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Applying for jobs: Job application forms

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Application forms are used by prospective employers to assess applicants' suitability for the job advertised

Often, application forms are submitted alongside CVs and cover letters, so you need to think about these three items together.

What is in a job application form?

There are two types of application forms used by employers:

  • paper application forms;
  • online application systems.

Increasingly, large organisations recruit via online application systems but you will still find that paper application forms are used by many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Most application forms and online systems require information about:

1. Your personal details including:

  • name, address, contact details;
  • educational institutions attended/attending and the qualifications gained/predicted;
  • previous and current experience of work;
  • current salary/earnings;
  • whether you are able to work in the UK;
  • referees.

Sometimes an employer will also ask for your National Insurance number and whether you have been convicted of an offence.

2. Your skills, abilities, knowledge and experience (SAKE). These are often collectively referred to as your competences. Aim to tailor your SAKE to fit the specific job applied for.

  • Firstly, read the form through so that you can see where the questions and requests for information appear. This is especially important for online application forms where the structure of the form may not be visible as you begin.
  • Describing you SAKE is easier to do if the employer has provided a job and/or person specification. If a job or person specification is not available, then ask for one and carefully research the company or industry to find out as much as you can about what the employer is likely to be looking for.
  • It's important that you know about the job before you begin your application so make sure that you research the role and organisation.

How do I write a good job application?

The key to a good application is making sure your SAKE fit the job and/or person specification.

Many job specifications distinguish between attributes sought in candidates that are 'essential' and 'desired'. In these highly competitive times, you're unlikely to get far if you can't align your SAKE to all or most of the essential requirements.

Use words that align to the attribute on the job specification. For example, if the employer is looking for a 'strong team player' answer with something such as, 'I work well in groups and can establish effective working relationships with those in my immediate team as well as colleagues in other departments'.

It's also worth adding to this and providing a specific example drawn from your experience to support what you say. For example, 'I organised a monthly telephone conference for all those who work off-site and edited a weekly, email round-up of progress against targets'.

It's important to use action verbs to begin short statements. For example, 'coordinated the stock control process,' 're-organised the mail-shot system,' and 'learned how to deal with customer complaints'.

Use words that are descriptive and precise; for example, 'effective working relationships' is better than 'good working relationships' because 'effective' suggests that the relationships were productive and relevant to the job whereas 'good' is a value judgement.

Use examples from all aspects of your life: experiences of work, social, sports and family activities, course and extra-curricular activities. Skills such as leadership are often developed in non-work settings so use them positively.

Most applications require a minimum of two referees - often an employer and an academic tutor. Avoid using friends unless they can comment on you in a work-related setting.

Finally, make sure all text is spelled correctly and written in clear, grammatical form. Use spellcheck and proofread carefully. Before submitting your application, ask someone to check it for you. If you are a student, you can ask a professional careers adviser at your university careers and employability service to review your application. Recent graduates may also be allowed to use the careers service.

To find out more, see what skills do employers want?

Should I disclose personal information?

You do not need to disclose personal information about your age, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation unless this information will help with your application and has a focus on your suitability for the role. Progressive employers have a stated policy to promoting diversity and it's in their interest to recruit from the widest pool of applicants.

As part of the application process you may be asked to complete an Equal opportunities monitoring form. The information you provide about your age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability is treated confidentially and will not be used as part of the selection process. The forms are normally separated from the application on receipt and used to monitor the employers commitment to equality and diversity.

How do I complete an online job application?

Online application systems require both your personal details and your skills, abilities, knowledge and experience (SAKE) in relation to the job applied for, just as standard forms but may also capture other information as well.

For example, you may find online personality profiling or competency-based questions in online systems. The former includes multiple choice questions about your preferences, strengths, and motivations and the latter may take the form of a series of scenarios in which you have to explain what you did (or would do) in a similar situation.

In personality questionnaires, the best response is the immediate one, where you give an honest answer without reflecting on it. With the scenarios, make sure you understand the question and you give yourself time to really think through what is being asked.

Online application systems tend to seek out more about your motivation and ability to do the job than standard forms so make sure you research what the employer or job role requires before completing the form. Give yourself time to compose your answers off-line and then check them.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
April 2013

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