Killer Applications - Part 4: Destroy Those Online Questions

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller

Today we look at how to write awesome answers to online application questions.

Yes. Those pesky, difficult, probing, bespoke questions employers like to drop on you as part of the application process...why oh why can’t they just be happy with a cover letter and CV!...cue the violin...we pity you, we really do, these questions can be hard!

Take a deep breath, and follow these instructions:

1. Draft separately

Get the Questions

Hopefully you read our post Part 1. Killer Applications - Have a Game Plan. Because the first step you need to do is check out the application process requirements ahead of the deadline, and download the list of information and questions you need to submit.

Draft Answers Separately

Don’t draft anything in the online application directly. Do it in Word separately, so you can proof answers, do a spell check and check you fit the word count limit. It also means you have a copy saved which you can use/draw on for other applications (or interview prep). Just remember to review the actual response you copy and paste into the online application (don’t miss any text, and make sure any non-standard characters paste in OK from Word...e.g. “&” and “--” sometimes come out weird)

2. What are you REALLY asking?

Type of Questions

Online application questions will generally either be a behavioural-type question (e.g. testing you on how you demonstrated leadership under pressure), an information-seeking question (e.g. why do you want to work here?), or a general overview/summary question (e.g. tell me about yourself?)

Underlying Topic or Issue

Once you’ve identified the type of question, take some time to identify and think through the underlying topic or issue the question wants you to address. For behavioural questions, that might be asking you to demonstrate your interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, resilience, conflict management skills, creativity etc. Often, questions will tie back to key criteria for the role or values of the organisation (so make sure you review the careers website and role description too)

Consider What a Winning Answer Looks Like

Remember that the person reviewing your response will likely go through hundreds if not thousands of applications. To get past the gatekeeper, you’ve got to think: (1) What are the winning elements they are looking for? And (2) How can you demonstrate (1) in a unique way (ie. set yourself apart from the pile of other applications)?

3. Highlight our skills

Use Real Experiences

Draw on recent experiences or situations you’ve been in to answer behavioural questions. Remember - you might be asked about your responses in an interview

Pick Simple, Powerful Examples

Don’t over-engineer an answer. Go for situations that have meaning for you, that are powerful, that speak to the issue, and are easy to explain

Highlight Your Highlights

Try and weave in your killer achievements or experiences into your answers. Use your most successful situations / experiences / skills, so you kill two birds with one stone (answer the question AND highlight your unique achievements)

4. Use to S-T-A-R method

When addressing behavioural questions, use the S-T-A-R method to structure answers:

  • Situation: describe the context by setting the scene in 1-2 sentences

  • Task: describe what you were required to achieve, or the goal

  • Action: take 2-4 sentences to describe what you did to address the issue. You might want to describe alternative actions you considered taking too

  • Result: finish with a short wrap-up on what the result was. Describe whether you met your objectives and what you learnt from the experience too, if relevant. And don’t be afraid to describe things that went wrong too - learning from failure shows maturity, and might be the objective of the question

5. The Elevator Pitch

Finally, it’s worth noting that sometimes you get an opportunity in online applications to write a “candidate statement”, or provide a short overview of yourself.

Great! This is an opportunity for you to give them your elevator pitch - why you, why you’re unique, what your standout achievements and traits are as a candidate. Draft it as a standalone pitch, almost like a mini Cover Letter.

Online application questions can be a pain to write, but if you follow our tips and put in the effort, you will stand out a mile from other candidates who have focused only on their cover letter and CV.

Stay tuned for part 5 of our Killer Applications series!