How do employers assess application forms?

I’ve been looking at quite a few application forms recently. I often see talented students fail to deal with the application process in the best way. Experience which should have secured them at least an interview is not displayed and the application hits the reject pile. Here are my top tips to avoid that.

Understand the process

Is there a person specification?

standard300Typically larger employers want to conduct a recruitment process which is equitable and transparent. They establish processes to make sure that all applications are assessed fairly and some set out a person specification. Often they want a team player with great attention to detail, resilience, good analytical skills and quite a lot more besides. If you’re to secure an interview for the job you need to address this and prove to them that you have the skills they want. Look item by item at what they ask for and in your application state that you have the skill and then explain the context in which you learnt it.

Don’t just say:

“I have great IT skills”.

Go with something like:

“My IT skills are excellent, I have used MS office programs extensively while carrying out my degree studies and during my work experience at xxxx I had the chance to use a database; I taught myself WordPress and Photoshop in order to be able to update the Law Society website and blog.”

Typically employers may score your application against their published criteria, you are not going to get many points for bald assertions, as soon as you provide contextual evidence your answer improves enormously and so does your score!

Don’t just ignore bits of the person specification which are problematic

Try to answer every single part of a detailed person specification. Employers are likely to score you somewhere between 0 and 5 for each of the attributes they ask for. At the end of the process the points will be added up and those with the highest number will be interviewed. Every criterion you ignore will score you zero points. If you can’t meet it exactly, but can say something relevant you aren’t going to get “full marks” but you may get some. It could be the difference between getting an interview and not.

For example if the job asks for the LPC and you haven’t got it you may score some points by talking about pro bona legal advice you have given, or work experience you have had in solicitors’ offices.

Show your motivation!

A goal without a plan is just a wish! quote printed on an old typewriter.For whose benefit are you applying?

Stupid question, obviously for your benefit! No. That’s not how employers see it. They’re looking for someone who is going to be a benefit to their business. Telling them how useful the job will be from your point of view isn’t particularly compelling to them! You’d probably be surprised to know just how often I read applications which are something like this:

“I’m looking for a legal career in a large firm doing commercial work but that’s not working out too well at the moment so I thought I could work for you for a while, learn what’s it’s like to be in a solicitors’ office, make all my mistakes where it won’t matter much and then move on to what I really want to do.”

I exaggerate of course, but not much! You need to persuade the employer that you are going to be making a great contribution to its business and that you’re motivated to do so. Make it clear that you want the job for its own sake and not for an ulterior motive.

Answer the question

solution graphic300This sounds really obvious but somehow it does seem to be a problem! Don’t try to second guess what you think the question might be about. A question which asks what extra-curricular activities you have been involved in does not include any requirement for you to write about the practice areas of the employer law firm! When you are asked what skills you will bring to the job you don’t need to write about the awards an employer has won. Keep referring back to what the question asks, just as you would when you write an essay. Planning your answer out carefully can really help you make a compelling case for yourself.

Get someone to proof read for you

We all find it difficult to see mistakes which we have made. Always try to get someone with good English language skills and an eye for detail to proofread your application.


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