Write a successful job application

Dan Mason, Senior editor
May, 2017

The vital first step when you apply for jobs is to complete an application form - it's your chance to show recruiters that you deserve to be shortlisted for interview

While for some jobs you will be asked to send a CV and cover letter, many graduate roles require you to fill in an application form instead.

You will need to complete most job application forms online via the company's website, but paper forms are still accepted in some cases. Either way, your aim is to prove to employers that you're perfectly suited to the vacancy.

Before you start

When you find a job you want to apply for, don't just start filling in the application form straight away. Take some time to prepare as this will make the task much easier.

Gather together all the information that you'll need - for example, details of your academic achievements, employment history and contact information for your referees.

Research the company to gain an understanding of what they do, the sector they operate in and their main competitors. And study the job description so that when you complete the application form you can refer back to the specific skills and qualities that the employer is looking for.

Finally, read the instructions carefully to ensure that you complete the correct sections of the form and know when the deadline is.

What to include in a job application form

The application form should make the employer want to meet you to find out more. Use it to show how you've developed valuable skills and experience through your academic work, employment and personal life.

Typical sections of an application form include:

  • Personal information - give basic details such as name and address.
  • Educational background - provide information on your academic achievements, including the institutions you've attended, courses taken and qualifications gained.
  • 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.
  • Competency-based questions - give specific examples of times when you've demonstrated the skills required for the role. See example questions and answers.
  • Personal statement - write a well-structured and well-argued case for why you are the right person for the job, again referring to the person specification set out in the advert.

Most application forms will also require you to provide details of at least two people who can provide references. You may sometimes be asked to attach a CV and cover letter.

Never lie on your job application form. Not only will this demonstrate your dishonesty to a potential employer, but there can be more serious consequences too. For example, altering your degree classification from a 2:2 to a 2:1 is considered degree fraud and can result in a prison sentence.

Style tips

Your application can make a strong impression if you:

  • use power verbs such as transformed, delivered, achieved and inspired
  • choose descriptive words like effective, consistent, determined and adaptable
  • focus on answering the questions and avoid waffling or being too vague
  • select appropriate examples of your achievements from past experience
  • demonstrate enthusiasm for the role
  • ensure that your spelling and grammar is correct.

Ask somebody else, for example a careers adviser, to read through your application form as a second pair of eyes can often pick up any errors more easily.

Be succinct, positive and clear. For more advice, read 7 ways to make your job application stand out. When writing your answers, always consider what skills employers want and how you can show them.

Disclosing personal information

You're not obliged to divulge details regarding your age, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation, and shouldn't be asked for them on an application form. Only provide information that you feel will help support your application.

However, you may be asked to provide these details on a confidential equal opportunities form. It is usually the last page of an application form, or completely separate, and is used solely for monitoring the employer's commitment to equality and diversity. It should not be seen by the people involved in recruiting for the role or used in the selection process.

Apply for jobs online

You'll complete the majority of job application forms online. On most employers' websites, registering your details means you can save your work as you go, so you don't have to finish in one sitting. You should also be able to go back and amend previous answers before submitting your form. Always be sure to check this is possible before you start.

It is often easiest to type your answers in a word processor rather than directly into the web browser, then copy and paste them into the application form. This will ensure that your logged-in session doesn't time-out, which can lead to you losing your progress. When copying and pasting, check that the formatting of the text looks right - for example, if you've gone over the word count the online form may simply cut off the end of your answers.

Print your completed application form out before you click submit, as it's much easier to spot spelling and grammar errors on the printed page than on screen.

Finally, ensure that you have attached any requested documents, such as your CV, and click submit to send your application. You should receive email confirmation that your form has been received.

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