Advice on writing application forms

In this blog, I’m going to be writing about application forms in general. Every employer will set their own structure for the application.

It’s helpful to firstly think about what the employer will want to achieve by getting a candidate to fill in an application form. In recruitment the process is divided into a shortlisting and an assessment process. The application form is part of the shortlisting process. So if this is included as part of the recruitment, it’s at an early stage. Therefore, it’s really important to get through this stage, so that you can reach the assessment stage to really be able to show them what a great candidate you are. Therefore, in order to select the ideal person for the role, you will want to show that:

  • you have the ability and skills to do the job
  • you have the motivation to do the job
  • you will fit into their organisation

Content

As I said above, every application form has its own structure. At the beginning you’ll need to fill in a lot of personal details and you’ll also be asked for a career history. Complete this in reverse chronological order, just as you will have done on your CV. It’s really useful to have your CV to hand, so that you have all the correct dates. You can also copy and paste the description for each role into the application form. Though make sure that everything fits into the correct field.

Structure of your application form

The content that you will need to spend more time on, will be any ‘white space questions’. By this I mean any statements that you will want to make, where you have to write as free text. You might have questions such ‘Tell us why you would like to work for us’, or for a postgraduate course, ‘Tell us why you want to study on this course’. There may be several similar questions on your ability, skills, motivations, interests and values.

Examples of the types of questions you can find on application forms:

Testing that you have the right skills and abilities:

  • Describe a challenging project, activity or event that you have planned and taken through to conclusion. Include your objective, what you did, any changes you had to make and whether it was successful.
  • Describe a difficult problem that you have solved. State how you decided what was critical about the project, say how you came to a solution. What other approaches could you have used?

Testing that you want the job:

  • Explain why you have applied for this particular role. Provide evidence of your suitability.
  • Why do you consider yourself to be a strong candidate for this position?

Testing that you want to work for the organisation:

  • Explain why you have applied to this organisation, rather than to some of our major competitors.
  • Tell us what you have done to find out more about our organisation.

The personal statement

There is usually also a personal statement that you will need to fill in. There will be instructions for this and they will be along the lines of ‘Tell us about your suitability for this role’. More about the personal statement in the section below.

Sometimes you will have word limits to each of these sections. It’s often therefore an exercise in concise writing and even if there are no word limits, it’s good to think about explaining your answer simply in order to catch their attention and to avoid waffling.

How to complete the application form

The advice here is to look carefully at the job description, especially the person specification. Also have your CV by your side, to remind you of all your achievements. Sometimes you’ll be asked to attach your CV as part of the application process.

When you are answering the ‘white space’ questions, it’s useful to give examples from your own experience. This is rather than talking hypothetically about a situation. A good technique to use is STARR.

The STARR structure (see diagram below) helps you to structure concise answers, consciously spending less time on the ‘S’ and ‘T’ part of the answer, as this is just scene-setting, so that you can talk more about the ‘A’ and the two ‘R’s. These are the parts of the answer that the recruitment team will really want to hear about and where you will be more likely to impress them.

 

Write out your answers in Word first. Then you can use the spelling and grammar checking tools. You will also have a record of what you have written, as sometimes you might not have access to this after you’ve submitted your application form.

If you allow plenty of time to fill in your application, then you’ll have the chance to go back to it to check it with fresh eyes. If possible, it’s also good to have someone else check your answers.

Personal statement

For the personal statement, all of the above applies. If you are asked to state your suitability for the role, remember to show enthusiasm in your answers. Describe your skills in a positive manner and give plenty of examples in the text.

Structure

I really recommend looking at the person specification and addressing the competencies listed there in the same order they are presented there. You could also use headings which follow the structure of the person specification. This will make the job of those looking through the application form much easier, as they will be able to tick off the competencies, one by one.

Techniques

As mentioned above, use the STARR approach to set out examples of your achievements and skills. Use a variety of examples and try to use each scenario just one time.

Key points to remember:

Dos for application forms:

  1. Read the instructions very carefully before you start, make sure you fully answer the questions (some may have several parts to them).
  2. Check you can save the form and come back to it.
  3. Make sure you complete every section and tailor your answers to the role.
  4. Check your grammar and spelling.
  5. Keep a copy of your form for future reference.

Don’ts for application forms:

  1. Don’t re-use the same examples for your answer, use a range of different ones.
  2. Avoid lengthy descriptions, i.e. don’t use highly descriptive or flowery language.
  3. Don’t include your CV unless you are asked for it.
  4. Avoid leaving completing your application form until the very last minute (it’ll usually take longer than you think).
  5. Don’t aim to complete the application form in just one sitting, give yourself some time to review it with fresh eyes.

I hope this blog helps with your future application forms. You might also be interested in my blog about CVs

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