What Is an Application Form?
An application form is an official document that a potential employer will require candidates to complete when applying for a vacancy. The application form allows the employer to pose a series of specific questions that every candidate must answer.
A standard form helps to speed up the application process and enables recruiters to compare applications more easily. It also makes it easier to weed out unsuitable or under-qualified candidates.
Application forms are also used where there is a continuous need for recruitment or where a high volume of applicants is expected. You may be asked to fill out an application form for jobs in the public sector, education and larger retail companies, among others.
An application form will usually include sections on personal information, education, work experience and employment history, as well as competency-based questions and a personal statement.
Application forms are usually completed and submitted online, although paper versions may be accepted in some cases.
- Why Are Application Forms Important?
- Completing Application Forms
- How to Make Your Application Stand Out
- Honesty and Accuracy
- Checking Your Application
- Further Reading
Why Are Application Forms Important?
An application form is likely to be your first chance to make an impression on an employer. It can spell the difference between being rejected outright or invited for interview, so it's crucial to get it right.
The best application forms will use the questions asked to reveal the candidate’s experience, qualifications, skills and attributes, while showing how these are directly relevant to the role applied for.
Your application should grab the attention of the recruiter and leave them wanting to find out more.
There is little point sending out lots of poor-quality job applications. Instead, find a few firms that you have a strong desire to work for and focus on applying for those.
Time spent researching the company and preparing answers that are thoughtful, intelligent and tailored to the specific role will give the recruiter a better insight into your personality and suitability for the position, and make your application more memorable.
Completing Application Forms
If you know what you're doing, completing an application form is a relatively straightforward process. But it's essential to spend time checking and perfecting your applications, as even a small mistake could result in rejection.
The Structure of Application Forms
Most application forms consist of four main sections:
- Personal Details
- Employment History
- Activities and Interests
Application forms may also include sections that require you to provide answers to specific questions, such as:
- Personal Statement/Reasons for Applying
- Competency Questions
It is important that you complete each section of your application form without spelling or grammatical errors. Remember to answer the questions in front of you rather than what you may think is being asked – or the question you would like to answer.
For online forms, it is usually easier to type your answers into a Word document and then copy/paste them into the relevant field in the browser. If you are doing this, make sure that you have completed every section, and check the formatting as you go.
This is the most straightforward part to fill out. Make sure you input the right information in the appropriate places.
You will be expected to list the names and addresses of schools or colleges you have attended, and may be required to give academic grades for qualifications you have received from secondary school through to university.
First-year grades may also be taken into consideration, even though these will not necessarily count towards your final degree classification.
You must meet or exceed the minimum academic requirements required for the job you are applying for. Some employers, particularly those using automated recruiting systems, will simply disregard applications that fall short of minimum academic requirements.
If you have a strong, valid reason why your grades do not meet the minimum requirements of the job you are applying for, then call the human resources department to discuss your application. Be prepared to include documentation to substantiate the reasons you are giving for your grades, such as a doctor's letter.
Before you start answering this section, read any guidelines carefully to make sure you are filling it out exactly as the employer requests. You will be asked to give details of employment including vacation work and internships, usually starting with the most recent.
If your employment history is limited, include details of holiday or part-time jobs, temporary work, and unpaid or voluntary work experience. Include anything that is particularly relevant to the job you are applying for.
Ideally, you need at least three examples of work for your application form. If you have had many jobs, the examples you use should be the most recent and/or relevant to the vacancy.
It is important to account for every period of your life on your application form, even if there are periods when you were travelling or not in formal education or employment. Do not leave dates unaccounted for.
For gap years, be sure to state exactly what you did, where this took place, how you organised/funded your trip and what skills you gained as a result of the experience. As with all the answers, try to talk about it in the context of the role and show how your gap year is an asset to your employability.
Activities and Interests
Make sure you include relevant skills, activities and interests. Be sure to highlight highly regarded skills (such as second languages) above hobbies such as cars or music.
This section may also be headed ‘Reasons for Applying’. In this section, you must prove to your employer why you are suitable for the role.
Try to sell yourself and match your skills, competencies and experiences to those the employer is looking for.
Let your employer know:
- What originally attracted you to this job.
- How your qualifications, competencies and experience are relevant. Link your experience to the person specification, making sure you have addressed every element of the criteria listed and given examples.
- What you are willing to do to upgrade your skills or qualifications, if relevant.
- How your personality would make you a good company fit (use examples of experiences to demonstrate your personality).
- Why this job is a logical move forward for you, and how it fits in with your long-term career goals.
If you have met employees of the company, through internships or careers fairs, for example, then mention it here. Talk about the (positive) impression you have of the firm because of these meetings.
You may also talk about any independent research you have conducted on the firm's position in its industry, culture, structure, training and so on.
Competency questions are a common part of application forms. Examples include:
- ‘Describe a situation in the past when you have worked as part of a team. Explain the role you played.’
- ‘Describe a time when you have explained something complicated to a group or individual; show how you helped them understand this concept.’
- ‘Describe a time when changes in your life meant you had to do something new or different. Say what you did and how you coped.’
Employers ask these questions to help them imagine how you would operate in the workplace and how you would interact with others. Using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Result) can help you write effective answers to competency questions.
How to Make Your Application Stand Out
Recruiters will spot lazy, generic answers instantly, so do not be tempted to copy and paste from form to form.
Employers want to see thoughtful, considered answers that have been tailored to the job and company you’re applying for. This will show that you understand the responsibilities you will be taking on and are confident in your ability to excel in the role.
So, take some time to prepare before you start filling out the form:
- Gather all the information you will need, such as details of academic achievements, work experience or employment history.
- Research the company you’re applying to. What are their aims and objectives? Have they been in the news recently? Who are their competitors? The company website and social media accounts are a good place to start and, if possible, talk to someone who already works there to get a real insight into the role. This has the added benefit that they might then remember you when sorting through application forms, or mention you to the person responsible for selecting interview candidates.
- Study the job description closely so you thoroughly understand the skills and qualities the employer is looking for. Keep coming back to these as you fill in the form.
- Read the instructions carefully. Check how to fill in and submit the form, whether you need any supporting documents and when the deadline is.
The application form is your chance to sell yourself so don’t be afraid to shout about your achievements, strengths and skills. If you won an award at university or achieved the highest exam grades in the country, put it in your application form.
Use every detail from your life and experiences to your advantage, especially anything that is unique to you but make sure you keep bringing it back to the context of the role. If you can demonstrate that your experience is both impressive and highly relevant, then you are in a strong position.
You also need to explain why you want this job. Use your research into the company to demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for the role, and explain what you would bring to it if you were appointed.
Your writing style can also help bring your application alive. Use varied vocabulary and try to use positive, dynamic words where possible – such as ‘inspired’, ‘achieved’ ‘transformed’ and ‘effective’ (take care not to go over the top though). It goes without saying that you should be scrupulous about your spelling and grammar.
Finally, keep your answers concise and to the point. Employers may be sifting through numerous applications and they won’t have time to wade through reams of text. Even the strongest candidates can put themselves at risk if their most relevant experience is lost among paragraph upon paragraph extolling their many virtues.
Focus on answering the question you have been asked clearly and succinctly.
Honesty and Accuracy
Never lie on your application form.
Interviews are designed to be probing and are likely to catch you out if you fabricated your answers previously.
For particular careers (such as lawyers and accountants), employees must be exceptionally honest and accountable. Any sign of dishonesty will be looked upon severely.
If you are offered the position, you will be required to provide references and original certificates of your qualifications. Make sure your application form is an accurate account of your life, experiences and qualifications.
Checking Your Application
When you have finished filling in the form, step away from it for a few hours or, ideally, overnight. This will allow you to come back to it with fresh eyes.
When re-reading, check that your answers convey your experience effectively and are fluent, clear and concise. And don’t forget to double-check for spelling and grammar mistakes.
It's also worth asking someone else to do a final read through for you. They may be able to spot mistakes that you have missed or advise you on how to phrase something better.
Ask your tutor, careers advisor or a friend or family member for advice. Everyone has a valid opinion.
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