How to answer those impossible questions on your job applications

Graduate scheme season has started, and if you are looking ahead (as you should be), you will soon find yourself filling out at least one lengthy application form, complete with educational details, a copy of your CV, and some difficult questions about your motivations and ambitions.

To help, we’ve gone undercover and looked at jobs currently live on graduate-jobs.com to see which questions are the toughest to answer. All of these are taken from actual application forms.

Here’s what the employers are looking for, and how you should answer them.

Taken from the Procurement Graduate Scheme application form at ABF.

The purpose of this question is to assess your ability to adapt to new surroundings. Nearly all employers like to see versatility and problem-solving skills in graduates.

So how do you answer the question? Be specific. Employers care about what you have to say - use your word limit to explain exactly what you’ve taken on, giving concrete examples. Perhaps you were required to use a new computer programme as part of your extra-curricular activities. Did you ask for advice from those who had already mastered it, watch YouTube tutorials, make a conscious effort to learn from your mistakes - or all of the above?

Taken from the Graduate Programme application form at Volkswagen Group. 

Being asked to list your proudest achievements can make anyone feel self-conscious. What Volkswagen Group really want to know is what you think you’ve been successful in pursuing, and what you value as an achievement.

This question is actually a great opportunity for you to give a unique answer which shows off some personality. For example, what can you claim were your achievements as the head of your university society? Or did you captain your Sunday league football team to cup glory?

Whatever you choose, getting into university or getting a good grade should be a last resort. While impressive, academic achievement isn’t unique to you and will not set you apart from other applicants - unless you had to overcome a specific obstacle to achieve it.

Taken from the Finance Graduate Scheme application form at Schroders.

This question is specifically geared towards finding out why you want a career in this sector - not why you think you’re suitable for the job.

The best way to explain your attraction to a particular area is to discuss which aspects of the career you think you would most enjoy. For example, in an area like Accountancy at Schroders, you could say you enjoy working with clients on a project basis. Or for a Civil Engineering position, you might mention that you enjoy working on large projects and seeing your efforts pay off.

Taken from a Graduate Scheme application at ABF.

While working from bed may be your personal dream, it’s likely that ABF are looking for a slightly more well-rounded answer - they want to know what you prioritise in a work environment.

If you’re stumped on how to answer this one, you might be able to discern something about the working environment from the job description which will help you give a suitable response. For example, employers looking for strong communicators and team players will want applicants who enjoy collaborative and encouraging environments.

Taken from the Graduate Programme application form at Volkswagen Group. 

What employers really want to know with this question is why them, and not their competitors? You should target specific elements which attract you to the graduate scheme, preferably ones which are unique to the company. Is it the long-term career prospects which excite you? Or maybe the approach the company takes to graduate training?

Giving a well-crafted response to this question may require some research. Make sure you get the details right, and acknowledge how you foresee your own employment progressing. If you believe the job will help you in your career goals, employers are likely to be drawn to your dedication and commitment.

Working your way through graduate scheme applications can be tedious, especially when you’re entering the same data over and over again. The most important thing to remember is to take the time to answer the questions in detail and with personality - it’s worth it in the end!