Those who find them complicated and impersonal can often despise job application forms. In fact, they’re hugely popular with employers worldwide as a means of ensuring consistency within a range of criteria.
If you treat it simply as another form of CV and cover letter in the knowledge that the prospective employer will read, and act upon, it and you apply the same level of preparation and focus as you would within any job application - then making it effective should follow.
“Help! They want me to fill out an application form!” For many people the very thought of this is likely to result in a mix of emotions: “It’s too long; too complicated; what do they really want me to say? They won’t like me….” and so on. However, these fears are usually quite unfounded and, before you start filling one out, it certainly helps if you can understand why employers use them.
CVs and cover letters can differ greatly between candidates, as will their general approach. The application form, however, collects consistent information in a uniform format from every applicant, because every applicant completes the same document that asks the same questions. Consequently, the use of application forms provides the employer with a ‘level playing field’ from which to choose the most suitable candidate(s). They will read them, and so you have to consider carefully what to say – and how to say it.
So, then, how do you make it effective?
To start, it’s important that you take the initiative. Quite often, jobs are advertised with closing dates 3-4 weeks hence and it’s tempting to wait until the last minute before submitting your application. Mistake. Yours will then be one of many to be scrutinised as one of a large bunch at the end. If you’re one of the early ones, your chances of being picked improve dramatically.
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that it’ll be read by a computer; it won’t. As with all forms of job application, preparation is vital, and you must be quite clear about what they’re really looking for. It may seem obvious, but you must read through the document from end to end, picking up any specific instructions they provide, e.g. "use pen only" or tell you to list information in a certain order. Make sure you know the correct names, dates, places and any other information you might need. You will require some extensive research so that you’re fully aware of the company or organisation, the role itself and its lines of reporting.
Because your CV will not be required here, this form becomes your CV and cover letter rolled into one. So, make sure that you include only information about your experience that’s relevant to them and to the role (‘CV’), and then highlight aspects of it that will enhance your attractiveness to them.
If they ask for a Personal Statement (‘cover letter’), use it to offer examples of your relevant experience and ensure that your skills coincide with their requirements in a way that’s exclusive to you. By all means keep it light and take the opportunity to show that you do, actually, have personality..
Consult your referees and ensure they’re happy to be contacted. Because they will be.
So, there we have it: the Application Form is not the scary (or ineffectual) thing that so many people think it to be. It has a useful function, which is highly popular amongst employers where they can identify top candidates from what is, effectively, a level playing field.
The key to your effectiveness in presenting a job application form is to use its various functions to your advantage. You may be on a level playing field, but if you answer all their questions clearly and succinctly, offer your relevant experience as you would on your CV and inject your personality into a personal statement, then you offer no reason why they should not pick you out for interview.
- Don’t be put off; it’s there to be used effectively
- Don’t delay; if you leave it until the last minute, you diminish your chances
- Remember: it’s often a straight substitute for a CV and a cover letter; use wisely
- Read the form right through before you start
- Do exactly what it asks you to do
- Use a Personal Statement to market yourself brilliantly