How to sell yourself in applications

Learn how to come across well to your future employers and secure that next stage interview.

What you will learn

  • What you should do before you start filling in an application
  • The importance of knowing your skills and strengths and how to present these well

When it comes to getting your foot in the door of a new job, course or volunteering opportunity, the first step will likely be filling in an application form. Application forms are a good way for a recruiter to identify whether you’re a good fit for their organisation – before they decide if they want to meet you.

Remember that employers may be looking at lots of applications for one role, particularly if the position you’re applying for is with a large company or is quite popular. So, you’ll want to make sure you give them all the right information and present it in a concise way.

Here are some tips to help you fill out applications more effectively and move onto that all-important next stage.

Before you put pen to paper

Read the job description

One of the easiest ways to hold the interest of a recruiter is to give them what they’re looking for. Before you begin to fill in an application form, make sure you read the job description thoroughly. Take note of important details.

What is the exact wording of the job title (including capital letters)? What skills do you need to do the job? What experience are they looking for you to have?

If a recruiter is scanning hundreds of application forms, the ones that don’t match the job criteria will likely be disregarded at the first stage.

Research the company

In the same way you would study for an exam, you should also research the company you’re applying to before you start answering any application questions.

Who are this organisation’s customers, if any? What notable achievements have they had in the past? What are their company values?

Most of this information will be publicly available on their website. Having an understanding of an organisation’s mission, before you begin writing, will help you to tailor your responses to what they’re looking for.

By finding out a little bit more about the company, you can also make an informed decision about whether they’re right for you too.

While you're writing

Say what you mean

Application forms will sometimes have questions for you to answer. Remember, these are not here to trip you up. Your answers help a recruiter quickly gauge your personality, experience and written skills.

As many applications can be filled out online, there may be a word limit for each of your answers. Pay attention to this and use most of it. But be careful – don’t overcomplicate what you’re trying to say to try make it sound better. If you ramble, this might make a recruiter think you don’t know the answer.

Similarly, if your application form has space for a statement, treat this with even more care. The personal statement in support of your application is the most important part of any application form because it gives you an opportunity to explain exactly how you fit the job description. Make sure you are using examples that match the essential or desirable criteria – keep it as relevant as possible.

What is this question asking of you? What skills or experience is it asking you to demonstrate? Have you answered the question – or talked around it?

Make it personal

While recruiters want you to have certain skills and attributes, they also want to see if your personality will fit into their team.

It’s OK to inject personality into your responses. But keep in mind that personality alone will unlikely get you the job. Take time to research the company you’re applying for. If you’ve ever been a customer for that company, include that in your responses and use it to show why you want to work there.

Proofread – at least once

Proofreading your application before you send it is extremely important.

Imagine that you’re recruiting a copywriter to update your company’s website. An applicant has submitted their application to you, but they’ve repeatedly spelt the job role incorrectly or used other terms.

Does it look like they’ve read the job description? Do they come across as being thorough in their work? Does it look as though they’ve sent the same application form to many companies?

Some online applications are timed – and many employers won’t consider your application if it’s submitted after the deadline. Make sure you have everything you need to fill out the application form nearby before you begin. For example, your CV, the job description, your qualification certificates and your passport or driving licence.

Leave yourself plenty of time to review everything in your application at the end. If you know someone in your network who understands the application process, send it to them and ask for honest feedback. Send your application to a friend and ask them to identify any spelling mistakes. Read your responses out loud – does everything make sense?

You're not boasting

It’s a widely known fact that Scottish people sometimes struggle to talk about their good qualities. But there is no shame in knowing what you’re good at.

The key to selling yourself convincingly to a recruiter is knowing what your skills and strengths are. You’ll have picked up transferable skills throughout your life that employers will love to see. Knowing what yours are, and when you’ve used them in the past, will put you in a good position to talk about them in detail with an interested employer – at an interview for example.

If you haven’t already, use Skills Discovery to identify what skills you may have from your previous jobs and volunteering roles. The descriptions in your skills report will help you structure your answers in application forms, as well as identify gaps in your skills that you can potentially build on.

Some other articles you may find helpful

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