Application forms are one of the top methods that employers use to select candidates for a range of jobs and the following tips and advice will help you produce a succinct application for any role.
Application forms could be online or paper-based forms and usually look for you to demonstrate several skills, so often ask a variety of questions.
To stand the best chance of being included in an employer’s 'invite to interview' pile you need to make the best impression you can of your abilities and/or achievements in your application. Naturally, you should avoid any spelling or grammatical errors and follow the instructions supplied by the employer when completing the form; and take note of when the closing date is for when your application should be submitted. Questions people often ask us are:
- Do I need to include details of all my education/jobs to date?
- Should I mention any part-time or voluntary jobs I’ve got or had in the past?
- What should I include in the ‘why are you suitable for the job’ (personal statement) section?
- How can I make my application stand out?
Hopefully, this page and some of the links therein will answer these questions (and more) about how best to make a successful job application.
Once you have found a job(s) you want to apply for, it is highly likely that you will need to apply either with a cv/cover letter or more typically by completing the employer’s electronic application form. Whilst these are all slightly different from one employer to another, common areas covered in application forms are:
- Personal information – name and contact details.
- Educational background - information on your academic achievements, including the institutions you've attended, courses taken and qualifications gained. Don’t forget to include any relevant modules, training, or memberships (e.g. IET, BCS, or BPS).
- Work experience - list your employment history and describe your main duties and responsibilities in each role, emphasising those most closely related to the job you're applying for. Keep the job description in mind and highlight relevant aspects of your roles. Don't forget to include relevant unpaid work.
- Competency-based questions - give specific examples of times when you've demonstrated the skills required for the role. These can vary, examples include: "why do you want to work for us?" or "give an example of when you have worked in a successful team". Avoid being vague, and don't waste space writing about skills you have that aren't relevant. Use the 'STAR Technique to give detailed examples of your skills. Learn how to use the STAR technique.
- Personal statement - This is the key part of your application and needs to closely follow the job description. Write a well-structured, well-argued case that you are the right person for the job, referring to the person specification set out in the advert and keep to the word count, or about one A4 page, as many employers will automatically cut off at the limit. Find out more guidance on how long should a supporting statement be?
- Interests/Achievements - Try to be specific and creative keeping the role in mind - hobbies related to the role are a bonus
- References - include two or three references; usually previous employers and academic tutors.
Before completing the form, it is a good idea to have a record of your educational and employment history. You will need to add these details on the form as well as the contact details of the referees you are going to use - perhaps this is all on your CV?
Want to impress the employer in your application? I’m sure you do and one way you can is by finding out about them – who are their competitors? Where are they positioned in the sector they operate in? Have they recently invested in a new development/initiative? Social media channels, such as LinkedIn, are a good place to find this information. Having this knowledge will be useful in your application (and at interview) and will complement the research you do on the specific job you are applying for.
Use the job description. Make sure you can tick off and evidence all key points - this is what employers will be doing to decide who makes it onto the shortlist.
Use the STAR method to clearly answer questions. After researching the role and company, it will be easier to see why they may ask particular questions on an application form. Use the STAR method to evidence your examples. The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method is the best way to structure your answers and personal statement to ensure you are giving the evidence you need. You always need to provide evidence to support your claims. The more detail you give, the better the 'mental picture' you will give the employer; if they can picture you in the role you describe, they will also be able to picture you in their advertised role.
Finally, give yourself enough time to complete the form well – some jobs have a high volume of applications so any spelling/grammatical errors will be jumped on as a reason for discarding some very strong applications. So double-check your form before hitting the “send” button. Or better still get someone else to check it through for you, it’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can notice!
Remember, a lot of forms are electronic so it may be possible to save your application, allowing you to complete it in stages rather than all at one sitting.
Want to know more?
- The Prospects website has a lot of useful information on making successful applications for jobs including making a speculative (non-advertised) application
- Wider information on applications is included on TARGET jobs
If you would like further advice on your application, and how to get it into a prospective employer's 'invite to interview' pile, please book an appointment with an Employability Adviser.