Applying for jobs – a how-to guide

In this third blog in our employment series, we look at finding relevant job roles and how to apply for them.

In this four-part series, we explore the impact of being made redundant after coronavirus, along with losing your job after a cancer diagnosis, and provide a step-by-step guide on how to get back into the swing of things. In this blog, we will turn our attention to applying for jobs.

For advice on redundancy or losing your job due to COVID-19, see our first blog.

For advice on writing a CV, see our second blog.

Step 1 - Identifying resources to help you

Recruiters tend to be specialised in a certain field, salary bracket, location or vocation. For the vast majority of recruiters, they operate on what is known as a contingency basis. This means they do not get paid any commission up until the point of placing an applicant into a position. Due to the financial implications, they will be strategic with their time, and this can sometimes lead recruiters to prioritising candidates based on suitability. Sometimes these restrictions will be placed on the recruiters by their clients, with some companies becoming a lot more restrictive on candidate profiles via an agency. As they are paying anywhere from 10-25% of a candidate’s basic salary on successful placement, they will often expect a “perfect” candidate rather than being more flexible. This can lead to recruiters being hamstrung in certain areas; however, as an applicant, it can mean applying directly may result in an employer being more open to gaps.

Suggested resources for researching an industry:

  • LinkedIn – specifically articles. Proactively connect with individuals in your field
  • Company websites – again articles; however, these are a treasure trove of content. Always be aware of a positive bias on these materials
  • News sites – either niche or generic
  • Colleagues/focus groups – people are always a superb source of information, but make sure you validate it
  • Recruiters – a good recruiter will know a lot about their industry. They can give you insights you can’t find anywhere else

Some popular UK job sites:

  • Internal careers pages
  • Recruitment agency websites
  • Google for Jobs
  • Indeed
  • Reed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • Niche industry specific websites if you have learned competency
  • Company websites
  • Local authority websites
  • Facebook pages – some small employers will advertise via their own social media, not major sites

How to find the right recruiter for me

Never operate on a scattergun approach, and if you have competency and wish to go back into or continue in the same career pathway, it is highly recommended to engage a specialist recruiter in that field.

LinkedIn is a superb option, or a Google search on the career path will usually pull up some options. The largest recruiters in the UK are Hays, Michael Page/PagePersonnel and Reed; however, there are specialist or niche recruiters out there. Never discount a recruitment agency on size, but do be strategic in who you trust your details to. These individuals will be able to provide insights into market conditions, average salaries, interview tips and guidance, and can get you involved in opportunities which may not be available anywhere else.

What if I’m looking to start my career, or change industry?

If you are someone looking to start your career, or transition into an entirely new vocation, placing all of your job seeking hopes into a recruitment agency may not be the best course of action. As mentioned above, a vast majority of recruiters only get paid once they place an applicant, meaning they are restricted in the support they can give, and roles which require no previous experience are few and far between. Ensure you are maximising your chances by not just seeking external support, but also being proactive in seeking new opportunities within your chosen field.

What if I have been out of work for a long time?

For anyone who has had a long time out of employment, it can be difficult to re-adjust or know what to do. Step number one is to understand that the world of work could have changed dramatically since your last experience. Competency is never lost, but any technical skills may have diminished or no longer be relevant depending on workplace changes or improvements. It may mean that you have to take a step or two backwards in order to move forward again, effectively re-learning and reinforcing those skills which have been dormant for a bit of time. Be open to change, be open to opportunities—your diagnosis could have opened up a brand-new world of focus for you—but never forget the value you can bring to the workplace.

Step 2 – Researching roles

Key questions to consider whilst looking for a role

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my passions—how does it translate into work?
  • What is important to me? Flexibility, salary, team, location?
  • What level of responsibility do I want to have?
  • What type of company do I want to work for?
  • What adjustments, if any, would I need?
  • What work-life balance am I seeking?
  • What are my biggest skillsets?

A big misconception when researching companies is that it’s the depth of research that is important, not the breadth. No interviewer or company wants to have their website regurgitated to them, so make sure you go beyond the surface. What was the catalyst moment for you to want to apply or work for that company? What interests you about the company or role in particular? What is the background or history of the interviewer—can you research them? Awareness is not about simply knowing, it’s being able to apply that knowledge to a desired audience or for a desired outcome. The classic question of “why do you want to work for us?” is a staple of many interviews, so providing an answer which encompasses something pertinent to you and is far removed from the normal answer of size of company, location etc. will really make you stand out and aid your chances of success.

Step 3 – Online applications

Some employers will require you to submit an application form either as a replacement to your CV or alongside your CV. Dependent on company, some may operate on a “blind” process which means your CV is not reviewed, and your progression is reliant on the scores you generate from each stage, usually coupled with online tests or psychometrics. Others can simply use your application answers as a longer form of opening statement, designed to see how a candidate engages with questions as a form of screening tool.

Prepare for these as you would any other application. Take the time to personalise your responses, make it relevant to the company and add in any information you may think is relevant. Recruiters can see copied and pasted answers, and in some cases may even be able to see the time it took you to complete each stage. Take this as a platform or opportunity to demonstrate your suitability and competency for the role, and tailor your answers to the job or company at hand.

Lastly, and crucially, thoroughly read all stages and questions to ensure your answers are relevant, and double check everything you have submitted.

Competency questions in application forms

It is rare for companies to ask interview style questions as part of an application process, but it is not entirely unheard of. Usually in these circumstances, companies will utilise what is called competency-based questions, effectively questions geared to use your prior experience as a pre-determinator of your future success.

These can typically be characterised by “show me, tell me, give me, demonstrate”. For these types of questions, always remember a technique called the S.T.A.R technique, listed below. This is not a requirement, but many job seekers will use this style to ensure they thoroughly answer a question and give the best answer they can.

  • S – Situation – Describe the situation, or what you set out to achieve
  • T – Tasks – Describe the tasks that were required in order to resolve the situation, the when, where and with whom
  • A – Action – Describe what action was taken, making clear what your own contribution was (not the group or team)
  • R – Result – Describe the result – were the objectives met? What did you learn/gain from being in that situation?

This technique will be explored more in part four of this blog series.

Online tests

Online tests for roles aren’t too prevalent in the UK; however, they are being used more and more for certain industries or positions. The highest concentration of online tests tends to happen for entry-level roles whereby competency is not a pre-requisite for the role; however, some companies have started using them across all hires they make. Should you have to sit any online tests, the first step is to work out what is being asked of you.

Some online tests are designed to test basic skills of a candidate, such as functional, numerical or critical reasoning skills. Others are designed with behaviours in mind, potentially through exercises which require you to rank ways of engaging with or responding to a chosen scenario. These will usually be tied into either the company or role specific values, strengths or behaviours, so understanding not only what you could be sitting but also what the company is asking is a major factor in success. There are a wealth of online resources designed to help support applicants through these, and usually a quick Google search will unearth a lot of supporting advice relevant to the company, role or process.

Step 4 - Follow up and feedback

Once you have made an application, good practice is to follow up your application. The current climate brings its own challenges, and companies may be slower to reply than they usually are. If you have applied and have not heard back within a five working day period, email the recruitment team or hiring manager to politely ask for any feedback they may have on your application.

Unfortunately, some companies will not provide feedback, or will simply offer a brief rejection email if you are not shortlisted. This can be incredibly disheartening for a job seeker and is an unfortunate negative of looking for a new position. However, it is a shared experience and is not exclusive to your own search. Keep a positive mindset, understand every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes’, and keep focussing on securing the right position for you.

Further information

For support following redundancy, please contact our Welfare Officer using our online form, or by emailing

Popular UK job websites

The following are the biggest websites and they will allow you to search for what you are looking for:

You may also wish to look for jobs in the public sector. To do this, you can look on your local council’s website, libraries, schools and hospital. Flexible hours and part time are also offered by public sector employers.

Computer and online skills

Futurelearn offer a free course for CV and cover letter writing:

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