Job applicants are often asked to complete a job application form. This can either be online or on paper.
Application forms typically begin by asking for fairly standard biographical information, followed by details of your education and experience, and then some open questions - these will give you the chance to highlight your suitability for the job.
Recruiters tend to prefer application forms to CVs because they help to standardise applications, making it easier to compare candidates when there are a lot of applications for the same job. It helps recruiters to filter out unsuitable candidates more quickly. In large firms, this stage may even done by a computer, so it's important to include all of the information requested.
The written application stage of the process is used to choose candidates to invite for an interview. Employers or recruiters look for two key things at this stage:
1. Do you meet the criteria? This information helps them filter candidates onto a 'long list' - Always check the job description and prove that you match the requirements.
2. Do you stand out among the other applicants? This is what helps recruiters compile their shortlist of candidates for interview. If other applicants have similar qualifications it may be your work experience or extra-curricular activities that reveal your employment potential.
Completing the Application Form
- Gather all your basic information together - personal details, educational information, experience etc.
- Decide on the most suitable people to use as referees - contact them and get their permission to put them forward as referees and confirm their contact details.
- Think about why you want the job, what you have to offer and what makes you the right fit for the role.
2. Check the details
- Find out what the employer wants - read the job description carefully; study the personal specification to find out what skills and experience they are looking for.
- Research the organisation - this will give you more clues about the kind of person who would be successful.
- Check closing dates - apply before the deadline. Some employers start processing applications before the closing date – and they are usually deluged by last-minute applications – so if you submit yours early, it may get more attention.
3. Don't rush it
- Allow plenty of time because writing a good job application is likely to take longer than you expect.
- Make a copy of the blank form or draft your answers first, before you start filling in the actual form.
- Read the application form through before you write anything down.
- Follow all instructions and answer all of the questions asked.
- If there is a question that does not apply to you, write ‘not applicable’ or ‘N/A’ in the appropriate place to show that you have considered the question and are not just leaving it blank.
- Try to make your answers relevant, interesting and personal. Remember that the aim is to write your own invitation to the interview - you want to stand out from the crowd.
4. Final checks
- Spell check and proofread your application.
- Where possible, ask a friend or careers adviser to look over it for you.
- Do a checklist to ensure that you have included everything asked for.
- Keep a copy so that you can go over it again before the interview.
- Sign and send
Online Job Applications
Applying for a job online is pretty similar to filling out a paper application form. The questions will be the same; only the format is different.
Time can be important. Some online application forms allow you to save your work and return to it later, but some have to be completed in one sitting. Be prepared before you start inputting information and allow yourself plenty of time.
Where possible, print off the form so you can prepare your answers offline. This will give you some thinking time and allow you to check your answers before pasting the text into the form. It's a good idea to type up any longer answers so that you can edit and spell check them before pasting them in.
Write for online applications in the same style you would use for filling in a paper form. Don't lapse into the more informal style you might use in other communications.
If you are asked to include a copy of your CV, it is likely to be electronically scanned. For example, you may be required to use a certain standard typeface - it is important to follow any instructions given.
Some recruiters use scanning software - always include keywords for the specific skills and qualifications that they have asked for.
Some online application forms include built-in psychometric tests, so it’s useful to get some practice in first. Remember - keep a copy for reference - print it out before you hit ‘send’.
Further / Additional Information
Most application forms include questions such as:
- Why are you suitable for the job?
- What is your greatest achievement?
- What are your interests and hobbies?
These questions are your opportunity to make an impact and stand out from the crowd. They give you a chance to reveal something of your personal self. Aim to show that you are more interesting than other candidates who may have similar work experience and educational qualifications.
Use examples from all areas of your life – college, work, interests, activities. The application form may just have the heading ‘additional information' - this is an open invitation to you to tell the prospective employer what you want them to know.
Whatever way the question is worded, your answers allow you demonstrate that you are a well-rounded individual with the skills, aptitude and personality to do the job and to fit into the organisation - exactly what a recruiter wants to hear.
Before you Send off or Submit your completed application form:
- Are your personal details accurate?
- Have you spelled the employer's name correctly?
- Have you filled in all the fields?
- Have you signed the form and cover letter?
- Have you kept a copy?
Tips and Advice
- Give yourself plenty of time - it may take several hours and a lot of concentration to complete the application form
- Think about what's behind each question: what are recruiters looking for?
- Keep a copy for reference - if it’s a paper form, photocopy it; if it’s online, print it out before you hit send
- Make sure you meet all the stated criteria, but more importantly, make it easy for the employer to see that you do