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How to write a strong application

Careers By Carole O'Neil, Managing Partner – 01 December 2021

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Carole O'Neil

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With the deadline fast approaching for our graduate vacancies, our thoughts turn to attracting the next generation of engineering talent to lead our business into the future. Competition for graduate roles is fierce, with scores of applications for each position expected over the next few months so, in this blog, our HR team shares its thoughts as to what makes a strong application. The team has reviewed thousands of applications over the years, and seeks to set out its “top tips” for graduates considering applying for roles in the industry.

Use your careers service: Most university careers service will provide you with advice and guidance on how to sell yourself effectively, whether in a CV or through the completion of a company specific application. It’s worth taking the time to speak to an adviser or attend a workshop.

Pay attention to detail: Technology is great! The advent of online applications means you can copy and paste answers from a bank of prepared responses to an application form in seconds. BUT….. as a recruiter, there are few things worse than receiving an application form or covering letter which contains reference to a competitor company. Take care with your responses, and proof read your application (or get a friend to do it for you) before submission!

Avoid “bulk” emails: If any employer asks you to complete an application form, there is usually a good reason for this. Trying to circumvent this process by emailing HR or recruitment teams direct looks lazy, particularly if you don’t take the time to tailor your email. A long list of company email addresses in the “to” bar looks lazy on your part. If you must send a bulk email at least use the “bcc” option and don’t refer to any one specific company in your covering letter. Even better, send a personalised email to a named contact, making reference to the (correct) company name, and explaining why you are interested in joining that particular firm.

Do your homework: Research the organisations you are interested in applying to. Find out what makes them tick, what their values are, what projects they have worked on recently. For instance, at Cundall, sustainability is not just a buzz word─it is an important part of our business and how we work and design. We are proud of the awards we have won for our work on sustainability, and we are interested in talking with candidates who share our values.

Avoid the “standard” response: Yes, you are probably completing a number of application forms and you may well see the same questions from a number of firms. However, we will be more impressed if your answers demonstrate that you have done your research, and if they are tailored to our particular business.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: Of course you want to present yourself in the best possible light on your application form or CV, but you should never, EVER lie. We have all seen The Apprentice, where candidates’ untruths and exaggerations always come back to bite them. You can expect any prospective employer to refer back to your CV throughout the recruitment process, as well as taking up references – gaps and untruths always come to light eventually!

Answer the question: Obvious? You’d be amazed how many applicants slip up. We ask specific questions on our application form because we are keen to find out about you and the skills and experience that you have. If you leave questions blank or add “N/A” we can only assume you have nothing to offer.

Let yourself shine through: Our people really are what makes our business great. We are interested in recruiting human beings, not robots, so use the application form as an opportunity to really sell yourself. Allow your passions and interests to shine through. Talk about any relevant work experience you may have and highlight your transferable skills – those acquired at university and through extra-curricular activities. And finally, remember that we will probably interview between six and eight people for each position we have available. This means that we decline around 30 applicants for each role, based on their application form alone. Spending time on this stage of the application is vital!

Find out more about Cundall.