As a careers consultant, there are many bits of the same advice that I have given 100s even 1000s of times to different people. I sometimes begin to doubt myself and wonder – “surely you know this?” It must be like this for people in many jobs; where they have said something so many times but generally it is the first time a client has heard the advice. It does feel strange sometimes; feeling that knowledge about something is so routine to me, but not to others.
One of the areas that I give advice on is filling in application forms. There is one type of application form which is common in many organisations, including Universities; in which you fill in all your details and then you are asked a question which asks you to provide a “supporting statement” and usually reads something like: “please tell us about how you meet the requirements for the job”. To me this is straightforward; you have to systematically turn to the “person specification” that should have come with the job and point by point; illustrate concisely what evidence you have for each point.
Recently my experience of actually recruiting for both professional jobs and internships within our department has told me that many people just don’t know how to approach filling in this kind of application form in which they have to provide a “supporting statement”. I have looked at many application forms recently where in some cases a “supporting statement” is not provided at all and in others a “supporting statement” is provided but it only bears a tenuous relation to the “person specification” of the job applied for.
As a shortlister, unless a candidate has something exceptional to offer, I won’t shortlist them if they basically haven’t done what was asked of them in the application and the challenging bit for people seems to be showing how they meet the “person specification” within a “supporting statement”. My approach will be common to many recruiters and fair HR practices mean that if an individual doesn’t show that they have the requirements for the job, they can’t be shortlisted for interview.
I think many people think that they have implicitly shown how they meet the requirements for a job. I was shocked that some of the candidates who provided weak “supporting statements” were actually recruitment consultants who I think should know better! Some stuff is common sense – of course you don’t have to re-state you have a degree if you have included this in your education details.
Oh, and a final point; how long should a “supporting statement” be? In my opinion it should be 2 pages of A4, font 11, single-line spacing. I have asked other colleagues about this and also HR staff and they agree with me. However, if a candidate makes a longer statement and they still look good, I can be forgiving but I might wonder at their ability to be concise. Other colleagues I have spoken to who recruit say they don’t mind about length as long as all points are covered.
For more information about application forms; go to our Successful Applications handout.