‘Describe a time when you had to fill in an online application form…’

Angela Wipperman

Angela Wipperman – student blogger

After mammoth amounts of procrastination, I finally took the decision to begin my graduate scheme applications this month. There is something very imposing about an application form. It is a clerical mountain – the last thing you want to do is begin the long and torturous ascent but once it’s complete you feel quite good, actually.

I drew up a  modest list of 25 companies to which I will be applying. I have found that with most of these application forms, done one, done them all. Over the last couple of weeks, and the last twelve forms, I have identified a few useful rules to approaching an online application form.

1. Parents: You milk them for money, now milk them for experience. Chances are, they’ve done these many times before, and may well have interviewed people themselves. They know what they are talking about. And if your mum is anything like mine, she will have remembered every tiny achievement of yours far better than you have. Oh, and the above  also applies to older brothers/sisters/cousins/friends. Although as a warning, bear the patronising tone of older brothers with patience, somewhere beneath that sarcastic and caustic wording is some real advice.

2. Internet: Our own careers service, Prospects.ac.uk, Milkround – all offer useful insights into what employers are looking for. Also, they all have useful tips for filling out these application forms from what counts as relevant work experience to advice on answering competency-based questions.

3. Know your competencies: Almost all the questions on forms will ask for an example of some moment where you showed a variety of skills. Well, apparently employers don’t really care whether your greatest achievement was climbing Kilimanjaro, or completing you European stamp collection. It’s all about learning and applicable skills. Employers love competency questions: ‘Describe a time when you worked in a group…’ ‘Describe a time when you overcame a problem’ ‘Describe a time when you went insane from all these ‘describe a time’ questions and ended up chaining yourself to the gates of Whitworth Hall muttering “don’t make me leave”’.
Even if you haven’t led the most exciting life, there will be a relevant example there somewhere. And whatever you use, always make the most of it. Lying isn’t particularly sensible, but instead of saying ‘I joined the hockey club, embarrassed myself at the second social and never returned’, try ‘I regularly attended the hockey club in my first semester, and applied for the fourth team. I also played an instrumental role in the team socials.’

4. Know your company: Copy and paste has served me well over the last couple of weeks, but make sure you know the company. I remember one phone interview I did for an internship over the summer, where my grasp of what the job actually entailed was, well, limited. The resulting mumbling and stuttering when asked what I felt my role should involve was not a pretty sight. Make sure you know who you are applying to, and for what. If you know who you are selling to, you know how to sell.

These are four rules I have come to swear by, and will be using for the rest of my graduate applications. It’s time consuming, laborious, and by the end of just one form I know I wanted to throw my laptop through the window, drop out of society, and live in a yurt in Nepal. But, when those acceptance letters inviting me for assessment days come flooding (please, God, let them come flooding) it’ll seem worth it. I hope. Now for application number fourteen…


One Response to ‘Describe a time when you had to fill in an online application form…’

  1. Helen P (Careers Service) says:

    Some good advice there Angela – fingers crossed re: those interview offers! Look forward to hearing how you get on.

    As well our guides on CVs and applications which you can access on our website, we also offer 15-minute ‘quick query’ appointments at the Careers Service for feedback on CVs and applications, which many students find useful!

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