Thursday, 23 September 2010

Application Forms... don't you just hate them?

It is that time of year where on top of a looming final year project, a mountain of work and trying to enjoy your last year at Uni, monstrous application forms for companies await you. Trying to maintain a balance between doing them as well as you can, doing the right number of them, and keeping track of deadlines and what you've sent where can be a nightmare… here's my take on application forms.

Why do companies use them?
1 - BECAUSE they are frustrating and take forever to complete. Many of the top companies figure that if you can't be bothered spending 3-4 hours filling out an application form to them correctly, then they can't be bothered with you either. It is a filter that applies to applications before you have even hit the submit button. The top IBs that receive tens of thousands of applications would receive hundreds of thousands of applications if it was as simple as just emailing them your CV. Unfortunately, despite the last couple of years of turmoil, that is still the reality of the market.
2 - They allow us to compare like-for-like. With the variety of CV formats and styles available, in particular across different countries, the application form process offers a fairer way for all applicants to provide the same details to the employer in order that they can assess their suitability for the roles available.
3 - They allow the auto-filtering to work. If everything is in the same format, it is easier for systems to filter out candidates that don’t meet the required criteria.
4 - They allow companies to pull Management Information together quickly. E.g. How many people applied from Cambridge? How many people applied with Maths degrees? How many people applied with 3 As at A-Level? This allows us to target more carefully on campus - e.g. if no one applies from LSE, then we do more promotion on campus there the next year….

Answer the Question Asked
I know you have heard this again and again and again, but it is the crux of a great application form. When you start into a paragraph, and it is sounding good and you're into the flow of writing and you get to the end of your 400 words and it sounds FANTASTIC, it's a great feeling. But then you look back at the question and you think…. Mmm… well, it wasn't quite what I was asked, but it sounds great, and its close enough, so I'm sure they'll like it anyway. We wont!  Please, please answer the exact question asked.  It is very frustrating for us as recruiters too to read a great paragraph and think "this could have been a great candidate, but they didn’t read the question… so 'reject'".

Think competencies
Most questions will have a competency behind it that they are trying to assess. Figure out what this is and then make sure that you address this competency in your example, rather than just explain a story of what happened without necessarily proving that you did demonstrate that competency during the activity.  Try to use a variety of examples across your answers. Read through all of the questions before starting and fit the example to each question before you start. This avoids getting to the last question and realising that the example you used for the first question is better suited to another.

Apply early? Apply last minute? Does it matter?
Most grad programmes that I have worked having received up to 50% of their applications during the last 3 days before the deadline. When you look on jobs boards or agency websites these days, all jobs will generally have a deadline that is a week or ten days away. And then after that deadline has passed, the job will promptly appear re-posted with a new deadline the week after. That is because lots of people will only apply when pressed to do so - i.e. when a deadline is imposed. Agencies/companies know this and that is why there is always a deadline...
The reality of this is that when you apply late you are in a very big pile of late applicants. If you apply early, you show that you are keen, on-the-ball and organised enough to get your application in early. This does not necessarily imply an advantage - there are definitely companies who don’t take any action until the deadline has passed (even though they all say they doing rolling recruitment) as they provide CV books to the business at that stage.  However, to some extent you make your own luck and there can be instances where an early applicant is 'luckier' than a last-minute one who is one of many (e.g. a place comes available on a fast-track scheme, invites to a company event are sent out to early applicants, etc).

If anyone has any specific question on application forms that I can help with, drop me an email on

Any ideas for future blog topics also welcome!

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