You’ve found your ideal job but instead of just sending through your sparkling and pre-prepared CV you’re faced with tackling a job application form. Workingmums.co.uk has put together the following advice on how to make sure you stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
Like your teacher always said: “Read the question.” Job applications aren’t deliberately designed to trip you up but if you fail to read what is asked then you won’t stand up to the scrutiny of a recruiter. So, if possible, get several copies of the application sent over – that way if you make a mistake with your first draft you can start again.
Remember that a job application is there to find out all about you and your skills. It’s really just a different way of presenting all the information you may already have stored in your CV, so have this to hand as some of it can be easily transferred.
Check the instructions. If the application asks you to complete the form with a black pen or in capitals do so. Writing in a red biro won’t help it stand out – it will merely indicate to the recruiter that you can’t follow instructions.
Compare the job advert with the questions asked. If they’re looking for someone with experience of dealing with customer requests for example – make sure you focus on that heavily. Don’t be tempted to highlight the skills that you’d prefer to show off. You are being assessed for your suitability for the job being advertised not the job you have in your head.
If you’re asked to list your jobs to date don’t be tempted to skirt over any holes. If you’ve taken time out to bring up your children then you should be proud of that fact – if you did anything during this time that has added a further string to your bow then be certain to highlight this. So for example, if you did any volunteering work, you assisted at your child’s nursery or you ran the local playgroup then this is all relevant – it shows that you have initiative, that you’ve been keen to keep up your skills and that you are highly organised in managing dual demands.
Similarly if you’ve been great at keeping up with your work contacts, perhaps through Keeping In Touch days or networking events then don’t be shy. Make sure that your future employer knows how dedicated you are to progressing your career.
If you’ve left work or had a period of unemployment due to redundancy then don’t be embarrassed. This is commonplace – ensure that you explain that there were a number of redundancies and your job was one of them – perhaps again you’ve kept up your skills – either through a refresher course or through networking or volunteering/freelancing. Be sure to parade the good work you’ve done in this area.
Types of question:
Many of the questions are designed to assess your competencies in key areas such as team working, leadership and managing in the face of adversity. Although questions will be phrased differently from company to company and job to job many of them are commonplace and crop up time and time again. Being prepared helps.
If you’re asked for example to: “Describe a situation where you have worked as part of a team to achieve something.” You’ll know that your future employer is looking for evidence that you can work as part of a team whilst bringing creativity and skills to the company. To answer this question you need to highlight a situation where you were a crucial part of a team, perhaps in improving customer services or driving up sales and how you as an individual played an important role in delivering better performance – you could throw in some statistics like sales improved by x% and as a result the working culture improved as colleagues learned the importance of working together.
Another common question is: “Describe a time when you had to overcome a problem, what did you do and what did you learn?” Again the specifics will vary but time and time again this question comes up. With this question you need to think of a situation in which you were faced with a problem (try to pick one that was not of your own doing!) perhaps your MD asked you to change a presentation at the last minute to draw on some new company data for example. Then explain how you fixed this – perhaps you had to stick to the deadline and it was really tight – you were about to go to the client meeting. Remember that the question is testing your ability to be flexible and unflappable. In this situation what would you do? Panic? Or deal with it? If the latter, then explain how you perhaps changed one of the slides or if you didn’t have time, removed one of them and chose to ad lib in the client meeting ensuring that you followed the MD’s instructions but remained professional. Or you took in your colleague that knew more about this area of development then you – so you could show how expert your company was to the new customer.
You may also be quizzed on your abilities as a leader if the job involves a degree of management. Once again the questions are usually along the same lines so you might be asked: “How did you foster support for an unpopular idea?” You might be able to draw on something from the recent economic downturn so for example, how you had to introduce the idea of cost cutting – perhaps it was something simple like travelling economy rather than first class or saving on company outings and how you dealt with the fallout – if you came up with an alternative then describe it or say how you managed to sell it to your team or staff.
Finally if you’ve got time then get someone to read over your answers and give you an objective assessment. Be prepared to change some parts so they stick more closely to what is being asked in the actual job and, most importantly, send back the form by the required deadline and in the required format.