You won’t be able to effectively answer questions about your interest in the job or company without having researched them. You also need to understand what the employer is looking for in a candidate so you can talk about the relevant competencies and experience you have. It is also important to show you fit with the company culture and values so you need to have a good understanding of these.
Completing research and including this in your application will help you stand out, especially compared to other applications containing more generic information. The research you complete at this stage will also help you during other parts of the application process, such as during an interview.
How you can begin your research:
- Review the company website (don’t stop here)
- Review the job description (don’t stop here)
- Follow the employer’s social media accounts
- Read news articles and blog posts about the company and the sector
- Find case studies of previous candidates, and read about employee experiences (for example on Glassdoor)
- Make sure you are familiar with the industry/sector as a whole eg. if you are applying for a bank make sure you understand what is happening in the general financial sector in general. This is what we call commercial awareness.
Say YES to right to work questions
The Associate of Graduate Careers and Advisory Services (AGCAS) suggest stating ‘yes’ when asked if you have the right to work on an application form. Often if you select ‘no’ you will automatically be discounted from the recruitment process, despite potentially being eligible to work now or in the future. When selecting ‘yes’ you must always add a note or statement to provide further information about your specific visa circumstances. Don’t assume employers understand your visa or right to work, it is important to explain this to them.
- Part-time work: If you are on a student permission visa (formally Tier 4) you probably have a work allowance for during your studies. If you are applying for work alongside your studies, such as a part-time job, make sure you tell the employer how many hours you are allowed to work. Check if your university have their own regulations which could impact this.
- Placements/Internships: If you are on a course with an integrated placement or ‘with industry’ element your student visa should automatically grant you the right to work full time for this duration, and last the appropriate time so you can also finish your studies. Make sure the employer knows your placement is already factored into your visa and that they will not have to provide sponsorship for the work you undertake during the placement period.
- Graduate Jobs: Many international students in the UK will be eligible to apply for the Graduate Route visa following successful completion of their studies. This provides right to work without requiring employer sponsorship for a limited time. If you plan to apply for this, make it clear to the employer and explain you will be eligible to work without them having to sponsor you. Make sure they also know how long the visa will last; this will depend on the type of course you are studying
This information is accurate as at March 2023
Provide examples to support your points
Whenever you make a statement about your skills, interests or experiences you should support this with examples. This will help provide evidence and proof for the point you are making, and also ensure you answer is long enough with the right amount of detail.
- If you are talking about a specific skill you have, use examples to explain when you have developed and demonstrated this skill. These examples could be from your studies, work experience or extra-curricular activities. Where possible use a STAR structure to form you answer.
- If you are talking about why you are interested in the job, company or sector make sure you give specific examples to show you have done your research and understand the role and organisation in detail. Where possible link these reasons back to yourself to demonstrate why this fact has particular importance to you.
Try to use the full word count
If you have been given a word count, try your best to meet it, or get as close as possible. If your answer is much shorter that the allowance this probably means you are not providing the amount of detail and information the employer is looking for. It might mean you are not providing enough examples as outlined above.
You should also make sure not to exceed the word count. Most applications will stop you from writing too much, but even if they don’t you should avoid writing too much. Very long answers will be inconvenient to the recruiter who probably doesn’t have a lot of time to review your application. It is likely they will stop reading or just ignore any words you have written over the allocated limit.
What if there is no word count? A rough guide on how much to write is between 200-300 words per question. If you are asked to produce a personal statement or statement of interest, rather than answering specific questions, try to keep the statement to approximately one page.
Have a native speaker proofread your answers
Whether or not English is your first language, it is always helpful to have a native speaker proofread your applications. This is because it is easy to miss simple mistakes when you know what your writing is supposed to say. If you are not a native English speaker it can also be very helpful, as the person reading it can highlight any spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes that may make your writing incorrect or inappropriate.
Some employers, depending on the job, can be very strict with grammar and spelling so a small mistake could stop you progressing to the next stage of the recruitment process.
Having a friend, classmate or family member proofread your application is a quick way to ensure you won’t miss out on a job because of your writing-style or language skills. Your university may also offer proof-reading support or services, but beware of using external agencies or paying for proofreading as many universities do not endorse.
Remember – proof reading is not the same as having someone else write an application for you, this would be plagiarism. Ensure the words and ideas you write are all your own, even if someone has checked over the application for you.
This proofreading guide can help you to check your own work. Some of these points will not apply to application forms, but the guidance on spelling, grammar and punctuation might be helpful.