Structuring Application & Interview Answers

Your application and interview answers will of course vary depending on the particular question. However, regardless of the question, your structure should be clear. It is advisable to draft application answers with temporary headings in place to ensure your answers remain logical and coherent. If you are discussing your motivation for wanting to work at the firm, do not mention training at the start, in the middle and at the end of your answer. Perhaps have a section dedicated to the development of employees, thus avoiding the risk of repeating yourself and coming across as unable to write concisely and coherently.

For scenario-based questions, for instance ‘what is the biggest challenge you have faced?’, ‘detail a time when you have worked successfully in a team?’ or ‘detail a time when you have successfully undertaken a leadership role’, the STAR (situation – task – action – result) approach to answering questions could be worth bearing in mind.

Situation

Start by setting the scene, for instance: ‘whilst running the university Finance Society…’. If you are discussing your biggest challenge, explain whythe circumstances posed a challenge. If you are answering a question on teamwork, explain what led to you joining the team. For a question on leadership, explain how you ended up in a leadership position.

Task

Follow by detailing your (or your team’s) designated task and/or role, for instance: ‘my team was tasked with arranging a ball for 400 people…’.

Action

This is the most substantial part of the answer and requires you to explain what you actually did to complete the task, how you went about doing it, why you did it/why it was a challenge (etc.) and the skills you used/developed whilst taking such action. Remember that the employer has little interest in what others did and accordingly, when you are dealing with a teamwork question, try to avoid repeatedly using ‘we’.

Result

Conclude by explaining the impact your actions had and what you actually managed to achieve. Be prepared to discuss what you learned and could have done differently/improved upon.

When writing applications, draft your answers in a separate Microsoft Word Document. If the employer’s website crashes (and they do), you will thus not lose your answers. It also makes it easier for you to use elements of your answers for other applications. Microsoft Word has a spelling and grammar check too, which the application form may not. Do no fully rely on this however as sometimes autocorrect may change a word or phrase in a manner than you had not wanted it to.

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By Jake Schogger - City Career Series