Top tips for filling in school leaver programme application forms

Top tips for filling in school leaver programme application forms
Make sure your online application form stands out for the right reasons and helps you get the school leaver programme or apprenticeship place you want.

There’s no taking a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to applying for school leaver programmes, as the process isn’t centralised in the way that applications to uni are. The first stage is usually an online application form, but the format and questions will vary depending on the employer and the type of opportunity you are applying for. Some employers may also invite you to upload a CV along with your completed form.

Here are our top tips on how to succeed in your online application form and get through to the next stage.

Have you done your research?

Employers usually provide plenty of information on their websites to guide you on what to include on your application form, so take the time to look round and find it. You might also find information about school leavers who are already working there, which will help you to understand what will be expected of you. You’ll be in a much better position to tackle the application form if you’ve got a really clear idea of what the recruiter is looking for and have identified the key skills and competencies – and can show that you would be a good match.

Give yourself time

Some school leaver application forms are designed to take more time to complete than others. Among finance employers, KPMG says its form should take around 20 minutes, whereas Grant Thornton’s takes most people about two to three hours. You should allow yourself at least half a day for each application, and make sure that you have uninterrupted access to a computer for that length of time. It is likely that you’ll need to use an up-to-date version of your web browser for the application system to work.

On Grant Thornton’s application form, sections on education, qualifications and work experience should be relatively straightforward to fill in, but the free text questions, which ask about your strengths and motivation for applying, are likely to take longer. Avoid copying and pasting answers from other application forms and make sure your responses are tailored to the employer and role you are applying for.

Can you justify your choices?

Employers want to be sure that you’re committed. They don’t want to invest in training you only for you to drop out. When they assess your application, they’ll be looking for answers to the following questions:

Why have you chosen a career in this particular area? Think about your work experience, volunteering and activities, both in school and outside, to help you explain your career choice. What do you enjoy doing? What are you good at, and how does this match up with your choice of school leaver programme?

Why this employer? Explain why the work, training and career opportunities on offer appeal to you. To answer this convincingly, you need to get to grips with what the organisation does and how you could be part of that.

Why this particular programme? Some employers offer many different options for school leavers. For example, Transport for London offers numerous apprenticeships, and asks you to give clear reasons for your choice, referring back to the job description to help you.

Are you a good match?

Construction employer Balfour Beatty says, ‘Your application is the first opportunity you have to tell us more about you and why you are interested in working with us. Think about the experiences you have had in education and other parts of your life that show your skills and strengths, and how these relate to your chosen role.’

There are several useful tips here, and they are relevant to all applications for apprenticeships and other work-based school leaver training programmes. The employer wants to get a sense of what you’d be like to work with and how you’d fit in, and this is about more than your school work and academic results. They want you to match your skills and strengths to the position you’re applying for: show them you’ve got the qualities they want.

Back up your claims with examples

Yes, you’re motivated and a fast learner – but you would say that, wouldn’t you? Back up your claims with examples, such as your role in organising a big event, doing the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme or charity work, or achievements in your part-time job or work experience.

The same goes for showing employers that you’re a strong team player. Can you think of times when you’ve been involved in the work of a group? You could draw examples from school, your family, sports teams, work, voluntary organisations such as the Guides, Scouts or Cadets, or religious or community activities.

It’s good to include examples of your involvement in teams, but if you can explain how you made a difference to the team and contributed to its success, you’ll impress employers even more. Did you help solve disagreements, take responsibility for helping to organise anything to do with a group activity, or have a specific role such as team captain? Use ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ to explain your contribution.

Grant Thornton expects school leaver recruits to take on early responsibility, and assesses this by asking for details of any positions of responsibility on its application form. The company also looks for well-rounded individuals and asks you to show you fit the bill by listing your extracurricular activities, achievements, interests, scholarships, awards and prizes.

Watch the word count

There is usually a set word limit for each answer on an online application form, and you should take care not to exceed it. At the same time, make the most of the allocated word count to show the employer what is unique about you, and steer clear of very short responses that don’t give the employer enough to go on. If possible, avoid repeating yourself. If you have to upload a CV as well as filling in an application form, try to use different examples, or use your application form to give more detail about something you’ve only referred to briefly on your CV.

Proofread like a pro

Even if you’re applying online, it’s still worth printing off a hard copy of your application in order to check it through. Sometimes you can spot errors on a printed page that are easy to miss on screen. If the application system isn’t set up so that it’s straightforward to save and print your completed form, make sure you copy your answers into a separate document and print that out instead. Take extra care over your spelling and grammar.

Keep copies of all your applications

EY suggests that you copy your answers to a separate document as you go along and save this as back-up, just in case the system crashes. The company also suggests keeping your password to the application system to hand, so you can log back in quickly if necessary.

You should also keep copies of your applications after you have submitted them, for reference. If you’re invited to an interview, the employer is likely to pick up on the information you’ve provided in your application form and ask you about it. If you’ve completely forgotten what you’ve told them, you’ll struggle to answer. If you’re applying to a number of schemes with different employers, each application should be slightly different and you’ll need to keep copies of all of them so you can refer back to the relevant application when the time comes.

It’s worth giving some thought to how you’re going to organise this. For example, you could run off hard copies and keep them in a folder. Remember to look through your application before you attend an assessment centre or interview.

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