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Example questions and answers

Employers may ask you questions about your motivation for applying and your relevant skills and experience.

The first questions on application forms are often similar to some of the content from your CV – eg your contact details, your education and qualifications and your previous employment experience.

You may be asked the following questions in an application form, or an employer may ask you to submit a personal statement instead.

Proving you're motivated

An employer will also want to assess how motivated you are about this role, so you may find questions in the application form like, ‘Why do you want to work in surveying?’ or ‘What attracts you to a career in charities?’

You need to have reflected on your motivation and be able to give good reasons why you want this opportunity. Demonstrate that you have thought about the organisation, the job and the aspects of it that particularly interest you.

Explain the contribution that you can make based on your skills, qualities and background and why you think you would be good at it. Try to be specific and do not just duplicate phrases from the employer’s recruitment material or give generic answers like, ‘I want to work for a top company that is innovative in a fast-moving environment’.

Demonstrating skills and experience

Look back at the table you put together during your research. Pick out the examples of your skills from your preparation and draft them for the application form using the STAR format. Be careful to use the full word count to give yourself as much scope as possible to explain your example.

Employers are looking for examples that are well written and interesting to read, so always think back to what you can talk about that is different.

For example, a graduate recruiter recently noted that almost everyone uses group-work on their degree as an example of their team-working skills. Can you stand out by using a different example perhaps one from your part-time work, volunteering or participation in a club or society?

Please give an example of your problem solving and decision making skills.

"My job as sales coordinator involved making decisions about which of the team was to work in which area and what to do about if appointments were cancelled. As a retail assistant in charge of a department, I had constantly to solve problems as they arose. As an English teacher in Romania, I had to decide on the progress of the pupils and how best to engage them in their learning."

Why it doesn't work

Here, the employer has asked for an example of your problem solving and decision making skills. But the applicant instead gives a brief overview of three roles.

Each of those roles might have provided a great example of problem solving and decision-making skills, but the applicant hasn’t followed the instructions and has skated over the surface of each role instead of giving a clear, concrete example.

This answer would be improved by picking one example and using the STAR structure to go into sufficient detail about a situation when problem solving and decision making skills were used.

Describe a time when you had to communicate with a range of different people to achieve a particular goal. Outline the task, the people you dealt with and the outcome. (150 words)

"In my work experience at Empire Property Lettings, I developed strong communication skills by working in a cross-service team to carry out a review of customer service. The aim was to provide a report to senior management which outlined future areas for improvement in service delivery.

My role was to lead the collection of evidence from our clients and this task involved communicating with a range of different people.

My approach was to:

  • independently schedule and conduct a wide range of client interviews – speaking to over 100 clients either face-to-face or by telephone and Skype
  • design a questionnaire to structure my interviews and enable me to collate and compare responses
  • record all of my findings and write a section of the final report
  • present my results to senior colleagues alongside staff from other departments.

The senior management team used the report’s findings to improve our working practices." (147 words)

Why it works

This response draws on a relevant example from a work-related setting. It is concise and uses professional vocabulary.

Despite the short word limit, the candidate answers all parts of the question using the STAR structure and provides a clear example of communicating with clients and colleagues at different levels.

Describe a challenging project which you have planned and taken through to a conclusion. What was your objective, what did you do and what was the outcome? Include any changes to your initial plan (150 words)

"As a member of my university’s music society, I helped with a visit to the Albert Hall for some of the choir. I arranged a bus and hotel for anyone wishing to go. I promoted the event by putting up posters and e-mailing everyone.

I set a deadline for payment and, based on this, I arranged a mini-bus and made a cheap price booking. I had to change my plans as more students wanted to go than had said they did at first. I ordered a larger bus and arranged extra space with the hotel. The visit was a success as it went well and everyone enjoyed it, and we made a profit from a raffle." (125 words)

Why it doesn't work

This answer shows the need for drafting and then refining your answers. It is a good example and uses the STAR format in its structure. However, the wording is simplistic and in some places could be more professional – eg a ‘cheap price booking’.

The style is repetitive because every sentence seems to start with ‘I’.  It also lacks specific details which would make the answer more impressive – how many people attended the visit? Was it one or two, or 200? And how much money was raised in the raffle? £2.50 or £3,000? The employer has no way of knowing. Providing quantitative details can give your answers more impact.

These examples were adapted from those used by University of Sheffield Careers.

Find out more

For advice on answering application form questions, please contact:

Careers and Employability