Applications that Stand Out From the Crowd

Melanie Wortham, Graduate Careers Adviser offers her advice on Applications …

During our Graduate Fortnight we have seen many employers taking stands at our careers fair and delivering workshops on employability skills. But exactly what sort of graduate are employers looking for this year? How can a graduate make an application stand out?

Applications take a long time to complete as many of you will know.  You will need to demonstrate all those key employability skills that are much talked about such as analytical skills, decision making, numeracy, IT, creativity and commercial awareness.  At Careers & Employability we know how hard it can be to think back to your studies and work experience to identify good examples to use as evidence in your applications.  Answering complex, competency based questions can take an age, and then at the end of it, you can be left wondering whether your examples are strong enough to set you apart from the crowd!

Think outside the Box
Don’t be afraid to use non-work examples if they demonstrate the competency required. For example, demonstrating commercial awareness is vital to BT and at their Careers Advisers update session in Sept 2012, they mentioned that a graduate could answer the commercial awareness question well on the application form, even without relevant work experience, for example, by explaining how they negotiated cheaper car insurance.

If you need a bit of help in the initial stages of completing applications, then do book an appointment with a Careers Adviser. If you have already graduated just go online to and follow the links. For current students just go to the booking system at

Also check out our Applications booklet on the careers website, within Career Central. Graduates can download this from the graduate page.

Once you have come up with your good examples of competencies,  it’s very tempting to cut and paste your answer from one application to another  – especially if the questions really do look  similar.

But Beware!!

One Size doesn’t fit all
Yes, it’s important to use your best examples, but do your research. Organisations who operate in the same sector can be very different in terms of their culture and values.  

An answer might work very well for one company, but another may have been looking for key words, and a style that you have not used.  

Different Cultures and Values
Look at the company website for strategies, priorities, and values. You can often pick out key words such as
“a sustainable approach to all its projects” (Arup)
listening and taking action” (Marks and Spencer)
our brand is the most valuable thing we own” (Enterprise rent-a-car).

There are real clues here as to what’s important to the organisation so try reviewing your examples through the eyes of the possible recruiter and checking whether your examples reflect the organisation’s  values and language.  Organisations will often put case studies on their websites featuring their new graduates.  This can give you a good insight into  the type of person the organisation wants to recruit.

So, taking extra time to think about the words and style employers use could really set your application apart from the bog standard applications that recruiters see all the time.

Remember that it’s the quality not the quantity of applications that’s important!Last year BT received several applications from Cardiff University graduates, but the majority were rejected at the application stage, so think – have you  really demonstrated what the employer is looking for?

Talk to People in the Know
For a real insight into an organisation the best thing to do is:
Talk to people in the know! – If you don’t have a contact in that organisation, then see if any of your friends, family, friends of partners, friends of family do. If not, then be bold.  If a phone number is given for further information on the position  – ring it.  Even if a number if not provided, find it yourself and use your initiative to speak to someone about the role. Over the years, many employers I have spoken to said this made a real difference and gave proactive applications an advantage as it showed a genuine interest in the organisation. Don’t forget to highlight your visit in a covering letter or in your  application.

Make the most of Careers Fairs – If you are visiting other careers fairs around the country, then make sure you speak to the organisations to which you are currently applying. . On subsequent  applications  you can  then say how this contact influenced your decision in applying. It really does show that you have made the effort to do your research rather than merely searching the company website pages.

And Finally – What is my motivation for applying?
A couple of comments from employers  at a recent graduate fair which just goes to show how important your motivation is when  applying for a position:
Be genuine – “we can spot a fake”
Show us that you want it – “and tell us why”. 

Good luck, Melanie.

Melanie Wortham         







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