Getting a job: application forms and interview

The economy is improving, but finding a job can still be tough

Most major graduate recruiters will expect you to complete a competency based application form for an internship or graduate position within their organisation.

Before I share some advice on how to best complete these, here are things you shouldn’t say on applications, but people honestly have:

  • excellent memory skills, good analytical skills; I have excellent memory skills, I have good analytical skills;
  • hi, I want 2 get a job with u,
  • I enclose a tea-bag so you can enjoy a cuppa while perusing my form;
  • having a Virgo birth sign, my sense of assertiveness and resilience has prompted me to continue with my ambitions to be a banker in your company;
  • I loathe filling in application forms so much that I’ll give you details at the interview;
  • I believe in helping other people and so I am a blood and organ donor…

There is a serious point to this: you should make applications relevant to the employers’ needs and the job role that you apply to. Have an application proofread, and simply try not to be too ‘clever’ in an application: they may not have the same humour, or perhaps creative thinking, as you.

You should evidence skills in your application form, from your academic life, to previous employment and extra-curricular activities.

Do STAR answers:

  • Describe a Situation
  • Outline the Tasks that needed doing
  • Say what Action you took – this is the way you do things beyond the compulsion of the task
  • What the Results were
  • How you would do thing better next time – Reflection.

Before you put ‘pen to paper’/finger to keyboard: do research into the organisation you are applying to; decide why you would like to work for them as well as work in a particular role; identify what you want to ‘market’ in the future interview (your unique selling points); think of innovative and interesting examples of situations and skills that you are going to promote in your application.

Plan, prepare, present

  • Download and practice filling in the form
  • Read the instructions on how to complete it thoroughly
  • Read the questions carefully
  • Check for errors
  • Read the form through before you send it off to make sure you have completed it in full
  • Save a copy of every form you complete
  • Keep a list of which organisations you have applied to and when/any replies/correspondence you receive in return

Interviews – don’t be afraid!

Interviews are only part of the selection process for internships or graduate positions in companies. It is natural to be anxious about these (some would say that it is good to have some nerves). The famous British theatre and film actor, Sir Alec Guinness, was allegedly always physically sick before he went on stage, but rarely let his audience down with a poor performance.

An interview is meant to: assess the knowledge that you have marketed in your initial application; evaluate your transferable skills under pressure; judge how you would fit into their organisation; create a positive impression (on both sides!) – a marriage made in heaven as the saying goes.

Ultimately, they want to know: can you do the job? Will you fit in to the work and role culture? But it is also an opportunity for you to judge whether you want to work for them, never forget that, make sure you like them and their way of working.

There are a number of types of interviews: telephone; competency based; technical; one to one; panel. Which ones (you may have to go to more than one) will depend on the job role and the organisation.

Below are some tips and advice: Plan, Prepare, Present

Be yourself; give interesting examples to questions that they ask; be willing to expand on any responses that you make; don’t be thrown by the unexpected question; stay calm; buy time to think (ask if you can have a few seconds to think about your answer or pick up a glass of water and have a drink); remain positive throughout (no one answers every question perfectly); show them that you are right for the position and for them!

Finally at the end of the interview think about what impression you want to leave with them about yourself. Ask one or two relevant questions about the job or the organisation that you really do want to know about.

First impressions count too so: dress smart, have a firm confident handshake, have lots of eye to eye contact with the interviewer, don’t fidget, don’t slouch in the chair and smile and be attentive.

The Careers Centre is open to all Durham students. You can visit their branches in Durham and Queen’s Campus, where there is information available to browse. To access online resources or book an interview with a careers advisor visit:

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