Although application forms can be comprehensive and appear impersonal, they help employers to compare candidates on equal terms and extract more specific information than can be included in a CV.
Despite the wide variations in format, which depend on the employer and the sector, application forms usually cover the same ground: personal details, employment and educational history, reasons you’re a suitable candidate for the role, and your references.
If you’re concerned that your form is not going to stand out among all these standard responses, though, don’t worry: there are techniques to ensure that you get noticed by potential employers.
Even before you answer a single question, you should take some time to research the recruiting organisation. Make sure you understand its goals and values, and demonstrate that you have done your research wherever relevant in the application.
With any application, it’s important that you follow instructions carefully. Note which questions are mandatory and which are optional. Make sure you understand each of them fully before you start writing your answer, and consider what specific information the company might be seeking.
If the guidelines require you to include a CV and cover letter in addition to the form, then do; if not, then don’t. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your attention to detail, so make it work for you, not against you.
Each answer should be focused and concise. It can help to type a longer answer and then trim it down to the essentials. Don’t be vague or waffle; get to the point quickly. Once you’ve finished each answer, reread the question and make sure you’ve answered it properly.
Highlight your skills
Even if the application asks you outright what your strengths are, it’s important that you show off your skills as much as possible in every answer. Remember to use active verbs such as achieve, cooperate or negotiate, and emphasise attributes such as being driven or hard-working. Choose relevant examples and use the STAR technique.
Education and employment history
Often, there will not be a great deal of space to discuss your education, so limit what you include to key results or modules. List your jobs in reverse chronological order with the most recent first. Include your job title, the name of the organisation and the location. Mention responsibilities and achievements in previous roles that relate to the skills required for the advertised job.
Application forms will often ask why you want to work for their organisation or why you’re leaving your current employer. Avoid negative answers like “I’m bored at my current role” or “I’m looking for a higher salary”. Instead, talk about what you can do for the company, how you know it’s a place where you can make a difference and what makes it unique.
Most application forms will request one or two references. At least one referee should be work-related, preferably your current manager. However, if you are a recent graduate, you can include an academic reference such as a university tutor. Remember to include their full name and title, postal address, email address and phone number.
Read over your entire application before you submit it. If you can, print it out and go over the hard copy. Check you have supplied accurate information and that your contact details are correct. Poor grammar and spelling mistakes will damage your chances of creating a good impression.