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How to complete an application form successfully

29th September 2014

Are you staring at a huge white space headed something like; 'Please outline below how you are best suited for this role' with absolutely no idea how you are going to complete it? Is the clock ticking on an application deadline while you are struggling to understand how to sell yourself effectively? This month's blog will cover the key tips for making the most of application forms to ensure that you get through that filter into interview. Application forms, rather than CVs, have become more common recently as they help recruiters to deal with many applicants by assessing everyone quickly and having each applicant present their unique information in the same format. 

On several of my recent recruiting projects, I've noticed that the standard of application forms appears to be slipping. There are some basic checks that you can make now that will improve your application immediately. The first item to check is accuracy in both presentation (spelling, grammar) and content (have you actually answered the question? have you typed correct facts?) This sounds astonishingly simple but is the single most frequent reason for rejecting an application form. To ensure that you are not guilty, take your time, and proof-read it at least 5 times more than you think you need to proof-read it. This demands that you have a nearly completed form, ready for checking, way before the final deadline. So get organised and stay organised; if the form is online, draft all your answers in separate documents and only cut and paste when you have stopped altering it. If the form is on paper, photocopy several blanks and always write neatly, in block capitals or print to practise your answers. Try showing your efforts to carefully selected friends and family- only those who you are confident will give you some practical advice. Please use the spell check tool on all online applications and find a friendly proof-reader who is a better speller than you. Check that the spell checker is set to U.K., not U.S. English and be wary of common confusions such as: loose/lose, affect/effect. I've read a CV where someone had typed 'weather' when she meant 'whether'. There is absolutely no excuse for incorrectly spelling the name of past employers, which I've also seen on application forms. I have heard nervous spellers try to justify it on the grounds that the target job will not require them to write, but it all builds an impression of someone who does not pay attention to detail, a common core requirement for just about any job on the market. 

Failing to answer the question is also a common application form mistake. I advise job seekers to start with their core CV and aim to put all their CV highlights into that form at the relevant questions. Always work from the job description as a checklist to ensure that you have given evidence of when you have used each skill mentioned in the job description. This is the correct answer to the terrifyingly huge question; 'Please outline below how you are best suited for this job'.  The recruiter is simply inviting you to sell yourself into the role and show how your past experience, skills, qualifications and talents have produced a positive result for your previous employers/customers/colleagues. Remember that experiences from studying, travel, volunteering and unpaid work experience all count here; choose the most relevant example of having demonstrated such a skill, regardless of where you practised it. Your guide is always the job description. 

Sometimes very specific questions about the skills required pop up on forms and younger or less-experienced candidates can panic about their relative lack of evidence. Rather than making up examples, (you'll be found out when probed about it at interview) it looks better to give just 1 crisp, good example and leave white space than waffle into fantasy or irrelevant examples. If a specific question asks: 'Give an example of a situation where you dealt with a difficult customer', then choose just your best story, always describe the result and be clear about what you did to make a difference, rather than hide behind 'we' or 'the team'. 

You'll find more help in my book; 'Nail That Job, the complete guide for the less experienced jobseeker', available here and if you have any more urgent questions about how to complete that form, then please just drop me an email, or tweet @Nailthatjob. Best of luck!

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