December 11, 2017, by Jack
Five Ways I Made It Past the Application Form
Jack Adams, second-year, computer science
Applying for jobs is hard work, but getting rejected at the application form stage is even harder. I’ve found that you can apply for 20 jobs that you don’t even care about, but you’ll still get that disgusting punched-in-the-gut feeling every time you open those generic rejection emails.
It can make you feel a bit worthless, like you weren’t even worth a quick email to tell you what you did wrong. And more importantly, there’s no way to know precisely what was wrong. Were you not qualified enough? Did you fill the application out incorrectly?
If you’re lucky enough to not have experienced a rejection email yet, here’s what they look like:
Here’s another more personal one I got recently, but it still put me in an awful mood.
I started getting them last year when I applied for internships in first year. At first I figured I wasn’t qualified enough for the roles anyway, so the rejections were understandable. But then I started applying again this summer, and as quickly as the applications rolled out, the rejections rolled in.
Clearly, I was doing it wrong.
Applying for degree-level roles is a lot more difficult than applying for part-time work in retail, and I needed to up my game. Until eventually I got from this:
Before I jump into the list, it’s worth mentioning a couple of things. First, the rejections never disappear completely. I’m yet to speak to anyone who never gets rejected, and the nature of my course means people tend to brag about these things. But they become infrequent, with practice. Also, some of these application form tips require a time commitment. There’s no way around that. Eventually you might get to the point where you can fill in most applications in 20 minutes, but first you have to get good at them, and that can take time. Sorry about that.
1. Follow application guides from Target Jobs
Target Jobs has plenty of advice for all stages of the application process, but one of my favourite features is the guides. They have written guides for many different graduate schemes detailing how to answer each question, and what the person assessing your application will be looking for.
For example, here’s one for the IBM grad scheme, and one for the Morgan Stanley internship scheme. This is great as often I find myself looking at strangely worded questions and having no idea how to answer them. If you can’t find a guide for the specific role, try a similar role at the same company as some questions will be common across all applications.
2. Get help at a careers advice drop-in session
These are good for three things. First and second, most applications I’ve seen recently ask for a CV and cover letter, along with filling in the long form and answering questions that you address on your CV anyway. Go to a drop in session and have a careers adviser take a look at your CV and cover letter. It takes ten minutes, and they will almost certainly find something you can improve.
You can also go there to discuss a particular application form, ask what kind of roles you can apply for with your degree, or how to improve you CV. For anything careers-related really, the drop-in sessions are a great first port of call. The times and locations for these can be found here
3. Get subject-specific advice online
It’s also important to get insights from people actually doing the careers you want to get into. The people who can give you specific answers to questions about working in a particular industry.
So, how did I find people to ask? I looked online: r/cscareerquestions has been a gold mine for finding computer science advice. I had my CV reviewed by actual software engineers and got plenty of advice I wouldn’t have been able to find at the university. A quick Google found this one for finance students – r/FinancialCareers – so you should have some luck no matter what your subject is.
4. Research the company you’re applying to (seriously)
It sounds obvious and stupid, but taking the time to look through the careers page of the company you’re applying to can be really useful.
When I was applying for the technology internship programme at Morgan Stanley, I watched a video with interviews from people who’d already completed the internship. They all kept mentioning how great it was to work in the same building as their clients, so I mentioned how that was a big draw for me when applying in my cover letter. At my interview, the recruiter mentioned how that had stood out to her. Doing your research pays off.
5. Be active on LinkedIn
It’s really that simple. LinkedIn, like any social media, is kind of addictive once you get your profile set up properly. I made mine in October and I now have over 100 ‘connections’. I’ve also been directly approached to apply for three different internships over LinkedIn, so it definitely works!
LinkedIn sends you a notification every time someone views your profile, and I often find a recruiter or an engineer from the company I apply to will view my profile a few days after I submit my application. LinkedIn is kind of like an extended CV, so it gives you a chance to show of all the great things about yourself that either don’t fit on, aren’t appropriate for, or can’t be expressed on your CV.