Application forms help employers to compare candidates on a more even keel and allow the employer to extract more specific information than is often included in a CV. You will generally come across them in public sector or management trainee roles where the number of applicants is extremely high as it allows employers to spot if a certain box has not been ticked and quickly discard the unfortunate applicants
How to get it right
There are a number of things you should do to give your completed form maximum impact and ensure you're not left on the scrapheap:
- Print out two copies or make a photocopy to allow for a practice run
- Just like in exams, always read the whole document before you begin
- Always use blue or black pen, and make your handwriting legible
- Concentrate on listing achievements that will be most relevant to the job in question
- Always get a second opinion from a trusted friend
- Read your completed form before sending it off, carefully checking for grammar and spelling errors
- Keep a copy of your completed form so you can refer to what you've written in an interview
There are a few things you should look to avoid at all costs:
- Don't miss out any questions. Some may not be relevant, but you should at least add ‘not applicable'
- Don't include your CV unless you're specifically asked to, it's just doubling up on information
- Don't include anything you can't back up at an interview
Most application forms will use the same basic format as your CV, so a certain amount of copying can be done. There are however, certain areas that will require a little more thought.
Open and closed questions
Closed questions demand a ‘yes' or ‘no' answer, or a factual answer to something such as “How long have you lived at your current address”. These should be pretty easy to answer but watch out for the wording of each question, especially in a long list. A ‘yes' answer to “Do you have a clean driving licence?” is completely different to a ‘yes' to “Do you have any points on your driving licence?”
Open questions, like “How would you describe your ability to work under pressure?” give you the chance to shine. Be very careful in answering open questions, and make sure you don't miss the opportunity to make a positive impression. Strengthen your application by providing a clear reason why you should be considered, backing it up with examples wherever possible. Use terms from the job advert and any supporting information you have been given to make your application very persuasive as it immediately relates your skills to their company's needs.
It is vital to understand fully what each question is looking for, so note all the word restrictions and instructions. The temptation to cut and paste answers from previous forms can backfire if a question is slightly different or your career focus is no longer relevant.
Employers often notice when generic terms are used not specific to their questions and are rarely impressed. If you can't take the time to fill in a simple form, how much effort would you put into the job?
Wherever possible, highlight your responsibilities, strengths, skills and achievements. General sections on the form, such as ‘other Information' will offer an extra opportunity to sell yourself. Anything you have gained over your career such as awards and accreditations will all be useful factors to get you invited for an interview.
If you're asked to post the form back to the employer, it's wise to include a cover letter within the envelope to introduce yourself and give a quick overview of why you're the best candidate for the job.
Always aim to follow up your application with a phone call a few days after it has been sent or submitted online. Be careful not to be too hasty or pushy though, employers may be impressed with your enthusiasm, but you could potentially come across as desperate.