Common job application errors and how to avoid them!

If you’re a student it’s likely you’re completing job applications at the moment, either for a summer position or graduate job. Applications may be as simple as filling out your personal details, or may be more taxing and require a CV, cover letter and completion of motivational and industry-related questions. Regardless of the format, the application form is your first step in the recruitment process, and it’s essential you sail through this stage. This blog provides information on the most common job application errors and what you can do to avoid them to make sure your application stays in the ‘Yes’ pile!

Error Number 1 – Not answering the question

One of the most common mistakes I see when reading job applications is that people fail to answer the questions properly. Often this is due to not taking time to read through the question fully, resulting in an answer that covers only half of the question or focuses on the wrong elements. If you’re rushing to complete the form then it’s easy to misread the question, allowing your mind to jump to assumptions about what’s being asked. Again this will lead to an answer that is not targeted to the question.

How to avoid – Read each question carefully and make sure you understand exactly what is being asked. If there is more than one part to the question then make sure you answer all elements. For example, if the question asks ‘Why are you interested in a career in law, and in working for us specifically?’ then you want to make sure both of these aspects (motivation for law in general and the company in particular) are answered.

Error Number 2 – Not keeping to the word limit

This mistake can mean that you’re either writing too much and going over the word limit, or not including enough detail in your answer and finishing well below the suggested word limit. Both of these will harm your application as it demonstrates an inability either to write concisely or to include a detailed enough answer.

How to avoid – take note of the word limit and plan your answer accordingly. The word limit is a tool you can use to guide the level of detail you need to include in your answer. If you go way over the limit in your draft then you know you need to cut down your answer so make sure every sentence is relevant to the question. If you’re way under the limit then you need to re-consider the question and think about any further, relevant content to include. Your answer should never exceed the word limit (not even by one word!) and should come no less than 10% below.

Error Number 3 – Not structuring your answers

Many application forms will ask some form of competency-based questions, for example, ‘Tell us about a time you have worked as part of a successful team. What was your role and how was the team successful?’ All too often, we see the word ‘team’ and just start writing about all our experiences of working well in a team. Without a structure, it’s so easy to waffle and end up with an answer that fails to impress.

How to avoid – for competency-based questions, use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) method for your answer to ensure you provide a successful answer. Firstly, provide brief background details to set the scene, sharing information on the specific situation and task in which you were part of a successful team. The most important element of the answer focuses on your actions – what did you do in your role to contribute to the success? Lastly, you need to include details of the results of the team effort – how were you successful and how was this measured? Following this format for all competency-based questions will ensure you write concisely and provide all the information the employer is looking for.

Error Number 4 – Spelling and grammar mistakes

I spend a lot of time checking application documents for students, and I can honestly say that I have found spelling and/or grammar mistakes in nearly all of them! Basic punctuation and grammar errors are a big turn off for employers as it demonstrates your inability or lack of motivation to check your document for errors, the opposite of what employers are looking for!

How to avoid – really simply, you need to check and then double-check your document. Many online forms do not have spell check tools available so you need to print out your draft answers and read through them to check for any errors. I would always recommend you ask someone else (like a Careers Adviser!) to look over your application to provide feedback on both the content of your answers and the spelling and grammar aspect.

Error Number 5 –Not following instructions

Again, this is something I see often and is a big turn-off for employers. Often, instructions will be clearly stated on the application form or company website, for example asking candidates to complete the form by a specific date or to include a one page cover letter with their application form. These details are often over-looked by applicants and again demonstrate to the employer a lack of attention to detail and inability to follow instructions. Not a good start!

How to avoid – read and follow all instructions provided! If the form asks you to attach a two page CV with your application then do so. Make sure you know the deadline for the application and get your completed documents in well in advance of this date.

So there we go, the most common job application mistakes and how to avoid them. Keep these tips in mind when completing your next application to ensure you get through to the next stage in the process instead of falling at the first hurdle!