It’s usually pretty clear what information employers want from you on application forms. You know you have to put in your qualifications, demonstrate how you have the required skills and explain why you want the job. That just leaves the box for “additional information”. What’s supposed to go in there?
Consider Mitigating Circumstances.
One option is for you to declare any mitigating circumstances. Do you feel that your academic performance to date is not quite as good as it might be and that you have a good reason for that? Students often worry that explaining underperformance looks like making excuses. So, how do you decide whether you should be giving employers the opportunity to look at your results in a slightly different light or whether to keep quiet?
How to decide what to include.
If you’re going to talk about your own illness, then this should be something which you’ve already reported to the University and which your referee will be able to confirm if requested. Normally you’ll have obtained a doctor’s certificate to verify your ill health. Similarly if your underperformance was caused by the illness of members of your family or your very close friends there should be evidence of what happened. If you were affected by a disaster which befell someone else, that other person is going to have to be pretty close to you. A graduate recruiter should be able readily to understand that you would have been impacted by what happened. It’s a given that you’d struggle to study if a parent or sibling were to be very ill, everyone would sympathise. If it’s your beloved pet which died then no matter how upset you were, it might be better not to mention it!
What about your performance at school?
If your school results, right back to GCSEs, were impacted by adverse circumstances you might want to comment on the reasons for this too. Don’t just assume that it’s ancient history and doesn’t matter. Recruiters for the most competitive graduate schemes will be looking at all your results. There are some extra considerations here. Think about how your results compared with those of everyone else in your school. Even if your results were not stellar, were you top of the pile? If so, then you should be commenting on the comparison between your results and those of your schoolmates. If you went to a school designated by Ofsted as failing, you should declare that.
What else might you include?
Sometimes it can be appropriate to reflect on your results, particularly if you feel that they don’t demonstrate your ability. While this is unlikely to persuade an employer to look at you if you don’t meet their minimum qualification levels it can be useful to show that you have learnt from something that didn’t go entirely to plan. Just be careful to ensure that this is genuine reflection and not an excuse!
But if you don’t want or need to talk about your results is there anything else to go in the “additional information” box? Resist the temptation to fill it up with details of your interests and “hobbies”. Work on the basis that if this is what the employer wanted to know about, then there’d have been a question addressing it. Similarly think very hard about whether your “other” qualifications add anything to your application. If you’ve worked in a pub or restaurant employers are going to be impressed with the skills you’ll have learnt and with your work ethic. They probably don’t need to know that you have a Food Hygiene Level 2 NVQ. Similarly a Grade 3 pass in piano may not be hugely relevant, but perhaps if you have passed Grade 8 in one or more instruments and you haven’t been able to work this in anywhere else it could fit here. You wouldn’t have reached Grade 8 without hard work and application, attributes important to employers.
A common sense approach.
So how to decide what should go in and what’s best left out? Adopt a common sense approach and keep asking yourself one simple question.
“Is this bit of information more likely to persuade a graduate recruiter to view my application with favour and move me forward to the next stage of the process?”
If the answer is no then leave it out. It’s ok to leave this box blank. Graduate recruiters have to read a huge number of application forms, you don’t need to add to their burden by including irrelevant information. They probably won’t thank you for it!
One last thing. If you still can’t decide whether or not to include something your careers consultant will be able to give you advice.