Applying for a job doesn’t always mean sending off a CV. There are increasing numbers of employers who are using the application form as their preferred means of recruitment and selection. Whilst for some employers that may mean the traditional paper application form, but for others it may consist of an application form completed and submitted online.
In various articles we have featured over the last few months, we have given tips, guidance and hopefully some good advice on creating and perfecting your CV but have not as yet given any guidance on application forms…until today that is.
We have put together here some basic Top Tips to help you Complete that Job Application Form which will hopefully get you to the next stage – the job interview itself.
Some of these tips may seem fairly obvious but having worked in HR myself, I have often seen examples of application forms where even the most basic mistakes are made which automatically relegate your application to the “unsuccessful “ pile.
PLAN YOUR TIME
Unlike a CV, where generally once it is completed, it is often just popped in the post or emailed through to a prospective employer, an application form can take much more time. It is really important that you dedicate sufficient time to completing it. It is not just a matter of copying bits from your CV across. Many of the questions are as detailed as you would get in a face to face interview and therefore preparation is key.
COPY THE ORIGINAL FORM
Photocopy your form and complete a draft version before you complete and submit the real thing. Likewise if it is an online form, complete your answers in Word and then copy and paste them into your application. You might think it is an exaggeration to say that applications are sent off with lines scored through, with Tippex marks or even with coffee stains. But believe me, it happens!
READ THE INSTRUCTIONS THOROUGHLY
This may seem fairly obvious, however many applicants fail to do this and therefore fall at the first hurdle. Before you even contemplate answering anything, it is absolutely critical that you read all the instructions e.g. are block capitals required, must it be completed in black ink etc. If it is an online form, it will usually give you an indication of how long it is likely to take to complete, and whether or not you can save it if only partially completed – all essential information for you to know. Check when the closing date is and adhere to it. It is a complete waste of time and effort to complete a form and then to submit it too late for consideration.
If you are asked to complete all sections, then do that. If something is not applicable, then declare that in the relevant section.
For online applications in particular, leaving certain fields blank may mean that you don’t get through to the next stage in the process, irrespective of the content of the rest of your form. Companies often use filters which screen the online forms received and failure to complete all required sections could actually filter you out of the entire process.
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Just like in a CV, paying attention to spelling and grammar is critical. Spelling mistakes simply show lack of care and attention to detail to a prospective employer. If you are aware that your spelling is not that great, then use a spellcheck function first or get someone else to check over your form for you. If it is a handwritten form, make sure your handwriting is neat and easily legible. No HR department wants to be wasting time trying to decipher what you might or might not have written.
Also, make sure that you are entirely accurate with the content - are your employment dates correct?, are your grades correct?, are your contact details correct? Check, and then check again. There can be no room for inaccuracies with these most fundamental elements of the form.
USE THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Looking at the Job Description or Personnel Spec or even Job Advertisement can help you clearly identify the key skills and qualities that the employer is looking for. Make sure that your answers are clearly demonstrating that you possess these. Many companies use keyword searches on application forms as a means of shortlisting, so if you are not using the relevant “buzz” words, chances are you won’t get through to the next stage.
JUSTIFY THE “WHY” QUESTIONS
Application forms often include some of those questions normally asked at interview e.g. Why do you want to work for us?, Why should we employ you? etc. Just as you would for an interview, you need to spend time preparing your answers for these questions. For example, in the “why us” question, make sure that your answer shows you have done your company research. Give specific reasoning proving that you are interested in them, not just applying for any job.
USE THE STAR TECHNIQUE
Many application forms also have competency questions asking you to give examples of times when you displayed certain skills or qualities, such as teamwork, leadership, problem solving etc. Just as you would for an interview, you need to think carefully and prepare your answers.
The best way of doing this is to make sure that you answer using the STAR technique.
This can be summarised as follows:
S – Describe the situation and background, what was happening
T – Describe what your task or role was
A – Detail what action you took and what skills etc you used
R – Describe the result, the outcome of what you did on the situation.
Admittedly you may be limited in space in an application form and may not be able to go into the detail you could at an interview but it is still critical that you use this or a similar format when answering any competency questions. It is your answers to these types of questions that will show the employer that you have what they are looking for. Use your answers here to back up why you are the best candidate for the job.
COPY YOUR COMPLETED FORM
It is absolutely essential that you keep a copy of your completed application form. After all, if you are invited for interview, you need to be able to remember what you told the employer. This is even more important if you have been applying for several jobs at the same time. You need the copy to keep track and to help you fully with your interview preparation.
We of course are not saying that these tips will guarantee you get that interview you’ve been waiting for. As we are all aware, it’s a tough market out there and there are certainly no current signs of it getting any easier. However, following these tips will hopefully help you in the right direction.
And finally, one more thing……good luck!