Application forms

Application forms

Most big graduate recruiters use their own application forms, rather than CVs, to select candidates for interview.

Students studying in the LIbraryThey do this so that they can be sure to ask all applicants the same the questions and to focus on their key requirements. Whether online or on paper, these can be daunting.

Don’t worry! If you follow our advice, future applications will be easier to do well and will take less time.

Our aim is to make you more effective in marketing yourself to employers.

Getting started

Preparation is key!

Always bear in mind the purpose of your application: to demonstrate clearly that you have the skills and qualities required for the job. How can you identify what's required?

  • Before you tackle the form read through all the questions.
  • Look at the organisation’s website and find out about the requirements of the role.
  • Use careers sites such as Prospects to find out about the entry requirements of the job.
  • Identify what the key skills and qualities are for the employer and the job.

Think about your past experiences and look for evidence of these skills and qualities. A useful way to structure your thinking is to use the STAR acronym:

STAR - Situation Task Action Result

  • Describe a particular Situation/Scenario.
  • What was the Task or Target? Explain what you had to do. Include information such as any barriers you overcame.
  • What was the Action you took? Use positive action verbs, such as: I organised, I negotiated, I developed, I presented, I persuaded, I encouraged.
  • What was the Result? Give a positive outcome.

Try to write down every "STAR Story" you can think of for each requirement as concisely as you can. Prioritise them according to how relevant and persuasive they are.

Don’t worry about where your evidence is from. Experiences from paid or unpaid work, degree course activities, spare time activities and family commitments are all valued by employers. The point about transferrable skills is that they’re transferrable!

You can then choose the most relevant evidence to answer particular questions in the form.

Common questions

Common questions

QuestionsWhat are they really looking for?

Give details of your main extracurricular activities and interests.

  • How motivated are you to get involved in activities outside the curriculum?
  • Can you relate your extracurricular activities to the key skills and qualities?

What is your greatest achievement?

  • Make sure you explain why you think your achievement is "great" in relation to the key skills and qualities.
  • Perhaps mention what you’ve learned from this to show you can reflect accurately on your experiences.

Why do you want to work for us?

  • Show that you’re clear on what they look for in employees but also what their working culture is like and give evidence that you "fit".
  • Being able to do the above shows genuine motivation for the job.

Competency-based questions


What are they looking for?

Give an example of when you have analysed and solved a problem?

Think STAR:

  • Briefly outline the problem you had to solve (situation and task). This should be about 20% of your answer.
  • Outline the strategy or method (action) you personally used to solve the problem. Here you could use words like initiated, created or utilized resources - about 70% of your answer.
  • Give a positive outcome that shows you have been successful (result) - about 10% of your answer.


Describe when you’ve been part of a team. What did you achieve and how?

Think STAR:

  • Briefly outline what the team was trying to achieve (situation and task). This should be about 20% of your answer.
  • Describe how you worked with the team (action). Here you could use phrases like encouraged and supported people, ensured everyone fulfilled their tasks, monitored time and supported colleagues - about 70% of your answer.
  • Briefly outline the result and what you learned from it - about 10% of your answer.
  • In teamwork answers try to use "I" rather than "we", because the employer is interested in you and the skills you demonstrated, not your teammates’.


I run a local Scout group, consisting of 34 young people and a leadership team of six. I organised a week-long camp in the French Alps by effective delegation and leadership of the team. I researched potential outdoor education centres and accommodation, insurance and travel.

I presented options for all aspects to the team and gave pros and cons for the best three package options, covering such issues as cost, ease of travel and quality of facilities. I encouraged contributions and discussion from the team and helped us come to a decision to which we were all committed.

I suggested that we host information sessions for parents and I encouraged my leadership team to present information covering their areas of responsibility for the camp. I made myself available as a sounding board for all the presentations.

I concluded the presentations on the night and made sure all the arrangements were clear by writing an information newsletter. The presentation evening was very successful and parents’ feedback was very positive. It was clear that parents knew what was required of them and the Scouts were well prepared.

In addition to the outdoor centre activities, I arranged an overnight trek of 30 km for ten older Scouts, who obtained sponsorship for Barnardos .  Two of the Scouts were very tired and discouraged at the midway point, but I encouraged the other team members to talk to them as we carried on to raise their morale.

The camp was successful and we raised £1800.

(250 words)

Big white boxes and personal statements

Some forms ask for a personal statement, or a question such as "Use the space below to outline your suitability for the post".

These can be daunting, but don’t worry, all you need to do is decide on a structure and use as much of your evidence from the Getting Started section above as you can.

Your statement needs to give your reasons for applying:

  • Show that you know about the values and ethos of the organisation and how they match your own.
  • Show that you’re confident about the key skills and qualities required and how these are matched by your specific STAR stories, interests and motivations.
  • Conclude your statement or answer by emphasising that you have the skills and qualities required, and that you are sure you are suited to the job.

Top tips

  • Check you have answered every part of every question.
  • Make sure your spell checker is set for UK English, rather than US English – unless you’re applying to a job in the USA!
  • Don’t trust the spell checker, proof read it carefully yourself too!
  • Make sure you have not exceeded the word limit.
  • Nearly all forms are online these days – make sure you understand how the particular system works before you begin.
  • If you can, write your answers on your usual word processor and then paste them into the form.
  • Try to complete the form well before the closing date, so that you’re not rushed. A technical glitch close to the deadline can be a disaster!

Additional help and support

Once you’ve drafted your application form, ask someone you trust to look over it.‌ Bear in mind that although everyone has their own opinion on applications, yours is the most important!

Useful links: