Answering application form question

Application formApplication form questions can generally be split into three categories:

1. Questions that require you to expand on the information in your CV.
2. Competency based questions.
3. Questions that examine your motivation and commitment.


Expand on your CV

What the hiring manager/recruitment agent is looking for here is for you to relate your work experience, extra curricular activities and education to the job specification. Make sure you have it next to you while you’re completing these questions. Be explicit; mention key words from the job specification and how your skills and experience match them.

Example questions:

Please outline your previous work experience.

Adapt your work experience to highlight skills and experience suitable for this role. This doesn’t mean lying, just picking out particular relevant aspects. For instance if you previously worked stacking shelves at a supermarket and the job you’re applying for now involves a lot of customer facing work then pick out the customer service aspects of your work at the supermarket.

Detail your current and previous extracurricular activities.

Here you want to demonstrate two key points:
• That you are a well rounded and interesting person with the motivation to get involved with things outside university and work.
• That your extra curricular activities have provided you with skills and experience that will help you succeed in this role.
Relate the experience gained through your extra curricular activities to the job specs and try and fill in any skill gaps in your work experience and education. Don’t mention ordinary hobbies like reading or watching movies, unless of course the role is reading manuscripts for a publicist or reviewing films.

Competency based

Competency based questions are questions that ask you to outline a real life experience to demonstrate a key competency. Generally employers are looking for you to demonstrate: leadership skills, good teamwork, how you handle responsibility, organisation and planning skills, commercial awareness, problem solving and analytical skills, dedication and ability to communicate effectively.

When reading these questions pick out key words to try and determine exactly which skills the recruiter is looking for.
The most effective way to answer such questions is to follow the STAR technique:
1. Situation: describe the situation.
2. Task: what was the task.
3. Action: what planning/action did you undertake.
4. Result: what was the result of your involvement.
Generally you want to spend about 30% to 40% of your answer on 1, 2 and 4 and 60% to 70% of your answer on 3.


Example questions:

Describe a time when you led a project

This can be a daunting question for those with little work experience, but remember the form is designed for graduates – they are not expecting you to have led a 100 strong sales team to a record breaking sales target. Using examples from school, university or extra curricular projects is perfectly acceptable.

Tell us about a time when you were less successful as a leader than you would have wanted to be.

Questions will often ask you to describe a situation with a negative outcome, they are designed to test how well you coped with it and what you learnt from it. So don’t be scared to talk about a time when you messed up. Just make sure you end it with a positive note, specifying what you learnt from the experience and why you won’t make the same mistake again.


Example questions:

Please describe a time when you worked with a team to achieve a goal.

The key to answering questions about teamwork is to concentrate on your input to the team. How did you personally work effectively with others towards a goal? Do talk about what the team accomplished but spend the majority of your answer focusing on how you helped the team achieve that accomplishment.

Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a conflict within your team.

An important aspect of teamwork is good conflict management, this is what this question is designed to test. Remember to outline your personal contribution. Again it doesn’t matter if the situation had a negative outcome as long as you detail what you learnt from the experience. For instance, if the conflict was so bad that the team failed to accomplish its goal or broke up altogether, what did you learn from this and how would you put that into practice to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.

Organisation and Planning

Example question:

Tell us about a time when you were under pressure, working towards very tight deadlines.

At least with this question it is easy to think of examples. The recruiter is looking for evidence that you are an organised individual, an effective planner and can cope under pressure. Demonstrate your planning skills by talking about how you prioritised tasks, put in place efficient systems, organised your time effectively etc.

Make sure you demonstrate that you stayed calm under pressure and that your planning and organisation skills helped you meet that deadline.

Commercial awareness

Example question:

Give an example of where you have related your commercial awareness to your own situation and then employed that knowledge to your advantage.

Commercial awareness is something graduate employers often cite as graduates’ weakest area. Answer this question well and you’ll be on the right track to a great application form.

To tackle this question you need to define commercial awareness. Generally commercial awareness can be considered as a good level of knowledge about business and the wider environment in which an organisation operates. Examples of where you might have used commercial awareness to your advantage could be in a university debate, at an admissions interview, in an essay or exam question, or perhaps you implemented a change at work or in a project you were working on because of a trend you’d noticed.

Problem solving and Analysis

Example question:

Give an example of where you have recognised a problem that required you to employ a creative solution.

Problem solving often starts with determining exactly what the problem is through analysis of any given situation or process. This is not only examining your problem solving skills but also your ability to recognise a problem, so detail how you recognised the problem as well as what steps you took to solve it.
It specifically mentions ‘creative’ solution, so they are also looking for you to demonstrate that you have the ability to think outside of the box.


Example question:

Detail a project where you achieved success despite the odds being against you. How did your dedication ensure that you pulled through?

When answering questions about dedication/commitment it is important that you explicitly detail how your commitment to the cause/project allowed you to succeed. You want to demonstrate that you’re the type of person willing to put in the hours and go the extra mile to achieve success.


Example question:

Describe an occasion when you had to communicate complex information.

Communication skills encompass a wide variety of abilities; persuading and negotiating, presenting, in both written and verbal form, listening, giving and accepting criticism, appropriate use of body language, an understanding of the person you are communicating to, the list goes on. In questions relating to communication you need to demonstrate that you understand all aspects of what makes an effective communicator and know how to employ this knowledge to your advantage


The key to these questions is good research, try and go further than just reading the ‘About us’ section on their website. A good tool for more in depth research is google’s news filter. Attending careers fairs and joining in webinars are other useful ways to improve your knowledge of the company. The more detailed your research, the better your answers will be.

Example questions:

What attracts you to a career in this industry?

What they mean: We are concerned about staff turnover – are you dedicated to this career and likely to stick with it?

You need to demonstrate that you know about the industry they’re operating in and are committed to a career within it. Any work experience you’ve done within the industry would be a good starting point.

Why do you want to work for our firm?

What they mean: Have you done your research on our company and are you willing to align yourself with our values?

This is all about the research, they are reading your answer trying to ascertain whether you’ve bothered to do research beyond a skim read of their website and whether you really understand what the firm does.

Stand out – If you can, find the name of someone who works for the company and add them on Twitter. Ask them what their favourite aspect of working for their particular organisation is, then quote them in your answer. You can also do this if you chat to any representatives at careers fairs or at an online event. This is a great way to set yourself a notch above the rest.

What are your career aspirations?

What they mean: Are you ambitious and willing to work hard to progress with our organisation?

Don’t pull your punches with this question. Most companies view their graduates as the future leaders of the company, so if you want to be managing director one day then say so. Do be careful, they want you to be ambitious but also realistic, saying you plan to make partner in two years is going to amuse rather than impress.

Research the normal progression within the company. What roles have previous graduates gone on to? What would be the direct promotion from the role you’re applying for? Research the background of the current top players in the firm. Are there any qualifications necessary to continue up your particular ladder?

Demonstrate that you want to go far, not only within the industry but within the firm, and that you understand the level of work it will take to achieve that.

For further direction on completing application forms TARGETjobs have an excellent section with sector specific advice.

One thought on “Answering application form question

  1. Pingback: Graduate Rescue's Blog | Dealing with Rejection

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