How are applicants short-listed for AP posts?

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How are applicants short-listed for AP posts?

Post by miriam »

In 2003 I wrote: Well, for the first time I am on the other side of the process and am sorting application forms to decide who to interview. The forms will also be sorted and ranked by at least one other Clinical Psychologist, so its not just down to me (thank goodness). However I don't think until this moment I realised what a mammoth task it is to whittle down 60 applicants to a maximum of 6 interviewees to one successful candidate. So many of the applications are from people I know in my heart would be capable of the job, so it is inevitable that we will be turning good people away.

However, my reason for posting was not just to share my angst. I thought it might be an opportunity to point out some of the little things that really impress or discourage people reading an application form.


Get as much information as you can before applying
Show you have thought about this particular post and have not just sent the same application that you would send to any other assistant post
Show how you meet the person specification
Check your spelling and take care with your presentation
If it is hand written, always write neatly and legibly, if typed ensure it is formatted neatly and spelt correctly
Give all your qualifications
Complete every box on the form
Let your enthusiasm show
Type any additional sheets (or stay within word or character limits in electronic applications)
Explain anything unusual (such as a non-standard qualification, a career break, a change in direction, extra skills you might have)


Fit your response in the space provided (on an internet application try to keep it concise, rather than going right up to the word limit)
Leave blanks or miss out sections
Give too much information about things that are not directly relevant to the post
Let any technical hitches or grumbles show on the application form (even if the pack did arrive late, or personnel did not return your phone call, or whatever)
Expect people to read papers other than the application form - try to keep this to the bare minimum (for example, if the form includes qualifications and previous experience, then you do not need to also enclose a CV that details this)

Finally, don't take it to heart if you don't get an interview - the competition is fierce!

In 2005 I wrote: Well, here I am short-listing again, trying to turn some 80 applicants for an honorary post into few enough people to interview in a day! It is the first time I have short-listed for a voluntary post, or from NHS jobs, so I thought I would add a few thoughts whilst they are fresh in my mind.

1) Always make the application specific to the job, nothing is more off-putting than a generic application that isn't directly relevant to this particular job - so make sure you mention the client group and post, and why you think you can do it specifically. You'd be amazed how many applications for this part-time voluntary child research post are "looking forward to working full-time in a clinical capacity with people with mental health problems" or something similar!
2) Mention you have GBR with the BPS explicitly (its often a short-listing criterion)
3) Don't put too much about jobs that are not relevant (eg don't write more than 2 or 3 lines about what you gained from your bar-work, or the responsibilities you had as receptionist in a car showroom) but make sure you tailor the main section (Supporting information) to show you meet every point of the person specification
4) Proof read and spell-check everything. Sad to say, but if you are one of 60+ applications and it has five spelling mistakes in the first paragraph it probably won't get short-listed, on the basis that the person most people want to employ would have great written communication and also be methodical enough to check what they write. If you are dyslexic or know that spelling and punctuation aren't your strong point, cut and paste into Word and use the spell-checker, or get someone meticulous to proof-read it.

Its quite daunting to have so many good applicants for an unpaid post. It feels like a very similar pool to those who previously applied to our paid posts, only there are actually more applicants this time round!

(oh, and out of interest, I don't get to see names, addresses or dates of birth or ethnic groups or any other identifying information when short-listing).

I have been surprised that only one or two applicants have been explicit about the pragmatics of voluntary work, for example saying "I would fit this post around my paid work doing XXX". I guess perhaps people are so keen that they think any AP work is so good that they would work everything else around it!!! I wonder whether I should ask how people plan to arrange things at interview, or whether I should stick with personnel's view that the applicant decides they want to do the post, we just have to pick the best applicant....

Paul added: Had my first go at recruiting the other day. Would echo a lot of what Miriam's said. Have someone else read it, you'd be amazed how many people leave traces of other job apps in there. I know it's an honest mistake and people look for a lot of jobs at one time, but with a stack of 60 applications and one post to fill it's quite important to take time over each thing you apply for.

Maybe I'm a bit of a fascist about this but if there's more than one or two spelling / grammar errors in the whole thing it's probably not going to get very far. When the job spec says "good written / verbal communication skills" that doesn't just mean the ability to write quite well; when the competition is high it means the form needs to be quite near perfect just to get a look in.

In our particular case the job was related to a web-based service ( I think only one or two applicants showed any evidence that they'd been there and had a look around. Again; I know people are applying for a lot of jobs but when the info's right there on the web it seems strange people don't read it all and mention it!

I was surprised that only one applicant phoned to ask more details about the vacancy. It just so happened I had their CV in front of me at the time and our conversation allowed me to tick the "good phone manner" box which wasn't previously ticked.

In May 2008 I added: Doing your homework pays! If you apply for a job, find out what the job will be doing, who the supervisor will be (if they have publications or conference presentations, find out what on, and read them if possible), check whether the department has particular interests or research areas. Do some basic reading about the client group, way of working, or dominant model. Then think what they might be looking for and how you can show you are that person. The more your application form can reflect this particular job in this particular service the better. When you get to interview, this home work is even more essential. You'll feel less "thrown in at the deep end" if you have found out what the role will entail, where it will be based, what kind of service structure there is, etc.

In July 2008 I added:OMG we left an avert for an AP post up on NHS jobs for 12 days and have had 215 applicants!!!

With this many applications, if I read each one for five minutes it would take me 18 hours to read them all! So, my first task is to scan each and filter out as many as possible in about 1-2 minutes per form.

The main things I have used to filter are:

1) Meeting the essentials from the person specification - several applicants don't have a completed degree at 2:1 or better, or a 2:2 with a completed masters qualification. Some have had minimal or no experience, or none with children. This cuts about 25%

2) Form presentation - I've excluded forms written entirely in capital letters, or with no punctuation, or with multiple spelling and typing errors. This cuts about 5%

3) Relevance vs generic applications - I exclude forms that have very little in the supporting information section, or appear to be written to appeal to as wide an audience as possible give me no indication of why someone really wants this job, and why they feel their skills are suited to this particular role. This cuts about 40%

4) Waffle - forms that contain too much repetitive or irrelevant information. I don't need a paragraph on what you did when working in Argos/clarks/burtons/next/the local pub/a call centre - if you mention these roles at all, you need to give me only information that makes them relevant to the job advertised - and please don't repeat all your qualifications and job roles in the additional information, nor cut and paste in your whole CV. You need to demonstrate clear, consise communication. This cuts about 10%

That is leaving me about 20% of forms to score in more detail, which is finally a workable amount!

My top tips from 2011 would be:

1) Give qualifications from most recent down to A levels. If you include GCSEs write them on one or two lines total, not one line per subject. Put vocational courses (but not Masters Degrees) in "Training Courses Attended". Don't detail individual modules from your degree.

2) It might seem like stating the obvious, but type in lower case with punctuation and capital letters in all areas otherwise it is unpleasant to read. Get the whole form proof read or spell-checked - if you can't spell your job title or your employer, this makes a bad impression. Don't use perjorative group labels such as "the elderly mentally ill" or "sufferers of autism".

3) Make the form specific to the post you have applied for, and show enthusiasm for that role with that client group. Use the supporting information box to show how you meet the person specification, and your individuality.

4) Avoid duplication or obvious cut and pastes from your CV. Show you can be clear and concise. Don't give detailed content of irrelevant jobs - either don't mention them, or keep it to one line of what you did. Where anything has relevance, draw out what you learnt, rather than listing what you did.

5) Avoid superlatives. Let the short-lister decide whether your experience is "vast" or your communication skills "superior" or your academic profile "exceptional" rather than making too many grand claims yourself.

6) Proving nothing is too obvious to need stating - apply for the right job! Don't write how you are looking forward to working with [insert wrong client group] at [insert wrong employing trust].

Another five hours work and I've scored our top 28 according to the person specification and ranked them in order of preference for our five interview slots. It feels the fairest way to do it, although it means that we never end up giving a 'first break' to a graduate as their scores for the experiences and competencies tend to be lower than those who already have experience. So, 4 of our top ten have already been APs, and most of the others have either done a post-grad qualification or a research post.

Interestingly, form characteristics were weighted very high in terms of discriminating between candidates: having a form that demonstrated how you met the person specification made a really major difference. People who were able to specifically mention and demonstrate with examples that they were organised, good communicators, able to engage challenging clients, flexible and enthusiastic actually ended up getting more points than people who had greater experience but wrote a generic application form.

Astra added I just think that at this level it is soooo important to make your application relevant to the job in question. I know it's tempting to put "I want this particular job because it's an AP post and I need it to get on training and I'm stuck in a vicious cycle of no experience - no job - no experience" but that goes for most applicants. Some of the applicants will already have had a similar role already and will be able to be really specific, so if you haven't you really need to get creative about what it is about you that makes this the right job for you and what makes you right for the role. This might mean talking more about a voluntary role you had at uni than a paid role you've had since, if it's more relevant. It will also mean really thinking about what transferable skills you have picked up from anywhere and making sure you emphasise how you will use these in the role. It can help to ring and talk to the named contact - scary but enormously helpful as you can find out what areas to emphasise in your application. So for example if you rang and asked say about research in the department and they happened to mention something you know a bit about because it vaguely relates to your dissertation, or an essay you did you can emphasise that as a strength when usually you might not have thought of including that. Some of this will feel difficult and uncomfortable but it's a competitive field and you have to put the effort in to get the results. I think Miriam's list will be really helpful to people starting out, to think about how they put an application form together. The time and effort really does pay off eventually.

Mod added (July 2009):
Spatch's "True confessions" of the trials and tribulations of shortlisting for an AP post can be found here.

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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 22.6.11
Last modified on 22.6.11
Last edited by miriam on Tue Nov 04, 2008 2:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: How are applicants short-listed for AP posts?

Post by miriam »

I was short-listing and scoring up the screening process for our summer placement this week and can suggest the following:

- make sure you actually want the post, and can get there, before you apply
- make sure you know what the post will involve and what the service does
- follow the instructions when applying (send the right info, in the right format, to the right place)
- if you apply for something check your email regularly to see whether there has been a response
- if given a task READ THE INSTRUCTIONS, don't just guess what you think they might want you to do
- have some rationale for your answers
- don't use pejorative language
- make sure to use your time well (don't forget it is easier to get half the marks in all the questions than all the marks in half the questions)
- think about your presentation
- in tasks where you need to hand write the answers, make sure they are legible!

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This forum is free to use. If you find the site useful, you are welcome to contribute the cost of a cup of coffee to our running costs.
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