Guide to Completing Application Forms

Despite the time and effort you have already put into preparing a knockout CV, some employers, particularly in the public sector, prefer to insist on a standard application form, either in hard copy or online. This enables them to request specific information and make comparisons between candidates on an ‘apples with apples’ basis. However, the application form, like the CV, is still your passport to interview and requires just as much effort to impress the reader.

Whether completing a hand written application or filling one in online, there are some golden rules to follow:

Read Everything
Most applications will come complete with a job description, person specification and guidance notes. It’s also handy to keep the original job advert for reference. All of these contain information and clues to the type of person the employer is seeking, so make sure you analyse the keywords and use them when completing the form.

Do your Homework
Back up the information the employer has given with you by researching the organisation on the internet. This will give you a feel for the type of industry-speak they use and you can reflect this in your application.

Answer all the Questions
The employer has put them there for a purpose and no, it’s not good enough to slip in a copy of your CV and refer to that for an answer. If the question is not applicable to you, then put that in the space provided. Don’t be tempted to over-elaborate or volunteer information that isn’t asked for, especially negative details.

Use the right Keywords
Refer to your research and make sure that you include the words or phrases you found there in a positive manner. More and more, larger organisations are using screening software on both hard copy and online application forms to monitor keyword usage to demonstrate you have understood the information you’ve been given.

Practice your Answers
Whether the form is written or electronic, always take copies of the blank form to enable you to try out your answers. For lots of us, actually using a pen for any more than a signature may come as quite a shock! The neat handwriting we were praised for in school may have deteriorated into a spidery scrawl. However, there are no shortcuts here so try to be as legible as possible. If you are tackling an online form, remember to back up your copy as some sites will have a time limit – you can always cut and paste your answers when you’re happy you have got it right.

Take advantage of the Personal Statement
Most application forms will give you the opportunity to show why you believe you are the right person for the job. You can use the creativity that you invested in your CV to generate a picture of you for the employer but remember to do this in conjunction with the person specification. Show how your skills, qualities and experience fulfil and exceed those the employer is looking for, bearing in mind the need to be concise and waffle-free. You may find that this section has a word count limit for that very reason!

Play to the Whistle
If the form asks you to give referees, always make sure that you ask them first and try to use the most pertinent ones you can think of in relation to the job you are applying for.

Check and Recheck
For an online form, you can check spelling and grammar automatically using Word format before you transfer it to the relevant space on the form. Hard copy forms need more care and attention so you may want to get a second pair of eyes to check it. Before sealing the envelope or clicking the ‘submit’ button, ask yourself ‘would I want to interview me on the basis of this application?’ If the answer’s no, revisit those sections you feel could be improved. Don’t forget to keep a copy of your final submission as this will form the starting point of questioning when you are called for interview.

Application forms can be daunting; the sheer bulk of some coming through the letterbox or even inbox is enough to make you think twice about the job that seemed so perfect in the advert and this in itself can be a selection factor for the employer. You have to really want the role if you’re prepared to wade through the paperwork. Try and approach the task in a logical sequence, being mindful of any cut-off dates, and if you get stuck, don’t be afraid to contact the sender and ask them to explain if any of the questions are unclear or ambiguous. When you have sent the form off, allow five days and then check that it has reached the employer and, as you would with a CV application, ask for the interview!

  • Don’t be deterred by the size of the form
  • Read all the information before starting the form
  • Do your own research
  • Answer all the questions truthfully
  • Use their keywords and phrases in your answers
  • Practice your answers on paper or PC
  • Make the personal statement work for you
  • Check, check and check again

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