Selling your Skills on Applications: Why it’s Important and How to do it

For this week’s post Lynn Gregory from the Placements Team guides you through a subject that comes up regularly in 1-to-1s; the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of selling your skills on a placement application.

As we all know, applying for placements is a highly competitive process with the sourcing, researching and initial application process demanding your ongoing commitment and time, so how can you maximise the chances of your application being shortlisted for the next stage of an organisation’s application process?

One of the key elements to being shortlisted is how well you sell your skills on your placement application.

Sounds easy, but in practice it can be confusing deciding what skills to focus on and how to ‘sell’ them without feeling like you are bragging! However creating a link between yourself and an employer by tailoring your application to reflect the most relevant skills for their placement is essential.

What are the main skills that placement employers are looking for?

Placement employers will in general be looking for a mix of ‘transferable skills’, along with those specifically required for the placement in question such as specific accounting, marketing, or IT skills.

General ‘transferable’ skills are regularly required for a range of business-focused placements, and include, but aren’t restricted to those such as:

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Problem solving
  • Organisation
  • Adaptability
  • Self-motivation
  • Numeracy
  • Accuracy
  • Negotiation
  • Commercial awareness
  • Analysis

How do you go about ‘selling your skills’ on an application?

Firstly, you need to identify all the skills you have to offer a company, believe me – you will possess more than you think!

The word ‘skills’ when talking about placements and jobs is a very broad term that can cover both your generic abilities, as well as skills you have built up through different life experiences.

Making a list of all the skills you can offer really is worthwhile to enable you to have maximum impact with your applications, and to ensure your CV fully reflects all you have to offer.

The easiest and most thorough way of doing this is to take it in three stages:

1: Create a list of all your:

  • Past and current work experience (part time roles, unpaid work experience, internships etc)
  • Activities (volunteering, extracurricular training, sports, hobbies, interests etc)
  • Educational endeavours (at university, latter years at school, etc)

2: Write a full list of all the tasks associated with each of your experiences listed in point 1.

3: Finally, and very importantly, recognise that tasks lead to skills – with this in mind analyse what skills you either developed or enhanced by undertaking the tasks in point 2, then list these skills and abilities.

Once you have covered the above 3 points you will have your ‘master list’ of all the skills you can offer to an organisation, along with examples of where you have demonstrated these skills in action.

How can you illustrate your skills to best effect in your placement applications?

The first thing you should consider when beginning to formulate a placement application is what the employer will be looking for skills wise from a successful applicant’s application.

Do this by reviewing the placement’s person specification and job description and understanding what the company is looking for. Again, a list is usually needed here!

Write down all the key skills detailed on the placement advertisement and analyse how your skills and their requirements match.  This is also useful to see where you may fall short of certain requirements of the placement, this too has benefit as you can re-assess whether there are examples from your experiences through which you can illustrate the requirements, or where you need to build on your experience going forward.

This is where your ‘master list’ of skills will prove invaluable; whether tailoring your CV and covering letter or compiling an online application, your list – along with conveying your passion for the sector and employer – will form the backbone of your applications, enabling you to adapt and tailor each application to the specific placement to emphasise the most relevant skills you possess.

The required skills specified by the company are what the person reviewing your application will use as the framework for selection, and if the hiring organisation uses a computerised Applicant Tracking System these skills will form the basis of the key words used for selection; so in order to create maximum impact on an application make sure you explain your skills in the right way.

Don’t simply create a list that states a skill but in no way explains how you have developed or used it within your experience. You must evidence your skills in a way that is meaningful to the placement employer.

For instance, don’t merely write that you have ‘good team working skills’ with no explanation of how and where you have illustrated them; explain in detail how you put these team working skills into practise, for example perhaps within a part time job, a sports team, or a group project you have completed at university.

Depending on the format of your placement application you will represent this information in different ways; for instance, in the body of your cover letter, within your CV, by answering a word limited competency focused question on an online application, so you will need to adapt the depth in which you explain these skills accordingly, whilst still highlighting those most relevant to the role.

The key thing to remember is that as most students won’t have significant work experience within the field they want to do their placement in, a prospective placement employer will look to your skills for verification that you can successfully integrate into their team and thrive within the role – so ensure you sell your skills in each and every application.

If you are a current second year sandwich course student at MMU’s Business School and want more advise on how you can sell your skills on your applications – come for a 1-to-1 with a member of the Placements Team. Make an appointment by calling 0161 247 3711, visit the Business Placements desk in the Employability Hub or email businessplacements@mmu.ac.uk

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