How to write a good application form for an apprentice/ trainee job

So the advert for that traineeship/apprenticeship job is memorised in your head. You know when the deadline is. You’ve gone online, you’ve read through all the information, you’ve even looked over your CV a gazillion times and had an open debate with yourself about whether you are good enough. So what’s stopping you? That dreaded application form that’s what. It’s like a high school exam, plus a dissertation, plus an encyclopaedic recital of all you know.. And you’ve got to get it right otherwise this one and only opportunity will never be yours.

Well sit yourself down, find a comfy seat, plump up those cushions, take a deep breath, grab a cup of tea and focus on the task at hand. Before you embark on the form though, here are a few hints and tips as to what makes a good application form, and what makes somebody stand out from amongst the crowd.

Are your details correct?

Now this is a basic one, but you’d be surprised. In the rush to get all their experience, knowledge, wit and wisdom down on the form, people can mistype their email address or phone number. Triple check this. If we want to bring you in for an assessment day or interview and your email address and phone number don’t work, well we are not necessarily going to send a letter, turn up at your front door, or stalk you to your local bar on the off chance you’ll come in for a gin and tonic. So make sure they are correct. If you are in the interview process or going through to the next round or still in application stage and your details change then let us know. People lose phones, numbers change or that email address had to be changed as somehow Beckylovessteve@gmail.com didn’t ring true anymore. Don’t put yourself out of the running by something so simple as us not being able to get hold of you.

Think about what your email address says about you as well. At school or college it can be an in joke or a personal statement about your love for One Direction but when applying for jobs you need to be professional. No references to pop bands, boyfriends/girlfriends, violent references or even just simply fluffybunny@gmail.com. You may be “super hot” and with an amazing “sexual prowess” but let that not be reflected in your email address when applying for a job.

Spelling and grammar

Nothing frustrates us more or makes us giggle than when you read a paragraph confidently written about an individuals attention to detail splattered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Spell check, get someone to read it and triple check. Also if you are talking about individuals be they famous or not or the person who is recruiting check their names are spelt correctly. It might seem inconsequential to spell Ann without an E but not

If you are dyslexic or need extra time or support, please declare it and make it known. Additional support by law needs to be provided. You really need to do this at the start of the process, it won’t be held against you.

Be yourself

So many people try and be something that they aren’t whilst doing an application form. It’s as if they take on this whole new identity, speak a whole new fancy business language and somehow try and posh it up a bit. Now I do get why people do this and it’s that need to impress, but how do you know what will impress the person reading? Isn’t it easier to just be yourself and talk passionately about what you want to do and what you’ve done? It’s as if some people have swallowed a dictionary, that might me being dumb but when faced with a fancy schmanzy big word I always think first of all I don’t understand it and secondly when I do understand it couldn’t they have just used “could” instead. Use plain English and speak eloquently but not waffling, re read your sentences and hone them down so you can honestly say “yes that makes perfect sense”.

Be proud of your achievements and don’t be apologetic about them, no matter what they are. I have read a lot of applications that start of with “I don’t have the right experience but..” Well hell to the no with that. All that does is ring around the readers head that you can’t do something.. No matter what potential you have. Don’t draw attention to things that you feel that you don’t have, instead highlight your qualities, achievements and how they would benefit the role. Always tie everything back in a positive way to what you are applying for. Don’t dumb it down, don’t apologise and don’t be ashamed. Your journey is your journey be proud of it.
On the flip side of things don’t big yourself up too much that it gets far fetched. We can read between the lines and realise you were an admin assistant not MD at a corporate bank aged 18. Unless you have Doogie Howser MD (google it) success at such a young age.

When you read applications particularly for TV jobs, we need to see your personality jump from the page, we need to read your creativity, your passion and a sense of who you are as a person. Don’t be afraid to do that. Now don’t go overboard and tell us how you lost your virginity or use slang but don’t be afraid to be yourself. There is only one you so own it!

Have strong ideas

If the application is asking you for programme ideas, ideas about the company or even pitches, then this is your chance to shine. Be bold and have strong ideas. Don’t rehash what has been done before and don’t re tell the same format over and over again. When asking for programme ideas at the BBC I was often confronted with ideas that were currently or TV or slight twists on current formats (which could be fine but needs more analysis). Also when reading 300 forms and everyone wants Stephen Fry to present their idea, you long for a different name to be mentioned, anybody, somebody new as long as it’s not the same old same old.

If you are talking through an idea make sure it’s clear to everyone. Share it with friends and families and again hone it down until it’s really clear. It might sound brilliant in your head but on paper can read like a geology paper full of academia and not a lot of “why would someone watch that?”

Think about what’s missing from our screens or for non telly roles what that company needs. Try and be bold and different but always tie to back to the audience or the consumer. Why would they watch that programme or consume that product. What’s in it for them. I know at times in our life we can feel like our grasp of the world can be quite sheltered but when thinking about these ideas think beyond your close circle think beyond people you know, your area… You are part of the audience but you are not the audience.

Research your ideas, throw in stats, think why it would be important. Don’t be lazy or self indulgent with this. Pick up the papers, do your research about why something would be of interest. And also equally important why it would be interesting right now..

If you have access, know how something is made, or first hand experience of why this idea is important then throw that all into the mix.

Also think honestly about why you want to work for that company and that scheme. Talk passionately about that. We can tell when people are just doing it for the sake of it or it seemed a good idea at the time. That may be the truth but really think why do I want to be an apprentice? What is it going to do for me. Be realistic about the course and college work as well, mention that you are still eager to learn in the form and that you feel this is the perfect combination of working and studying. Well something like that anyway.

Be creative

Be really creative, share your ideas, be different. Talk about how things would look, how they could be made and why they need to be made.

When sending off applications though being creative can go too far, cupcakes, sending in a front door (that happened at channel 4) or a glamour shot selfie might get you noticed but it might get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. Do what the application tells you to do, no need to chain yourself to the front of the BBC dressed as Wonder Woman, well not at least until you know if you’ve got in.

I often hear from people who are apologetic for that photography course they did, the blog they write, the fact that they can shoot or edit, or whatever it might be. If it’s relevant and can help you get a job then throw it in there. “Oh yeah I speak Spanish” bloody brilliant I say!

Think of different platforms

Be conscious of the way that people consume media in 2014, the different platforms, the different trends. Let your ideas reflect this. Often in TV you might well be interviewed by people who may consume media in a more traditional way but it’s important that all avenues are looked at. Think about the audience, what kind of things you’d want to work on and how that content could reach the audience. Make sure it’s relevant too.

When you are thinking about this think about the audience, would that audience for your idea really watch TV in that way?

Celebrate your differences

Talk openly about your background, how you’ve got to where you are. Never be ashamed of it. A lot of applications will ask about diversity and unserved audiences. It’s not acceptable to say as some people have done and I quote “I’m white, middle class and haven’t really experienced diversity” to which I would respond “oh no you didn’t just say this!” Read the papers, look around you, speak to people for gods sake, get to realise there is life beyond your nose and the comfort of your circles. You’ll be a much better person for it. Look objectively at how people are represented in the media, how we can and should change that. The way I look at it is we can see a million different representations of a white male 40 year old middle class man on TV from holier than thou to murderer. But when a race, sexuality, gender, disability is represented in only one way we are often perpetuating stereotypes. Until there is diverse representation of all then there is much work to be done. Think of it that way.

Take your time

Like your mum would say “don’t leave it till the night before!” Take your time, write it out in word, or hand write it and then rewrite it until it’s perfect. Share it with friends and family and get feedback. No need to rush it out.

Also be mindful of the word count if it says 200 words, write 200 not 10 as it looks like you can’t be arsed. In the same way don’t write 1000 as it looks like you can’t follow rules.

Good luck with it all, you’ll be great. Just apply, you know you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t!

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4 thoughts

  1. Another usefulness tip from a former apprentice: show your will to learn! The jobs you’ll be applying for are, at the end of the day, learning and development schemes. I think recruiters are looking for someone who has engaged and really tried to get involved in the industry so far using what’s available to them. Making the most out of this shows potential!

  2. Thanks Simon, this is excellent advice. I see so many CVs that are simply a list of productions & dates, or non-relevant snippets … I want to know, what did YOU do? How did YOU help? What useful & transferable skills did you develop? What have you learned that could be useful to this application? Then we’re getting somewhere!

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