5.2 Filling in your form
Here are some hints and tips for completing an application form:
- Complete all sections of the form. If a question doesn’t apply to you, write ‘N/A’ or ‘Not applicable’ to show that you haven’t overlooked it.
- If there isn’t enough space for factual information (e.g. ‘give names, addresses and dates of all previous employers’), attach a separate sheet, unless you’re told that you must not attach any other papers.
- If there isn’t enough space for general interest information (e.g. ‘What have been the significant factors in your life to date?’), prioritise and keep it within the space allowed.
- Be sure to answer all the elements of each question (e.g. ‘What are your spare time activities, what do you contribute and what do you get out of them?’).
- Don’t cram sections with too much text – it makes them difficult to read. A clear layout can help, so consider using bullet points, underlined topic headings, etc., to clarify your points. Being able to write succinctly is evidence of your written communication skills.
- When answering extended (multi-part) or difficult questions, think of:
- what you’re going to say (understanding the purpose of the question)
- who you’re saying it to (someone who doesn’t know you but will make decisions about your future)
- how you’re going to say it (presenting an accurate picture of yourself)
- why you’re saying it (showing that you have the qualities, interests and skills the employer is looking for).
- Make your points relevant, interesting and personal (say ‘I’, not ‘we’). Give evidence and be specific (e.g. ‘I worked as a volunteer classroom assistant for three years’ rather than ‘I love children’). The skills you’ve developed in one context may well be transferable to another and employers will look for evidence that you recognise them, e.g. dealing with members of the public, working under pressure, handling money, working odd hours.
- Use positive language.
- Leave no unexplained gaps in your employment record. If you’ve been unemployed say so, but mention any part-time or voluntary work you did during that period.
- Tailor your responses to the post you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a job related to a course that you’ve completed, give fuller details of your course than you would if it’s not particularly relevant.
- Use the ‘any other information’ section to draw attention to activities and qualities not covered elsewhere on the form.
- Be convincing, positive and honest. Inaccuracy in one section can raise doubts about other areas of the form.
- Get your referees’ agreement before giving their names, and keep them well briefed so that they can write supportive references.
It’s also important to focus on what you can do rather than anything you can’t. When writing an application you are advised to focus on the positives, selling your skills and abilities. You must be truthful, but are expected to omit any deficiencies, e.g. you should never state that you ‘don’t have relevant experience’. It is up to the prospective employer to deduce that from the information you provide.
These are genuine questions from application forms used by large companies:
- On the first page of this application you stated a preference for a particular job. Explain why we should select you ahead of other candidates.
- Outline any activities you have planned and organised. Tell us what you did and how you achieved results.
- Write a short piece about yourself. Include such details as your achievements and responsibilities; the people, events or experiences that have influenced you; your ambitions and aspirations.
What should you include in your answers? Note down your thoughts before reading the comments.
- Show that you understand what the job involves and what you have to offer. Go for key points and give evidence from your record.
- Remember to cover ‘planned’, ‘organised’, ‘what you did’ and ‘results’.
- This section will tell them more about you as an individual than any other part of the form. You should be able to justify each word you have included. You’ll need to spend a lot of time writing drafts and fine-tuning your response.