Applications – what are employers looking for?

If you follow or read this blog you’ll have probably spotted that application themed posts appear pretty regularly. This isn’t just laziness on my behalf but more an appeal to common interest. If there’s one thing all of you want at the end of your degree is a job. And what stands in your way? A good application. You can’t wing it, blag it or simply cross your fingers and hope for the best. You will have to spend time and effort getting it right.

I took the liberty of asking our graduate recruiters to share their hints, tips and personal gripes about applications. As you can see there are plenty. Now you might think much of this is obvious but many, many, many applicants are still getting it wrong. Don’t be one of them….

Do your research

  • “Make sure you have done your research and you read your application through thoroughly before submitting it – make sure it’s tailored to the company you’re applying to!” (PwC)
  • “Take the time to research the employer e.g. their website and brochure(s) to gain an understanding of their company values and business behaviours prior to starting your application, and consider these when making your application.” (Jaguar Land Rover)
  • “Keep up to date with current affairs and be prepared to talk about them…research the company and read the job description…don’t use colloquial language” (Corporate Executive Board)
  • “Demonstrate commercial awareness – make sure you know exactly what the company does and how the role you are applying for fits into the organisation. Try to communicate your understanding of the value your role will add to the organisation. Demonstrate your awareness of key competitors in the field of industry.” (PA Consulting)

Tailor your application

  • “If you’ve met someone on campus, mention what you have learnt from them in your application. It makes your application far more personal and shows you’ve been proactive in pursuing your interest in our organisation.”  (Barclays Corporate Banking)
  • “Applicants who cannot suitably answer the questions, “Why do you want to work for AkzoNobel?” We hear lots and lots of generic answers!” (AkzoNobel)
  • “Make sure you show us why you want to work for Severn Trent. We are an interesting, varied company and we want to know that what we do excites you” (Severn Trent)
  • “Remember to tailor your application not only to the industry that you are applying to, but also the specific organisation within that industry that you are applying to. This demonstrates motivation and commitment, and that  you have made an informed decision to apply for that particular role. This is very attractive to a potential employer.” (Accenture)
  • “Make sure your answers are relevant to the role you’re applying for. We want to hear why you applied to us and not our competitors. In the “Why Sky?” question we want to hear specific areas of the business that are of interest, products you like, technology that drew you in – not that you’re great at team-working!” (Sky)
  • “It is so tempting to just copy and paste information into a number of application forms but to make your application stand out it needs to be specific to the firm you are applying to.” (Bank of America Merrill Lynch)
  • “If you tailor your applications and make only three applications to three companies, you will have far more chance than sending 50 generic applications to 50 companies. We want to know why you want to work for us in particular.” (Lidl)

Give good examples

  • “Structure your answers using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). I would also recommend that applicants spend more time focussing on their actions and results, rather than the situation and task.” (Teach First)
  • “Write about the skills and experiences from your work experience roles. The best top tip would be to really show an employer what you have learnt from previous experience and any responsibilities you were given as well as skills developed” (EY – Ernst & Young)

Answer the question(s)

  • “Not reading the questions asked and using the space as an opportunity to give 40 reasons to hire them instead” (AkzoNobel)
  • “My number one tip is: Answer the question! It seems really simple but I am always surprised by the number of applicants who don’t or who give one line answers. Without full answers, all we have to distinguish between candidates is their CV, which doesn’t give much personal flavour.” (Which?)
  • “Provide specific answers to competency questions. We want to know what you did in that situation and what was the outcome of those actions.” (IBM)
  • “Please make sure that you read the questions carefully to ensure that you are answering them directly.” (Frontline)

 Be yourself; don’t ‘play a character’

  • “Be yourself! Don’t try to be the person who you think we are looking for – we’re an organisation that really values individuality and your point of view – don’t disguise this by putting on a show.” (E:ON)
  • “Be proud of what you have achieved and make it clear why you would be the best person for the role. There’s no room for modesty!” (Shell International)

Check, check and check again

  • “It may be obvious, but proof-read, and then proof-read again, even get someone to do it for you. With the volume of applications we receive, spelling, grammar, layout, punctuation and presentation are often the pitfalls for many.” (Esteé Lauder Companies)
  • “Make sure you use the company’s correct name when referring to them in application forms. For example, we are Network Rail, NOT National Rail or British Rail (we get that a lot!)” (Network Rail)
  • “Check and double check your document.” (Corporate Executive Board)
  • “Follow the instructions on the application. You would not believe the number of applications we receive which are partially completed (or worse) an application for the wrong job!”(CoreFiling)

And finally: sell yourself. If you don’t, no-one else will…

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