Making applications

How to apply for jobs on a job search site

Many of the jobs you see will ask you to apply in one of four ways.

  1. The job will have contact details – a telephone number or email address – for you to contact the recruiter directly about the vacancy. In this instance, telephone first, because: it allows you to get in quickly if this is a juicy vacancy; it saves you effort if the job is gone; and (most importantly) it allows you to build an early rapport with the recruiter

  2. You will be invited to download details of the job (often a job description and an application form, possibly with specific instructions on how to apply) and you may be asked to fill these in offline and send them by post

  3. You may be asked to download the job details and application form, complete the forms electronically, and then re-upload the completed documents, or email them to a named contact

  4. You may simply be asked to submit (upload) your CV with a covering note.

Keeping track

To keep track of which jobs you’ve applied for, via which sites, (and also to make sure you never lose a site user name or password), set up a spreadsheet of your job applications. Make the front worksheet into a list of the sites with their relevant user ids and passwords. Start a work sheet for each month’s applications, rather than creating an ever longer list. This way, you will always know which jobs you are in the running for, and you can simply print off your spreadsheet each fortnight to take with you when you sign on.

Keep a note of all application deadlines, and all part-completed applications in-progress, too… Many job hunting sites allow you to store your application online if you need to take a break, and return to it later. Keeping a proper note will mean you will always remember which site it was!

Filling in application forms

Application forms are often considered to be the worst part of job hunting, and it’s true, they can take time to fill in. But, once you’ve got the ingredient parts of a typical application form worked out and saved, they needn’t be too much of a burden. Allow yourself an hour per form – most are four pages or less, and most ask for the same information – however, be sure to read each form thoroughly in case there are some subtle differences.

Why do employers prefer application forms to CVs?

The main advantage for employers is that they get to control the information they are asking for, and how they would like to see your answer. If a particular qualification, skill or level of experience is needed, they can ask directly about this, and mandate how and where on the form you answer. They can also ask about your health record and any criminal convictions, which you might otherwise not disclose. It is also much less likely that someone else will have written the form for the applicant, something that happens a lot with CVs.

The second benefit to employers is the standard format of application forms. It not only means they can check off qualifications quickly and easily, but also compare forms easily. Application forms also tend to limit the amount of information you can give without resorting to complicated additional pages. Because people tend to like their applications to be tidy, they shorten what they want to say, which can in turn help to shorten the sifting process.

Application forms may actually be an advantage to the applicant. Many contain (or are accompanied by) specific guidance for their completion which can help you frame your application in the most appropriate way for that organisation or that job.

Typical application form sections

  • Position you’re applying for
  • Personal details
  • Current or most recent employment
  • Current membership of professional bodies
  • Past employment
  • Periods not accounted for in work record
  • Education, training and development
  • Personal statement
  • Medical details
  • Criminal convictions
  • References
  • Declaration
  • Interests/hobbies
  • Other jobs

How to fill in an application form

Here are eight points to ensure your application form shines. Many of the tips on content from How to create your CV are also applicable to application forms.

  1. Read all the instructions

    There may be instructions for completion both on the form and issued with the form.

  2. Work on the spacing

    Work out your word count for each section, and whether you need an extra sheet for any section. Aim to only use a continuation sheet for your personal statement and your qualifications if you have a long list of them

  3. Draft out the sections

    Use large sheets of plain paper, or create a draft on the computer first.

    – Prioritise your key points – write them on post it notes so you can move them between sections until you find their most natural ‘home’. (Keep your reserve list of key points for the next application form, when they may be more relevant than the ones you’ve chosen this time)

  4. – précis to fit wherever you can, rather than cutting important things out How to write a précis

    – Plan what to put in which section, if there is more than one option

  5. Attend to spelling and grammar

    Always, always spell-check carefully, and get someone to look over the grammar if yours isn’t tip top. A good way to check the grammar is to read it out loud, or get someone else to, while you listen. What you’ve written may not be what you think you’ve written!

    A good way to check spelling is to read the form backwards. That way, you are reading the individual words on their own merits, not as part of a sentence. If you read something that’s part of a sentence, you tend to see what you expect to see, not what is really there.

  6. Build a library of application form sections

    The first time you draft an application form either create it on the computer or transfer it onto the computer when it’s done. Save each section as a separate document, in an ‘application form’ folder, for future use. If you create new sections for new applications, add those to the folder, so you build up a library of reusable wordings for different types of application

  7. Fill in the form

    Use a fine-nibbed pen with black ink, or a 10 to 12 point font, on the final application form. Never have a cup of tea or coffee on a desk when you’re writing an application form. Don’t start the form with a pen you’ve had for ages in case it runs out part way through. If you have to hand write the form, focus on keeping your handwriting not just neat but consistent in size.

    Take several photocopies of the form and draft a ‘clean’ version of each section so that you know the words will fit. Staple any additional sheets on to the back page of the form, so that it doesn’t go adrift, and make sure it has your name, the job title and reference and the date on the top. Leave generous margins on any additional sheets for sifters’ and interviewers’ notes

  8. Keep a copy

    This is essential for interview, as the interviewer will be asking questions based on your application form. If you are not selected for interview, and you telephone to ask why, you can highlight weak points on your form and work on them

  9. Keep track of your applications

    Make a note of where you saw the vacancy, how you applied, and when you posted your application form. Keeping a spreadsheet of applications is essential (use a table in Word if you are not comfortable with spreadsheets). Many job hunting sites allow you to store your application online if you need to take a break, and return to it later. Don’t forget to write down which site it was, and your user name and password for that site!

What can go wrong on application forms?

The biggest pitfall with application forms is not having untidy handwriting or making a mistake in ballpoint pen on the formal printed copy (which is what most people worry about) it’s these three things:

  • Failing to read the instructions – not only could this mean your application slides off target, but it may send an unwanted message about how you view instructions
  • Failing to answer all of the questions as they are asked. Even things like forgetting to put ‘none’ in the sick leave box if you have had no sick leave, or failing to put full contact details for references can lose you an interview
  • Missing the application deadline.

It is easy to allow yourself to get sloppy after the fifth, tenth, twentieth, fiftieth form – but if you spend an hour on a sloppy form, it’s simply an hour wasted – you may as well pick another method of job hunting.

Some important final checks…

Whether your form is online or on paper you should:

  • Read it over a few times to check for spelling and grammatical errors – these are one of the most common reasons applications are rejected
  • Ask someone else to proofread it for you
  • Check you’ve filled in all of the boxes that are relevant to you – if you leave an empty box the employer may think your form is incomplete. If a box isn’t relevant, put ‘N/A’ (not applicable)
  • Photocopy or print out the finished form, so you have a record of what you’ve put. You’ll need to be able to refer back to it at the interview stage
  • Take note of the closing date and send your application form to arrive in good time.