Application forms and covering letters

Many employers now ask candidates to complete an application form for every vacancy they apply for.

Employers do this so that they can compare all the applicants for a given job on a standardised basis, and usually to a Person Specification - which outlines what experience, skills, knowledge and abilities the candidate should have.

Your right to accessible application forms

All employers are required under the Equality Act to make application forms accessible. This can be done by either making them available in an alternative format or by offering a reasonable adjustment to the recruitment process, for example allowing you to complete the form over the phone.

Person specifications

Completing application forms is one of the most time consuming aspects of job search. You should try and minimise completing applications for jobs that you do not have any chance of getting an interview for. You can try and judge your suitability for any given job by reading the Person Specification and looking at the list of experience, skills, knowledge and abilities, and thinking about which ones you can meet and examples that you can write about to prove it.

If you are finding that there are aspects of a person specification that you do not meet then you should look again at career exploration for alternative options. This might also help you establish if you need you need to go on a training course or find an alternative entry route to a profession that you really want to work in.

Completing the form

The primary aim when completing an application form is to get an interview. So the most vital thing to have in mind when completing the form is to make it as easy as possible for the person reading it to shortlist you for the next stage. The section you need to put most effort into is the personal statement, or sometimes this is replaced with competency-based questions.

Personal statements

Personal statements allow you the chance to demonstrate how well you can do the job. As with your CV you need to actively sell yourself, your skills and your achievements to an employer. If you do not demonstrate with examples how you meet the criteria for the job then you will not be offered an interview.

The most important thing to remember when writing a personal statement is that you should address all points on the person specification and the job description. Make sure you answer these points with specific examples from your previous jobs, work placements, leisure interests or education.

To make things more straightforward, you can mirror your personal statement to the person specification. For example if the person specification has 12 bullet points split between the headings Knowledge, Skills and Other, then your personal statement should have 12 bullet points split between these three headings. By doing this you are making it easy for the recruiter to score your answer to that point in the person specification.

Competency-based questions

This type of question is becoming increasingly common on application forms, especially in graduate recruitment. They usually begin with "Describe a time when you…" or "Give an example of…" and ask for examples of specific skills such as teamwork, leadership, persuasiveness and so on.

One way of answering these questions is to use the STAR approach, where you identify a situation, task, action and result. The situation and task are usually combined and form the introduction, the action you took should form the main body of your answer and the result should be your conclusion. For example:

  • Situation - how, when, where, with whom?
  • Task - what situation or the task you were faced with?
  • Action - what action(s) did you take?
  • Result - what results did you achieve/conclusions did you reach?

For example:

"Whilst volunteering at ABC Charity last summer I was given the task of producing a database of supporters. I gathered information from a number of departments and conducted an information audit on how the database needed to be used. I designed the database and entered in the relevant information into the system. As a result of the database fundraising revenue has risen by 15 per cent."

After completing the form

  • Make sure you keep a copy of your completed form so that if you are called for interview, you can quickly go over what you said about yourself and prepare for the interview more effectively.
  • Put together a short covering letter to send out with the application form. This letter enables you to set the scene for the employer and to reinforce your key strengths and reasons for applying for the job.

Covering letters

When should I use a covering letter?

A covering letter should always be included when you are sending out a CV or an application form. It should generate interest and motivate the employer to want to know more about you. A covering letter is even more critical if your application is speculative.

Structure

Base your covering letter on the following outline structure:

Paragraph one

Introduce yourself, state what you are applying for and where you saw the vacancy.

Paragraph two

Outline why you are applying. What in particular has made you send your CV or application form for this particular job? Try to demonstrate how enthusiastic you are about the job. At this stage you can also demonstrate any research you have done.

Paragraph three

This should be a summary of the key points of your CV or application form. What are the two or three things that mean that you should get an interview?

Paragraph four

This paragraph is flexible, and it is your opportunity to explain any gaps in your career.

Disclosure

If you have been asked about a disability on the application form, this is a good place to disclose your disability or mention any adjustments you may need at an interview or test. Also, if your CV highlights that you have a disability (for example, you attended The Royal Blind College) this is your opportunity to explain your disability in more detail, in positive terms. For speculative CVs, there is no need to mention your disability until you are asked for interview, where you should be asked if any adjustments are required.

Example of a covering letter

More information

For more information and advice to help you in your job search, the following factsheet may be of use:

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