Applying for jobs usually involves some kind of application form. They might be fairly straightforward and ask you to list all your all your exam grades and previous roles, or they might be a bit more quirky and want you to tell them what kind of biscuit you’d be and why*. What’s going on?

Writing jobs applications can really take the biscuit.
Writing jobs applications can really take the biscuit.

Jenny Woolacott-Scarr, Career Zone Support Officer looks at the dos and don’ts of application forms.


  • Give clear, concise answers using the STAR technique The R is really important as you need to provide evidence of your successes. I always think of STAR like telling a joke, and R is the killer punchline that everyone’s waiting for, don’t leave it out.
  • Personality counts, so be yourself. They’re employing you, not a robot; show you have a life outside of your studies. It’s unlikely you’ll have a ton of experience, so they’re looking for your raw talent and ability, and life outside your studies shows us who are.
  • Employers love facts and figures. Imagine two students run the same marathon for charity and both include it in their job applications. Student 1 writes “I trained for and ran a marathon.” But Student 2 writes “I trained for and ran the 2022 Bristol Marathon raising over £500 for Cancer Research UK, demonstrating my commitment, resilience and dedication.” It’s the same event, but which one sounds more impressive?

‘Employers love facts and figures.’

  • If there’s a word limit try and write up to it as much as possible, no one wants to interview someone who can’t think of anything to say about themselves or the job.
  • When you talk about your work experience it’s not just what you did, it’s the relevant transferable skills like teamwork, time management and leaderships that employers are interested in. Don’t be subtle, tell them clearly what you can bring to a role and relate the skills you talk about to those in the job description and person specification.
  • Show the company that you’ve researched them, the role and the sector, but go beyond what’s on their website. Employers want you to go the extra mile.
  • Every employer thinks they’re different (and better) than the competition. Evidence you know what sets them apart from the crowd. Dig deep, do they have a new CEO? What are there plans for the company and how can you help them meet their objectives?
  • Answer the question you’re asked – if you try and avoid it they’ll notice. If you’re stuck, think about it from the employer’s point of view, they’ll only ask you a question that’s going to help them decide whether you’re worth interviewing or not. (This is where biscuit style questions come in – how do you react to a question where there’s no right answer? And what thought processes do you go through to get there?)
  • Demonstrate that you really want to work for the company, show your passions and enthusiasm by making your application as good as possible.

‘How do you react to a question where there’s no right answer? And what thought processes do you go through to get there?’

Do and Don’t… I get asked ‘how many job applications should I make?’ We say, do apply for as many as you can, but don’t apply for so many that the quality of your applications suffer, and/or that it impacts on your academic work and/or your own mental and physical wellbeing.


  • Write over the word limit (if there is one). Most jobs will need you to create some kind of reports or documents, and brevity is always appreciated.
  • Poor spelling and grammar could ruin your chances, some employers have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule.
  • Don’t forget to show your academic successes from Exeter, being at Uni is a huge part of of your life and professional development, and employers want to hear about it.
  • Your voluntary roles might be just as important (or more so) than your paid work, employers don’t care at this stage, they just want you to tell them about your skills and experience.
  • Don’t be shy about ‘selling’ yourself, tell the employer what sets you apart from other candidates.
  • Don’t give generic answers, be specific and keep it relevant. We know it can be hard work applying for jobs and sometimes boring but employers can tell if you’ve copied answers from other application forms.
  • Try not to use the same experience to answer every question – use examples from academic work, work experience (paid or unpaid), Uni societies and sports clubs etc.
  • Don’t undervalue yourself. You’re at a top Russell Group university, that’s already a huge achievement.
  • Don’t get the name of the employer wrong. You might think you’d never do that, but it’s surprisingly common and employers are likely to instantly delete your application.

If you take one piece of advice from me, think about this – what employers know about you is entirely based on what you tell them. So you need to be as clear and direct as possible. Job applications and interviews aren’t a time for subtlety, hinting that maybe perhaps you’d be kind of OK in the job. 

Looking for more info and advice on applications and everything else careers-related? Our ‘Help with…‘ pages are great place to start. And if you need an application form review you can book in via Live Chat on our website, or come in and see us in person in the Forum (Streatham Campus) or the Exchange (Penryn Campus).

*Personally, I’m a milk chocolate digestive; works well in most situations, outside melts easily but retains a robust centre.