonal skills” are not proof that you have what the employer is looking for. You need instead to describe how you have worked well in a particular teamwork task, or a time when you used interpersonal skills to handle a tricky situation.
  4. Use verbs
    Place the emphasis on verbs that explain what you have done rather than what you think or believe, including ‘I arranged’, ‘I developed’, ‘I planned’, ‘I used …’ and more.
  5. Check the length
    The statement can usually be up to two sides of A4 (unless otherwise specified) and you should use Arial font size 12. Be brutal about the length of your sentences and make your language as concise and direct as possible for maximum impact.

Finally, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my application interesting to read?
  • Does it reflect the vacancy?
  • At a glance will someone want to meet me?
  • Have I provided proof with examples?
  • Have I linked my experiences to the role I want?
  • Does it demonstrate my excellent communication skills and good use of IT?
  • How have I demonstrated enthusiasm and passion for the role?

If the answer to all of them is “yes” then you’re ready to submit your application.

Don’t forget to ask Careers for feedback before you hit send.

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