Applications and interviews

Whether it is a casual job, graduate program or the first full-time job that you are looking for, the Careers Service can help you apply for work.

Application forms may be paper or web-based. In most cases, this is the first contact you have with an organisation and you need to make sure you present yourself professionally. Think about each question and give detail and examples if it is required. It is important to read instructions carefully and answer all questions. Organisations using web-based forms will usually contact you using email so you should check your emails regularly.

Tips and career boosters
  • Make a separate copy to work on your answers to ensure it is polished and finished before submitting.
  • Get someone to proof read your final answers.
  • If submitting your application online, do not try to do this the day that it is due as the system can sometimes fail or become slow with the volume of forms being sent.
  • Be sure not to make a typing error with your email address.
  • Have your application checked by the Careers Service.
  • Read the Application Forms information sheet on CareerHub.

All written applications should contain a covering letter. Your cover letter is a summary of your main claims to the position that will be expanded in your resume or selection criteria. While there are some key elements that should be included in a covering letter, the style of expression and the ideas should always be targeted to meet the needs of the employer and to capture their interest in what you have to offer.

What to include:

  • reason for writing
  • your interest in and knowledge of the organisation
  • who you are
  • highlight relevant skills and experience in relation to the position or needs of the organisation
  • refer to any documents you have enclosed
  • express a willingness for an interview
  • be enthusiastic and positive.

When employers only request a resume, your email serves as the cover letter. You will use a different style of writing for emails. The language tends to be more informal but be mindful of creating first impressions. Most people don't expect to read much more than a screen length email message, so you will need to be more succinct.

Tips and career boosters
  • Keep to one A4 page in length.
  • Personalise your letter, address the letter to a person.
  • Check spelling and grammar.
  • Don't apologise for qualities, qualifications or experience you don't have, emphasise those you do.
  • Don't repeat exactly what's in the resume.
  • While there are formulas, don't be afraid to deviate - adapt each letter to the specific job or organisation.
  • Don't copy letters from resume publications- employers recognise them, so be a professional and write your own letter.
  • Keep a copy of every letter you write. Re-read it before the interview.
  • Observe proper business conventions:
    • if addressed to a person's name end letter 'Yours sincerely'
    • if addressed 'Dear Sir/Madam' end letter 'Yours faithfully'
  • Have your letter checked by the Careers Service.

Your resume

Before writing a resume, you need to know what it is you want to convey to an employer. You must know what you have done (including when), and be able to identify your strengths and achievements. Emphasise relevant transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and planning.

You need to be aware of your profession and the skills and experiences sought. An engineer's resume will contain different headings to an artist's or academic's resume. Like your covering letter, this document is about marketing your qualifications, knowledge, experience and skills. Focus on any practical experience (assignments, field trips, simulations, placements) you have gained through your studies. Try to put yourself into an employer's shoes, ask yourself what you would look for in a resume.

There is no one size fits all format for resumes. The type and order of headings will depend on the type of job and the level of your expertise and experience (a recent graduate would feature their qualifications on the first page, while someone with 10 years experience might not). Put the information in reverse chronology (the most recent things first) to bring the most important pieces of information to the top.

If you are emailing your resume be aware how it translates using electronic media. It is best to email your resume as an attachment. Not all documents can be easily read as attachments, so if you don't know what software the receiver has, save and send your resume as a pdf file.

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Selection criteria

Some job advertisements, especially government departments, statutory bodies and universities, list the main functions of the job and provide a statement of the essential and desirable criteria. A detailed package including the job description is usually available online or from the contact person.

With this type of job, the selection criteria are the most important part of your application. Many people are not selected for an interview because their application does not convince the selection committee that they meet the selection criteria.

You should address the criteria on a separate attachment with a heading such as 'Selection Criteria'. Use each criterion (written out in full) as a separate heading, explaining underneath how you satisfy it. Provide lots of examples of how you satisfy each criterion, listing the strongest first.

Read more

Tips and career boosters
  • If it is the first time you have put together a resume or selection criteria, get feedback at the Careers Service or by someone employed in your field.
  • Access the information sheets Cover Letters, Resumes, Selection Criteria, and Action Words on CareerHub.
  • Use plain English.
  • Use key phrases and expressions in your resume and selection criteria to market yourself.
  • Be concise.
  • Ensure there are no spelling errors.
  • Use active rather than passive verbs.

The fact that you have been called for an interview is a positive sign. It means that you have convinced the selection panel that you can meet their requirements for the job.

Preparing for the interview

Preparation is the key for your interview. Talk to people who have been to a number of interviews and get tips from those who have been successful. Practice answering interview questions with friends, family, the mirror or book an appointment for a practice interview with the Careers Service.

The main areas to concentrate on with your preparation include researching the organisation and the job, finding out about the interview format, and articulating your strengths in relation to the role.

InterviewStream is an online platform that allows students to record a practice interview, review their own performance, comment on it and then send it to others via a web link to request feedback. Visit InterviewStream to find out more.

Research the organisation

Researching an organisation shows you have made an informed decision about wanting to work there. Knowing a little bit about the organisation really impresses interview panels.

Visit the organisation's website, read annual reports and recruiting brochures. Research can reveal problems or challenges the organisation is facing and can help you to select experiences you should describe in the interview. Try to relate what you have learned from your research to the role itself, for example, why might it be interesting to work in the human resources section of a large mining company? What challenges might there be and how would your skills and knowledge be useful? Learn what you can from your research, then weave the information you've gathered into the interview.

Interview format

Knowing what to expect in the interview will give you more confidence and help you better sell yourself to the organisation. Try to gather information about:

  • what type of interview will it be (telephone interview, one-on-one, interview panel etc)
  • location of the interview
  • how many people will be present, including who are they and what are their roles in the organisation.

Practice questions

To prepare for the interview try some practice questions like:

  • Describe what you know about the organisation, and/or position? Why are you interested?
  • Describe five ideas, accomplishments, strengths, skills or personal qualities that you think would best 'sell' yourself to an employer?
  • Describe your educational background and how is it relevant to the job?
  • What is your employment/voluntary work background? How is your experience relevant to the desired job? What skills have you used in previous experiences that are relevant to your desired job?
  • What are your career goals? How do they relate to this organisation?
  • What are your personal skills and abilities? How do they relate to this job? What are specific examples of how you have used these skills?
  • Give an example of how you have worked as part of a team? What did you contribute?
  • What initiatives have you taken?
  • What contributions do you believe you can make to this organisation?
  • What are your weaknesses? What steps are you taking to improve them?
  • What additional information do you want the interviewer to know about you?

More practice questions are available in CareerHub.

For more tips, read the Interview Preparation information sheet available at CareerHub.

Your interview portfolio

An interview portfolio is a small, to-the-point selection of items of your work, tailored to sell you for a specific job. It shows not only that you understand what the job requires, but also that you meet all the job requirements. It is not required in all interview situations but it is useful to always take your portfolio just in case. It shows that you have taken initiative to market yourself for the position and gives you a prompt for skills and experience you may have forgotten.

Tips and career boosters
  • Prepare for your interview.
  • Dress in business attire no matter what the position.
  • Arrive early.
  • Shake hands with the interviewers.
  • Remember the interviewers names.
  • Have a list of questions to ask at the end at the interview to show you are interested in finding out more.
  • Take your interview portfolio even if you are not specifically asked for it.
  • If you have a telephone interview make sure it is quiet around you and smile as you are talking (it improves the timbre of your voice).
  • If your interview involves using Skype, make sure you are in a quiet and neat environment (no unprofessional images or objects in the background).
  • Book an appointment with the Careers Service for a practice interview.

Many large organisations dealing with large numbers of candidates (vacation and graduate programs) will use a broader range of selection tools to reduce the number of candidates to be interviewed. The most common of these selection tools are online testing, telephone screening interviews, group interviews, and assessment centres. More recently, some graduate recruiters have used online interviewing tools, using Skype and programmed interview questions.

Tests are run using three main methods:

  • Group testing - simultaneously screening large numbers of potential recruits.
  • Individual assessments - more commonly used for executive positions.
  • Assessment centres - commonly used for graduate selection and promotion purposes. This process usually requires a small number of short-listed applicants to complete a number of tasks that may including role plays or simulation games, interviews, personality, motivation and intellectual ability tests.

Read the assessment centres information sheet available at CareerHub.

Tips and career boosters
  • Research the company and industry.
  • Check Australian graduate discussion forums for tips and advice eg Whirlpool and Gradconnection.
  • Familiarise yourself with psychometric testing.
  • Review your resume and application.
  • Think about what the organisation is looking for and how these behaviours can be demonstrated.
  • Get a good night's sleep before.
  • Listen carefully to instructions at the start of the Assessment Centre.
  • Remain positive, focused and motivated throughout your Assessment Centre.
  • Interact with others during Assessment Centre breaks rather than talking on your mobile phone as you are being assessed the whole time.
  • Be yourself.
  • Ask for feedback if you were not successful.
  • Access the Assessment Centres information sheet from the CareerHub resources.
  • Attend a Careers Service workshop on Assessment Centres.
  • Visit the Careers Service to view a DVD on Assessment Centres.