A good, tailored application is the first step to convincing an employer that you have the relevant skills, experience and personal qualities required to do the job. In many sectors application forms are now the standard mode of application and have replaced the CV and cover letter.
One of the most important sections of the form is the 'personal statement' or 'further information'' as this is usually a free text section which allows you to demonstrate how you meet the job criteria.
- Check the application procedure. Is it online or paper based? Make sure you follow all the instructions clearly and don't send additional documentation unless asked.
- Research the job and the organisation thoroughly. Read any press releases, websites and general information but try to tap into your own network. Make the most of any contacts you have who can offer an 'insider' view.
- Use the job advertisement and specification as your guide. Most will provide a breakdown of essential and desirable criteria; if you meet all the essential and a good proportion of the desirable criteria then it is worth submitting an application. If there are gaps in your experience, consider how you will address these in your application.
Completing the form
- Use relevant and recent examples. Where demonstrating key competencies (e.g. communication skills, initiative) try to build your answer around a clear scenario, describing the aims/objectives, the task involved and the outcome.
- Avoid generic answers. You need to tailor every application - avoid the temptation to 'cut and paste' as employers can easily distinguish a competent but bland application from an inspired and thoughtful one.
- If you are asked to provide a 'personal statement' then use the person and job specification as a guide to framing your answer. You could use a table to cross reference your examples with the job criteria.
- Consider your audience. If you are applying for a non research/academic post then consider the examples and language you use very carefully. The employer is not interested in hiring 'frustrated academics' - they will scour your application to assess the relevance of your skills and experience to their needs.
- Check spelling and grammar thoroughly.
Most of the principles outlined above apply to academic applications but also consider:
- Try to avoid duplication with the cover letter; the cover letter is your opportunity to really 'sell' your research and academic credentials, the application form should be used to provide a factual summary of your skills, experience and qualities related to the job and person specification.
- For academic applications it is more appropriate to write in prose style for the 'personal statement'.
- Whilst your academic experience (i.e. research, teaching & admin) is of greatest interest to the panel, they are also looking for well rounded candidates who can demonstrate a range of soft skills - communication, presentation etc - so do not neglect evidence for these in your application.
- Remember the panel will not infer anything from your application so make sure you are explicit about your experience and achievements. This applies equally to internal candidates as your application will be treated in just the same way as other candidates.