At some point or another, graduates are likely to encounter the prospects of completing an online application form to work with a leading employer. This will certainly be the case if you intend to join a graduate scheme.
But why choose a graduate scheme?
Graduate schemes are not the only employment opportunities available to new graduates but they are highly sought after and extremely popular for a student leaving college or university.
Why? Well, graduate programmes offer new graduates good support when they are embarking on their career. Many companies provide graduates with the necessary training and development to broaden their skills and qualifications further. In addition, many firms provide new recruits with a mentor, who will help them throughout the graduate program. They will be there to provide the graduate with help, support and advice on learning, professional development and blending into the role.
A major benefit to joining with a leading employer is that there is an opportunity to study for your professional qualification which is normally funded by the employer. This is certainly a bonus where those fees and associated expense are quite substantial.
Large employers can also provide a graduate with experience in different areas over the course of their graduate scheme. Many companies provide graduates with the opportunity to move to different departments to gain experience and knowledge of different functions. This provides graduates with the opportunity to further develop their skills and experience.
Due to the popularity of the graduate schemes, it is important to start your research and preparations early.
What makes a graduate application different from standard applications?
The graduate application process is your chance to demonstrate to the employer that you are the ideal candidate for the job. Employers will want to interview those graduates that can demonstrate that they have the required skills and competencies to be a part of their team. It is important to highlight any achievement that you have obtained to date as well as any previous internships that you have completed.
The day of pen and paper cv’s and resumes have passed, and now graduates are faced with the rise of online application forms. When applying for an interview, all graduates will be required to complete a similar online application form. These forms are usually constructed in a way that allows the graduate the opportunity to demonstrate the skills and experience that they have gained over the years. Graduates will be asked to display any valuable experience obtained through their academic, work and personal life.
This may seem a daunting task at first, but rest assured it is not as scary as it sounds. The majority of graduates will have gained plenty of experience throughout their years in college and university.
One of the main things that employers will be looking for is your educational achievements. This will involve you providing information about the college or university you attended, the course you have undertaken, and the qualification or results gained.
Work experience is another big area that potential employers will look at. This can include part-time jobs you had when you were in school, throughout college and summer work or current work. You will usually be asked questions relating to your position in that job, what role or duties you carried out; particularly any roles that required you to demonstrate responsibility or leadership. Or you’ll need to demonstrate a time when you had to overcome a challenge in that job.
Employers also look at activities, committees or groups that you may be a part of when you were in college. Again they tend to focus on what was your role or duty in the particular group and what interest led you to join that committee or group.
A major part of the application form will be the competency-based questions. This will be where the employer will be looking to see if you meet the person specifications for the job. This is where you as the graduate will demonstrate or promote all those reasons why you are the best candidate for this particular job role.
This may all seem a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get started you will see that majority of the application forms are quite similar and by the second or third form you will really understand what the employers are looking for.
To help you with through the graduate application process we have compiled a list of some very useful points and techniques that should make the whole process much more simple combined with some useful advice to help make your application stand out amongst the rest.
1) Shortlist your employers
Decide on the particular industry you would like to work in or have some interest in. Then take a look at those employers that provide graduate schemes or hire in that particular industry.
You can obtain lists of potential employers in business or trade publications, graduate websites, colleges and universities often have stands dedicated to particular industries in which they provide listings of graduate recruiters or employers. Your career office in your college should also be able to provide you with some relevant information on potential employers.
Graduate career fairs are a great way to meet graduate recruiters in person and get useful information about the opportunities and placements that they have available. They usually provide tonnes of advice and tips on completing their actual graduate application form. More often than not they have individuals there that are currently on the graduate placement program that they offer, which provides you with the opportunity to ask them questions about what it’s like to work for the company or what some of their daily tasks involve.
2) Research the employers
Once you have established a list of those firms that you would like to work for you should start researching the company. This can be done by looking at their websites to ascertain the type of work they do and the roles that they offer. It will enable you to determine whether that company hires or offers graduate schemes as some companies do not hire graduates directly from college. Therefore you may need to determine what experience or additional qualifications you need to acquire that will leave you best placed to obtain a position in that company when it comes available.
You can also obtain information about the company by looking at LinkedIn. By looking at employee profiles on LinkedIn you will get a better understanding of their roles and the type of work performed by graduates in that particular company.
This will help you determine if it is the type of company where you would like to work and develop your skills and experience. This will further benefit you when you are completing their graduate application form. It will enable you to demonstrate a good understanding of the company and what they do, as well as be better able to demonstrate the appropriate skills and competencies that that particular employer looks for.
3) Who is responsible for recruitment in the company
It is a good idea to find out the name of the individual or individuals responsible for graduate recruitment in that particular company. By making your application or letter personal it has a better chance of standing out and getting a response.
When the employer company comes to your college or if you attend graduate career fairs, be sure to interact with the individuals from the company. Ask them questions. This will offer you an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and experience. They are likely to remember interacting with you when they are reviewing your application form. If you get the opportunity to speak with the person at the end of a presentation or talk, make sure you take it. This networking can really open doors for you so it’s good to get into the practice of speaking with people in the industry you want to work in whenever the opportunity arises.
If there is a particular company or area you would like to work in and feel that you would be really suited to a career in this area but there are no graduate employment opportunities available, it may be possible to construct a letter expressing your interest in the area. You could find out who is responsible for recruitment in that area or a key individual within the firm in that area. Making contact with this individual and expressing your interest and why you feel you would be suited to a career in this area could open a door if should an opportunity presents itself in the future.
4) Prep work is a must
Employers will want to see evidence that you have done some initial research into the company, the job role and of course yourself. They will be interested in graduates who appear to have a genuine interest and enthusiasm in the role and industry sector.
Avoid waffle at all costs. Be consistent and to the point. By keeping it short and concise this will improve the readability of your application. You should avoid using business jargon instead focus on using verbs well and being specific with what you want to say.
Demonstrate your skills and experience by giving appropriate examples. Your application must appear to give a strong confident impression of you.
Your writing should be professional and formal at all times. Attention to detail is key. A clever use of words such as “inspired”, “administered”, “improved”, “monitored”, “initiated” “consistent”, “effective” and “achieved” can really secure that strong impression that employers are looking for. Don’t forget to use full stops and commas where appropriate.
It is a good idea to read your responses to the question out loud as this will help you check that your writing sounds natural and makes sense.
5) Psychometric tests
The majority of application forms will have psychometric tests or if not you’re likely to experience them at the assessment centre. These are nothing to be feared, but it is always a good idea to have practised a few before completing the chosen application form.
Psychometric tests assess your logic, reasoning ability, intelligence, problem-solving ability, ability to identify mistakes, numerical ability, as well as your verbal ability. They are usually timed.
Different employers will use different tests and many employers will also provide you with practice tests to take before completing the actual psychometric tests in the application process.
These tests enable the employer to ascertain whether the candidate has the necessary skills and ability to perform the job. They will also provide you with the opportunity to determine whether this is the most suitable role for you.
Personality tests is another form of psychometric test. These are designed to determine whether the position is best suited to your character or personality. There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. It really just tests your attitude, motivation, and your preferred way of going about things. Personality tests are usually not timed whereas skill and ability test are.
How to practice for psychometric tests?
The career advice office in your college should be able to provide you with additional information and practice questions to get you ready to take these tests. There is also plenty of websites online that have psychometric tests you can practice.
Practising these tests will be a great way to familiarise yourself with layout and format while highlighting those areas that you may be weak at and therefore requires more attention and practice before completing the actual application form. The more you practice the faster you will become. This will certainly make it easier and reduce nerves when sitting the real psychometric tests.
6) Read through the application form before completing
A major key to completing these application forms successfully is taking the time to read through all the questions first. Avoid trying to rush through and complete it all in one go. Instead take the time to read each question carefully and think about what is it that the recruiter is looking for in each question. This way you can then structure each question constructively to demonstrate the necessary skills, competence and qualities that the employer is looking for.
The STAR approach is a very useful technique to use when answering these questions. There is usually a word limit on you answer, therefore it is important to keep your answers concise and to the point.
Before you submit your application form be sure to check all spellings and grammar for any errors. This is a big red flag for employers. So take the time to read through your response and if possible have someone else proofread your application form for you.
7) Completing the application
When completing the application it is important to read all the documentation and requirements carefully. Fill in all categories and additional subcategories. Remember to submit all supporting documents by the deadline date.
If you are copying and pasting your answers from a word document make sure to check if it has copied and pasted correctly. Also take time to make sure spelling and grammar is correct. The following graphic will help you to master this.
8) Personal Information
When completing an application form for graduate role remember that you do not have to disclose any personal information that you do not want to. Many applications ask questions about your gender, religion and sexual orientation for example. You are not obliged in any way to disclose this information. Therefore only provide information that is of a personal nature that you feel comfortable with disclosing.
When completing your application form it is important to give yourself plenty of time. These forms usually take a couple of hours or more.
Most applications will have a “save and return” facility to allow you to save as you go and return to it later if necessary. However, there is some application process that does not, and in this instance, you will need to complete the entire application in one sitting.
It is also important to be aware that it may be possible for an employer to view a partially saved application form.
Most graduate recruiters will look for at least two referees. You can use your current or previous employer and an academic referee from a college or university lecturer or course leader.
11) Print the completed application form
When you completed the application form it is a good idea to print it and give it a final proofread to check that everything is correct. It will also provide you with a hard copy if you need it.
A hard copy of your completed application can be a very useful reference for other application forms you intend to submit since some are likely to have similar questions. It can also be very handy to use as preparation for your interview with that employer.
12) Examples of tricky interview questions and how to answer them
“Tell me a little bit about yourself”
This is a question most people dread, as most people hate to talk about themselves. They’re afraid that they’ll come across as big headed if they use praise, so revert to downplaying their
achievements. This really isn’t the way to go. What you need here, and what is so useful in a number of networking scenarios, is to develop your very own ‘Elevator Pitch.’
An Elevator Pitch, is the pitch you would give to, say a business investor, that should happen to step onto an elevator with you. You’ve only got one chance to reel them in, as to why they should do business with you (or your company). It’s a 30-60 second (About the time for an elevator to reach the top of the building to the bottom) pitch that is short, punchy and confident.
Your Elevator pitch will take time to get right, but once you do it’s one of the most useful speeches you can have ready to go. It should address the following:
- Your goals
- What you do
- Your unique selling point
- Finish with a question that relates your USP to their business**
* * If your unique selling point is excellent change management, ask how the company has dealt with recent transitions
Now tie it all together, practice saying it in the mirror and you’re good to go whenever you hear this question.
“What are your weaknesses?”
Another tricky one as this question requires you to find ‘Weaknesses’ that aren’t really ‘Weaknesses’, that you can turn around to in fact be strengths – through the efforts you’ve made to address them. Again you’ll need to have this answer well rehearsed and have a number of points prepared. Some ones to consider include:
- “Sometimes, I can give too much of myself to a project” – To remedy this, say you focus on the requirements of the project, you continually check these requirements and tick them off as completed until you have satisfied all criteria and then hand the project over.
This shows you as someone who invests in their work, but also someone who schedules in order to get work finished to high standards, by addressing all requirements and is mindful of deadlines.
- “I get nervous when speaking in front of large groups” – to remedy this, you’ve taken lessons in public speaking and are pushing yourself to do this more.
This shows that you acknowledge a fear, that many people have, but have been proactive about taking steps to tackle this. If you’re confident in the interview as well it’s a good indicator that these methods are working!
The most important thing here is that you acknowledge that you have skills that need to be worked on, that they’re not major skills that will affect your performance in this particular job and that you don’t answer with a ‘significantly weird’ answer that sends people running from the room.