Preparing for your future

How to complete Application Forms successfully…

Joanna Harris, Careers Advisor at Cardiff University tells you the tried and tested ways to succeed on your application form and help you get an interview…


Are you at the section of your application where there’s a big box or several boxes, all asking you to talk about yourself, your skills and/or your experiences? Do you know what to write? Do you just write generally about yourself, guessing what the employer is looking for? Or, do you do your research and tell the employer what they want to hear?



For every volunteer placement, part time job, internship, graduate role, the employer will always give you some idea of what skills they want their employee to have. Before you start writing read over the:

  • job advert
  • job description
  • person specification
  • Website, looking at their ‘about us’ section, looking for their ‘values’ and if they have a section on the role you’re applying for.

Make a list

You may only have access to one of the above, but read through these and pick out the abilities, skills and experiences the employer is looking for i.e. written communication skills, teamwork, problem solving, working in a lab. List down all the abilities, skills and experiences and treat them like a list of questions – I like to use Word for this, then copy and paste it into the application form later.

List pic

Structuring your answers – STAR

With your list you need to write an answer for each, ranging from one-two up to five-ten sentences, this will vary depending on the amount of characters you’re allowed. Structure each paragraph following the STAR approach:


  • Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish, be specific.
  • Use recent examples from your education, work experience and personal life.

Action you took:

  • Describe the action YOU took. Even in teamwork, say what YOU did.

Results you achieved:

  • Make it positive:  what happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

For example, this could be an answer for problem solving and decision making: “My job as sales co-ordinator involved making decisions about which of the team was to work in which area and what to do about if appointments were cancelled.  As a retail assistant in charge of a department, I had constantly to solve problems as they arose.  As an English teacher in Romania I had to decide on the progress of the pupils and how best to engage them in their learning.”

For more information and tips on writing application forms, click here: Career Central

thumbnail_People STAR pic

Second draft

Once you have gotten your first draft written, ask a trusted person to read over it for you, it’s easier for a fresh pair of eyes will spot grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes.  Take some time to think about your examples, are they best ones? Do you have more relevant and specific examples? Have you answered the point correctly?

Top tip: DO NOT ASSUME the employer will read between the lines of your examples, you have to TELL THEM, be SPECIFIC and give an EXAMPLE.

Once you are happy, copy and paste your answer(s) into the application and complete anymore sections needed. Then submit!


Remember, do your research, find out what the employer wants from you. Make a list, treat it like questions and use STAR to structure a paragraph answer for each. Don’t assume, be specific. Get someone to look over your application and write a second, maybe third draft.

Good luck! If you need any more support please pop into the Careers at 51a Park Place. You can reach me on Twitter at: @JoannaCareers


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Best wishes,
Joanna Harris, Careers Advisor, Careers and Employability.

Joanna Picture

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