Applying for jobs can be a daunting task. With 83 applicants for every graduate vacancy, you may well be applying to quite a few before you strike it lucky.
This can be a very time consuming process, particularly as the majority of companies aren’t happy with just a CV and covering letter – they want you to fill out online application forms as well, complete with several in-depth essay style questions.
Luckily, although the phrasing may vary, the questions employers ask aren’t all that different – in fact, of the 166 biggest companies Inside Careers researched, the same ten questions formed 90% of all application form questions asked. A 250 word limit per question was also the norm, so make sure you can answer the following questions using 250 words and you’ll be well on your way to application success…
1. Why do you want to work for us?
It may seem obvious, but you need to able to demonstrate your passion for the job you’re applying for. You also need to show your knowledge of the specific company and its position within the industry.
Backup any statements you make: if you think you’d enjoy working there, why? What specific features of the company, for example, size, reputation, or working culture, appeal to you?
Companies are looking for focused and enthusiastic graduates; this is your chance to prove that you are both.
2. How well do you understand the industry/job?
As well as straightforward questions such as ‘what are the activities you understand you will be undertaking?’ this question may be asked in different ways, for example ‘What are your relevant skills or qualities?’, or ‘What do you expect to achieve in the short and the long term in this role?’
All of these questions are asking you to demonstrate that you know what the job you’re applying to will involve and your ability to be successful at it.
3. What are your hobbies?
More than half of all application forms featured this question, so don’t dismiss it as unimportant. Companies want to see that you’re a well-rounded person. Some companies, such as PwC, even offer a separate programme for applicants that have slightly lower grades but have excelled in their extracurricular activities.
Highlight any leadership or responsible roles you’ve had, but don’t worry if you weren’t President of the Maths society – plenty of interests can demonstrate your positive qualities. For example, playing for your college football team can show that you have commitment and energy, whilst going travelling shows that you are highly organised and love to take on new challenges.
4. What positions of responsibility have you held/ Give an example of when you have shown leadership
If you were part of your student council, or treasurer of the investment society, then great. Getting involved in societies and taking on responsible positions is very worthwhile if you have the opportunity. However, if you’re in your final year and haven’t given them a thought until now, then all is not lost.
Get imaginative – there are plenty of situations in which you could have shown leadership, perhaps during a class presentation, or group research project.
Always be honest, but don’t be afraid to talk yourself up.
5. Why are you the best candidate for the job?
Answering questions like this is a delicate balance – you need to talk about yourself positively and persuasively, but need to avoid sounding arrogant. Avoid statements like ‘I’m exceptionally intelligent’, instead say something like ‘I enjoy intellectual challenges, for example when I….’
Always back up your statements and don’t forget to tailor your answer to the specific job requirements.
6. What are your strengths/achievements/additional qualifications?
With this question, the achievements or qualifications that you mention don’t necessarily have to be relevant to the working world, but make sure that you bring out relevant qualities from them, e.g. commitment, motivation, self-reliance or problem solving skills.
7. IT and language capabilities
The opportunity to list your IT and language skills may come up in different places throughout an application. Don’t assume just because you don’t have a degree in IT or total fluency in foreign languages that your skills aren’t of interest. If you have conversational French or similar, put that down.
Often, companies are interested in your capacity to learn languages rather than which languages you speak.
With IT skills, don’t forget that what may seem unimportant to you, might impress someone else. The ability to use Word, Excel and Powerpoint are all valuable skills. With both IT and languages, however, it’s important to be realistic about your competency. You don’t want to get the job and be in a situation where you’re out of your depth.
8. Give examples of working as a team/problem solving abilities
Don’t forget that this is a different question from question four. It’s important that you bring out different qualities in your answer and also, if asked both questions, that you use different examples.
Try not to repeat yourself. It’s more important to be succinct and persuasive than to fill up as much space as possible.
9. What have you learnt from previous jobs/work experience?
Ideally you will have completed work experience or an internship within the job area that you are applying for. If you have, you can use this question to bring out specific skills. These could be what you learnt on the job, observations about the industry, or why you are interested in it.
If you haven’t completed any directly related work experience, use this question to talk about the kinds of general skills that you have learnt from other jobs which are relevant to the position you are applying for.
10. Give examples of when you have provided excellent customer service
Examples to this question don’t have to be sensational, but they should demonstrate your ability to take initiative and handle stressful situations well.
Having great answers pre-prepared to these ten questions should come in handy in practically all of your applications. But don’t forget it is important that you don’t just cut and paste your answers.
Always take note of the specific wording. Are you being asked for one example, or multiple examples? Do they state that your answer should be brief, or detailed? What’s the word limit?
With application forms, employers want to see your ability to interpret instructions and deliver exactly what’s required.
Remember, be specific, to the point and positive. Good luck!