A tailored application is key to convincing the employer you have the right experience, skills and attributes for the job. Thorough preparation is essential. This section gives general advice on applications for all types of jobs. There are basic guidelines on application procedures and filling in application forms on paper and online. Look at applying for academic jobs for more specific advice on the higher education sector.
Academic and non-academic audiences will relate to your research experience in different ways. Look at presenting your research for use of language and structure to tailor your application.
- Successful applications - the essentials
- Application procedures are not all the same
- Filling in application forms
- Answering those daunting competency questions
- Online applications
Understand and follow the application procedures
- Structure answers carefully - use bullet points to give a clear message
- Use appropriate language and style for the employer
- Give convincing evidence for your skills - real examples from your experience
- Make an impact - convey enthusiasm and commitment
- Present a succinct and well-argued case
- Be interesting, honest and original
- Check your spelling and grammar. Ideally, get someone else to check it over - a friend, colleague or careers adviser
- Take just as much care if the form is to be submitted online
- Always keep a copy - If you get an interview, you will need to know what you wrote!
Procedures vary between employers. A CV plus covering letter may be sufficient. Some employers rely exclusively on electronic applications without covering letter. Others offer the option of paper-based application forms. Always send a covering letter with your completed application form and/or CV, unless told not to. Academic applications can sometimes require an application form, a CV, a ‘statement of interests' plus a covering letter.
Perhaps your networking has led to informal information about a possible opportunity. A speculative approach can be made in absence of an advertised job. This needs lots of homework on the employer and the general area of work that interests you. Show a keen interest in the employer and a thorough understanding of the work and present your strengths through your CV and covering letter. Use the same step-by-step approach for speculative applications as for an advertised post.
Job applications need a great deal of attention to detail. Ensure that you allow sufficient time. Focus on a few good applications rather than lots of mediocre ones.
Step 1: Understand the application procedure
Read the form and instructions carefully and note deadlines. Download or make a copy of the form to use for practice.
Step 2: Research the job, the organisation and other employers in the sector
Carry out a detailed analysis of the job requirements. Use the advert and job description and person specification if available and other relevant sources, such as Prospects. Make a list of essential and desirable criteria. Become aware of current developments affecting employer or job. Check out websites, news items, government policies but, better still, speak to people who work in the organisation. Take up the opportunity for informal inquiries about the job if offered.
Step 3: Analyse your own skills, motivation and experience
List the different activities of your work as a researcher down one side of a large piece of paper. Opposite each activity, list the skills it requires.This helps you find evidence to match the job criteria. For help, look at preparation for CVs and self-evaluation tools.
Step 4: Match your skills and experience to the job requirements
Check you have a good match and supporting evidence. If you don't match all the job criteria, contact the employer to ask whether your application would still be considered.Think about undertaking some appropriate career development activity to fill the gap(s).
Step 5: Compile your evidence
Select the strongest evidence to illustrate your skills and experience. Refer to your professional development record, ask colleagues or draw on leisure activities.
Your answers should give evidence for your suitability and show you understand the job. Application forms are used to make comparison between candidates easier. Questions are designed to check your fit with selection criteria. They cover academic qualifications, work experience, achievements, career decision-making, your approach to the job and your skills and competencies.
Don't write or type directly into the form. Prepare answers on separate paper or type in a separate file. Check, edit and then write or cut and paste them in. With limited space, concentrate on relevant essentials. With more space, structure your answer carefully, using bullet points to highlight key points.
On the basis that past experience is a good predictor of future performance, many recruiters include competency (skills) questions.
To give a strong response:
- use relevant examples. Decide which skills you will demonstrate with each answer and decide on an appropriate scenario to illustrate these. For each scenario, outline your aims, explain what you actually achieved and describe the process you went through. Explain how you dealt with any setbacks and how you would prevent them in the future. Ability to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them is valued by employers. Choose examples you would be happy to expand on at interview
- don't give standard answers. Don't be tempted to cut down on time by re-using answers for similar questions if applying for several jobs. This can be a false economy. Thoughtful and original answers distinguish successful candidates from the crowd. Give the best examples of your experience and skills that match the job criteria
- answer questions fully but concisely. Make sure that you have addressed all parts of the question
- be analytical and self-evaluative. Show that you have self-insight
- let your personality shine through. Use vocabulary that reflects you and express your enthusiasm for the activities you are describing.
Don't reproduce standard responses - tailor your answer to each question
To avoid the main pitfalls:
- Do not rush electronic applications - they need to be as carefully written as paper-based applications
- If you are sending an accompanying CV, make this clear in the email ‘subject line'
- Write an accompanying email in formal style, as you would for a covering letter as this may be assessed by the recruiter. Check whether you should send the CV or covering letter in the body of the email or as an attachment and also check whether it needs to be sent on paper as well
- If the application form or CV is being sent as an attachment, make double sure it has been attached
- Take care not to press the ‘submit' button until you are satisfied with the content of your answer and the spelling and grammar. Online forms do not usually have spell checks or grammar checks.
For more advice, look in Help and support.
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