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Presenting your skills when applying for jobs.
Strong job applications match your own skills, experience and qualities to those relevant to the job. There’s a process on how to do this.
After taking yourself through this process you’ll be ready to tell employers about your relevant skills in a job application form, CV (curriculum vitae) and covering letter or personal statement.
If you need support in identifying your core skills, take a look at the plan your career section on our website.
Matching yourself to the requirements of the job
Once you've analysed a job advertisement, and decided to make an application, it’s time to dig down into the detail.
Most employers will provide more detailed guidance to support an application such as a detailed job description and a person specification which outlines the key skills, experience, qualifications and qualities they’re looking for. Within the job description and person specification criteria are usually flagged ‘essential' or 'desirable'. Aim to cover all 'essential' requirements and as many 'desirable' requirements as possible.
Articulating your skills and experience to meet the person specification
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the section of an application form often headed ‘How do your skills and experience meet the criteria in the person specification?' or ‘Further information to support your application’. We’ve provided a process that will help you to make a start. If you’re using a CV instead of completing an application form, you can use this process to guide you when putting together a covering letter that accompanies your CV or a personal statement.
Here's an example of how to match your experience with the key requirements for a job. In this example, the key requirements from the person specification are listed and the applicant has provided evidence of what they have to offer the employer.
Think about a variety of sources to draw examples/evidence from including your Open University (OU) studies, your work history, your role within family life and your personal interests.
Be a STAR: presenting examples to back up your skills
You might be expected to answer some competency-based questions asking you to talk about a skill or personality trait and a time when you've used it. For example, you could be asked to "describe a time when you've successfully used communication skills" or "provide an example of a situation when you dealt with conflict in your team."
Employers ask competency-based questions to see if you’ve got the skills and traits to succeed in the role. If you can prove that you’ve used a skill in the past then you will be able to use it again in the future.
Frame your answers and examples using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) which keeps your responses concise and well structured. This is also useful preparation for a job interview.
Think of an example you want to use, then apply the STAR technique …
- S ituation - Set the scene. Describe the situation or problem. Make it relevant to the person specification.
- T ask - Outline the task required to solve the issue or problem.
- A ction - Explain what you actually did. How and when you did it, the reasons for the choices you made and the key things that you did to overcome the issue or problem.
- R esult - Describe the outcome and the difference it made.
Take a look at our understanding job adverts page for more info on tailoring your application to match the job requirements.
Once you have drafted an application, read it. Then read it again with a critical eye in a similar way as you might approach a study assignment. Consider the following checklist:
- How does the text 'flow'?
- Is everything relevant to the person specification?
- Does the text sound like you?
- Don't forget the finer details.
Start by reading it out loud. Think about the style. Keep sentences or bullet points concise, avoid repetition, take out anything that doesn't show you meet the person specification. Ask a friend or family member to read it through to check they recognise this as being about you. You may be able to adjust the style to make sure it reflects your personality. Correct spelling and grammar; they show an eye for detail and the ability to communicate well. If these are areas you struggle with, enlist the help of someone who can check through of the whole application for you.
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Demonstrate You Fit the Job Criteria
Throughout the application process, you should aim to demonstrate evidence of the skills and qualities specified in the job description and person specification. If these are not provided, or if you are making a speculative application, then create a list of the skills and qualities you expect the organisation is looking for (based on your wider research about who they are and the type of work they do).
You could create this list from your knowledge of the sector, by reading the skills sections of the sector briefings on this site , by networking with professionals, or by reading adverts for similar positions.
Choose examples from your life
Having made the list of job criteria, you should then make a note of examples that demonstrate you have the skills or experience they are looking for.
You can demonstrate these by using examples from your work experience, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and academic experiences. Try to find examples from a range of activities.
- Give specific examples and evidence – don’t generalise
- Think of evidence that you can quantify: how much, how many, how often
- Vary your use of examples, and draw from different areas of your life
- Don't forget to include weekend, part-time or holiday jobs. These often demonstrate skills recruiters are looking for eg: strong communication skills and the ability to work under pressure, with a wide range of people.
- Draw on your most recent relevant experiences and achievements wherever possible.
An Example of the Process
Sample job description, researcher - the abc group graduate programme.
We are specialist advisers to corporate owners and high net worth individuals. We have built a strong reputation for working with companies and individuals, to enhance their business and personal finances. This has been achieved through the development and design of highly specialised services for our clients.
As a researcher you will work closely with and support our client advisory teams, conducting in-depth research and due diligence to help them provide specialist and comprehensive advice to our clients.
- Achieved (or predicted) a 2:1 or above in any degree discipline
- Very strong written and verbal communication skills
- Ability to work well in a team environment
- Strong attention to detail
- Ability to multi-task and manage workload and responsibilities
- Interest in business and finance
- Good working knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite
- Written: Author of college bi-weekly Arts Newsletter; social media manager for college drama society; weekly essays and dissertation
- Verbal: Private tutoring GCSE students; school debating team; presentation of 2nd year project
- Member of college drama society, working with cast members and technicians to stage annual summer play
- Vacation job at restaurant, working with team of 6 other waiters to ensure smooth running of food service
- Worked with team of 4 to advise client (local cafe owner) on how to increase number of customers as part of the Oxford Strategy Challenge (TOSCA) programme
- Editing bi-weekly college Arts Newsletter; writing and editing drama society social media posts; vacation job, ensuring customer orders are correct and reconciling till receipts
- In vacations, balance restaurant job with private GCSE tutoring; research and write x 2 essays per week alongside college drama society responsibilities and training and competing as member of college 2nd XI Football team.
- Member of OU Finance Society; took part in Careers Service programmes "Insight into Strategy & Management" and "The Oxford Strategy Challenge" (TOSCA)
- As part of TOSCA project, recorded survey responses using Excel; presented findings and recommendations to client via PowerPoint presentation.
Include these and other relevant examples when writing your CV, cover letter, application form and at the interview. At interview, don't be afraid to make reference to examples used in your written application - just make sure you expand on the information and make it relevant to the question.
Structuring responses: the STAR technique
In cover letters, application forms and interviews, you may find the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) helps you to frame a clear structure when providing an example experience.
- Describe a situation (very brief)
- Explain the task you had to do
- Set out clearly, specifically and with detail – the actions you took. Make sure it's clear what your specific responsibilities/tasks were
- And finally, describe the result - quantify if appropriate eg: increased member attendance numbers by 45%
In written applications, you can convey your relevant skills and experience with impact by using action verbs. These can help make an application stand out, particularly if you start bullet-points with them. Here are some examples:
Accomplished • Achieved • Administered • Advised • Advocated • Analysed • Assembled • Authorised • Awarded • Budgeted • Captained • Chaired • Coached • Completed • Conducted • Co-ordinated • Counselled • Created • Decided • Delivered • Demonstrated • Designed • Determined • Developed • Devised • Directed • Discovered • Earned • Edited • Employed • Enabled • Encouraged • Engineered • Enjoyed • Ensured • Established • Evaluated • Examined • Expanded • Explained • Facilitated • Founded • Gained • Generated • Handled • Identified • Implemented • Improved • Increased • Initiated • Instituted • Instructed • Interviewed • Invented • Launched • Led • Managed • Marketed • Maximised • Mediated • Negotiated • Obtained • Operated • Organised • Oversaw • Performed • Planned • Prepared • Presented • Prioritised • Produced • Promoted • Raised • Ran • Recognised • Recommended • Reconciled • Recruited • Represented • Responsible • Saved • Set up • Simplified • Solved • Supervised • Targeted • Transformed
If You Lack Experience
If you feel you lack experience and don’t have time before an application to gain more, don’t panic! Think about relevant transferable skills - you may have gained these as part of your course/studies
For example, you could:
- Mention particularly relevant subjects/modules; extended essay/dissertation/thesis; field work and other research projects.
- Highlight the tutorial system: ability to see both sides of an argument; thinking on your feet; explaining your views to others; presenting information; and coping with pressure.
- Remember skills gained from personal study: time management; research skills; analytical and critical thinking; identifying key points; summarising/synthesising information; structuring arguments.
If you're still struggling to find examples to demonstrate you fit the job criteria.....Pause and reflect about whether this is the right job for you to apply to at this time.
Don't forget, you can use the job criteria as a guide for skills you may need to develop for future applications to the sector and/or similar roles. It may also be a better use of your time to focus on applying to other roles, where there is a closer alignment between your experience and the job description.
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Write a successful job application
Employers have countless job applications to sift through, so dashing off some answers and hoping for the best won't cut it. You'll need to carefully prepare and demonstrate sought-after skills
While for some jobs you will be asked to send a CV and cover letter, many graduate roles require you to fill in an application form instead.
You'll need to complete most job application forms online via the company's website, but paper forms are still accepted in some cases.
How do I prepare for making an application?
When you find a job you'd like to apply for, don't start filling in the application form straight away. Take some time to prepare, as this will make the task much easier.
Gather together all the information you'll need, including details of your academic achievements, employment history and contact information for your referees.
You'll make a great first impression if you do your research - find out the aims of the company you're applying for, the sector they operate in and who their main competitors are. Browsing their social media channels is a good place to start.
Study the job description so you can refer back to the specific skills and qualities the employer is looking for as you complete the form.
Finally, read the instructions carefully to ensure that you complete the correct sections of the form and know when the deadline is.
What information should I include on an application form?
The application form should make the employer want to meet you to find out more and give you an opportunity to demonstrate your skills. Typical sections of an application form include:
- Personal information - give basic details, such as name and email address.
- Educational background - provide information on your academic achievements, including the institutions you've attended, courses taken and qualifications gained.
- Work experience - list your employment history and describe your main duties and responsibilities in each role, emphasising those most closely related to the job you're applying for.
- Competency-based questions - give specific examples of times when you've demonstrated the skills required for the role. Avoid being vague, and don't waste space writing about skills you have that aren't relevant - see example questions and answers for help.
- Personal statement - write a well-structured, well-argued case that you are the right person for the job, again referring to the person specification set out in the advert.
Don't be afraid to sell yourself. Demonstrate your passion for the company or job and any past achievements you can relate to the role. When writing your answers, always consider what skills employers want and how you can show that you have them.
Most application forms will also require you to provide details of at least two people who can provide references. You may sometimes be asked to attach a CV and cover letter as well.
Never lie on your job application form. Not only is this dishonest, but there can be more serious consequences - for example, altering your classification from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is considered degree fraud and could result in a prison sentence.
How do I fine-tune my application?
Refining your writing style will improve the quality of your application. Employers are looking for confident applicants who can convince them of their capabilities - demonstrate your suitability by giving short, to the point and positive answers.
You should also:
- use power verbs such as transformed, delivered, achieved and inspired
- choose descriptive words like effective, consistent, determined and adaptable
- focus on answering the questions and avoid waffling or being too vague
- select appropriate examples of your achievements from past experience
- demonstrate enthusiasm for the role
- ensure your spelling and grammar is correct.
Ask somebody else, such as a careers adviser, parent or friend, to read through your application form. A second pair of eyes will help pick out errors that you may not have spotted.
Do I need to disclose personal information in a job application?
Many graduate employers are committed to promoting diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace and the Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Nine characteristics are protected by the Act:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnerships
- pregnancy and maternity
- sex (gender)
- sexual orientation.
When making an application, it's important to remember that you're not obliged to give details of any of the above characteristics and that it's unlawful for recruiters to discriminate against applicants on these grounds. You might be asked to provide these details on a confidential equal opportunities form, usually the last page of an application, or on a separate form. This is used solely for monitoring the employer's commitment to equality and diversity. It shouldn't be seen by people involved in recruitment or used in the selection process. If you'd prefer not to answer some or all of these questions, there is usually a 'prefer not to say' option you can select.
While there's no legal obligation for you to disclose personal information to your employer, it's entirely up to you if you choose to do so. If you don't feel comfortable disclosing on an application form there will be other opportunities to do so, such as during an interview, after a job offer has been made or once you're in the workplace.
For example, if you want to disclose a disability at the application stage, our example cover letter shows you how. If you'd like to disclose that you're trans during an interview, you could ask what policies are in place around the treatment of trans employees or ask if there are any groups of initiatives you could get involved in.
You can make a complaint if you feel you have been discriminated against during the recruitment process. In the first instance, it might be useful to visit Acas , an independent public body that provide free, impartial advice on workplace issues.
How do I submit my application form?
You'll complete the majority of job application forms online. On most employers' websites registering your details means you can save your work as you go, meaning you don't have to finish the form in one sitting.
Typing your answers into a Word document, before copying and pasting them into the application form, is easier than typing directly into the web browser. You'll need to double-check your formatting as you copy and paste - for instance, if you've gone over the word count, the online form may simply cut off the ends of your answers - but going about your application this way means you won't risk losing your progress if your logged-in session times out.
Print the completed application form out and read it through before you submit, as it's much easier to spot spelling and grammatical errors on a printed page than on screen.
Finally, ensure you have attached any requested documents, such as your CV, and then submit your application. You should receive email confirmation that it has been received.
What happens if my application is successful?
Employers receive hundreds of applications per job and if they've chosen to progress yours on to the next step you should feel proud of yourself.
Depending on the role and employer you may be asked to complete a series of online exercises such as psychometric tests . Before inviting you to an in-person interview some recruiters may set up a telephone or video interview. Others may invite you to attend an assessment centre .
To find more advice on how to handle this stage of you application, see interview tips .
How do I respond to job rejection?
Whether the rejection comes at the application form stage or after an interview, everyone experiences it at some point. While it's disheartening and can have an impact on your confidence, especially if it happens a few times, the important thing to remember is that many others are in the same position.
You should email the company within a week of the rejection, politely thanking them for their time and asking that they retain your details for any future opportunities. Ask for feedback - the majority of employers will be happy to provide this. Enquire about what you did well and where your application fell down, as this can help you approach the next one more confidently.
If you're struggling to get to the interview stage, you need to develop an action plan of achievable mini-goals, such as:
- improving your CV
- gaining extra work experience
- using social media to job hunt
- meeting and connecting with new people.
Find out more
- Search for graduate jobs .
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Make your CV stand out to employers by showing them your skills and how you’ve used them.
What's on this page?
- Figure out your skills
Identify skills employers want
Top 5 skills listed in job adverts, compare your skills to what employers want, what skills should i put in my cv, writing your cv can prepare you for an interview, find out more.
If you’re not sure what your skills are, your first step is to identify them.
You gain skills from life experiences, such as paid and unpaid jobs, interests, hobbies, playing sport, belonging to organisations or school.
- What are skills?
To find out what skills employers are looking for, you can:
- ask employers directly
- read job adverts carefully
- learn about employability skills.
Employability skills are seven personal skills or attitudes employers say are essential for their workplaces.
- Skills employers are looking for
You can get the top five skills listed in job adverts from everyday life, not just work experience.
When you read an advert, list the skills it mentions. When you know what skills employers are looking for, compare your skills to these.
Assess your ability in each skill as accurately as you can. Ask yourself if you have used this skill a little or a lot.
For each skill, write a sentence showing how you’ve used that skill. Then write a sentence showing how you could use that skill in the job you would like.
The skills in your CV should include skills from the adverts that interest you.
Look at this example:
"We're looking for a conscientious self-starter, proficient in Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, who works well with others and can learn new computer systems easily."
The key words are:
- proficient in Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop
- willingness to learn.
Show how you used skills
For each skill on your CV, include an example that shows how you used or developed it.
You could write:
Conscientious I collected and managed money from my school’s 40 Hour Famine fundraiser.
Self-starter Ran a coffee kiosk. Managed and counted the till takings, opened and closed kiosk.
Teamwork Worked with the school trustees to make decisions about school issues. I played netball on a school team for four years and was captain in Year 13.
Willingness to learn I updated my Microsoft skills (Excel and Word) through online courses.
Make your experience stand out
Employers may get many job applications from people who have, for example, 'good communications skills' or who are 'flexible'.
By showing how you can communicate well and be flexible, your CV can make a stronger impression.
Good communication skills Can follow instructions and ask questions when I need to. I'm confident in front of an audience. I was a member of my school’s debating team, took part in school drama productions, and won a regional speech competition.
Flexibility I usually work after school, but I've taken on later shifts to cover staff shortages.
List technical skills
Employers may be looking for specific skills and recruiters may search for keywords in databases. Be specific when you list your technical skills.
For example, write:
- Expert knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office.
- Good knowledge of social media platforms and WordPress.
- Class 2 driver’s licence with F endorsement.
Choose strong words
When you write your examples:
- Use 'action' words such as achieved, awarded, organised, led, assisted, managed, increased, developed, built or won
- Use positive words to describe yourself and your achievements such as accurate, willing to learn, organised, hardworking, dependable, motivated or creative.
As well as helping you write a stronger CV, writing about your experiences will prepare you to talk about them if you get a job interview.
- Employability skills are the heart of the future
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Updated 27 Jul 2023
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