Ace your job application form

An application form is usually the first opportunity that you have to impress your potential employer. Get this right and you will have another chance to continue impressing them. But if you do anything less than an excellent job, it might very well be a dead end.

Most online application forms contain variations around the following elements:

  1. Personal Information
  2. Qualifications
  3. Employment History
  4. Referees
  5. Supporting Information
  6. Safeguarding
  7. Submit and Declarations

I would now like you to go back to number 5. I have taken this from the application form on the NHS job website. Judging by the wording used here, it might sound to some like number 5 is optional and unimportant. Nothing further from the truth, this is the most important part of the form as this is your chance to make a strong case about your suitability for the job. If you are able to provide clear examples of how you have previously demonstrated the skills required for the job, then you are likely to be invited to the next stage of the recruitment process.

How to complete the supporting information / personal statement

Start with a brief introduction and a statement that expresses why you are applying. What is it about job, company, etc. that you are excited about? Tailor this well. Standard statements that could apply to any employer are not enough. Be specific and ensure that you use positive words that convey your passion.

Then, give evidence of your suitability for the job. Take the list of criteria laid out in the person specification and provide an example of how you have demonstrated that skill or competency before. Don’t forget that skills are transferable and you could have developed your skill in an area that is not directly relevant. For example, an experience in retail could have given you the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to deal with challenging behaviour, which is often needed as a nurse, for example. Work down the list of criteria, in the same order as they are laid out and using each requirement as a heading. When writing your examples, make sure to follow the STAR technique.


  • Target the opportunity. While most of your applications will be alike since they have similar requirements, it is important to consider making changes to match the specific vacancy and appeal to the specific employer.
  • Be concise. There is often a word limit that you must comply with, plus your message will be more effective if you can say it in fewer words.
  • Ensure that your grammar, spelling and style are error-free. Don’t just rely on spellchecks, as these won’t pick up on homophonic errors or typos that are actual words.
  • Being organised is key. Sometimes, vacancies might be taken down early if they have generated a high number of good standard applications.
  • The single most effective action that you can take in order to ensure that your application is up to standards is to get it checked by one of the Careers Consultants. You can save the form online before you submit it, print it off and bring it along to a one-to-one appointment.

Now, going back to the NHS form example, when I speak to student nurses, radiographers, midwives, speech and language therapists, etc. they are usually worried about the word limit on supporting information section of the application form. Their concern is justified, as the limit of 1,500 words is quite constraining. Addressing of all the requirements in 1,500 words is a challenge. This word limit means that you will have to choose the best examples and consider the value of every word. On occasions, you might need to find an example that covers more than one criterion at the same time, in order to keep within the word limit. If you do this, ensure that your headings clearly indicate this (for example, communication and interpersonal skills) and provide the best example that addresses both.

Estanis Bouza

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