How to Impress on an Application Form
Application forms are becoming increasingly popular among employers as a means to recruit people for interviews. When you are preparing an application form for an employer it is of utmost important to put time, effort and care into it. This is your only chance to make a strong first impression and secure an interview.
General Tips - Presentation Matters
Spend Ample Time on Your Form
Filling out one application form should take as much time and care as writing your CV does. You should give at least a couple of hours to filling out your form, including filling out your personal/contact details carefully, brainstorming and phrasing the content well, and formatting your application form as required.
Format Your Form Consistently
Some application forms require a specific font and font size to be used on their forms. This will be clearly stated on the form or in the instructions provided for filling it out. If you are given a specific font and size, use it. Otherwise pick a legible font (such as Verdana or Calibri) and a font size (we recommend font size 12) and use this format for all of your questions.
Apply Once You're Ready, But Before the Deadline
There is no advantage to submitting your application form more than a day or two in advance of the deadline. All application forms that are submitted in time will be considered by the employers on an equal basis, regardless of how far in advance of the deadline each form was submitted.
Answering Competency-Based Questions
It is common in application forms to include questions similar to those that you may be asked during an interview. If you have a question that asks you to tell the employer about one of your skills, that will require longer answers with full sentences. It is vital for these questions that you write an appropriate response.
Heed the Word Count
Employers will indicate the length of response they require. It is important to be as concise and clear as possible, and to meet their expectations for the wordcount. Some employers will give you a range for the word count, for example 200-250 words. In this example, the employer expects you to write 250 words and you should adhere to this. If you do not, it may show that you have not read the form properly which demonstrates a lack of attention to detail.
Other forms may have an exact word count or a general figure, for example ‘up to 300 words’. If this is the case, you should aim to write at least 15% less than but no more than the specified figure .
Read the Question Carefully
Make sure you understand what the employer is looking for. Address the question head-on and engage with all parts of the question. Typically, questions will be based on competencies such as ‘motivation’, ‘IT Skills’, ‘Leadership’ etc. You may have a few examples of times you’ve shown these skills. If this is the case, list a few options to explore and see which one lends itself best to using the STAR technique, which one is most relevant to the role you are applying for and which shows you in the best light.
The STAR Technique
The STAR technique is a way to present your examples that appeals to recruiters. The technique allows you to tell a story in a clear, coherent and consistent manner. This predictability of layout is helpful in that it falls in line with the employer’s expectations and allows the content of your story stand out more than the delivery.
Give a brief outline of the background information the interviewer requires to understand the context of your answer. Include the essential pieces of information, but do not elaborate further on details that are not necessary to your answer.
Explain the job at hand, problem to be addressed or project to be executed. It may also help to explain why it was necessary to resolve the issue.
This is the most critical point of your answer – write, in detail about what you did in response to the task. How did you decide on the best course of action? Did this show good judgement? Were you proactive about confronting the problem? If so, that shows initiative.
Once you have listed and elaborated on your action(s), comment on how successfully they fulfilled the task.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Giving Irrelevant Answers
You need to stay on topic in all of your answers. Demonstrating that you can communicate well, when you were asked about time management will show that you either did not understand the question, did not have a worthwhile example of communication or you chose to ignore what was required of you. None of those are the outcome you want.
Being too Critical of Previous Employers or Colleagues
It is natural to experience challenges in life and work. Recruiters want to know how you handle things going poorly, as at some point you will face issues in your work if they hire you, so it’s important for them to see you have resilience, take initiative and have grace under pressure. That said when talking about a challenging time in work, keep the company you worked for and relevant people in the story anonymous. And be sure to focus your energy on explain how you addressed the situation, rather than on the faults and shortcomings of others. It is not appropriate to use an application form or interview as a time to complain about previous work.
- Your application form is neatly presented and consistent.
- You have double checked your contact details are correct.
- Your content is well considered and relevant.
- You have followed the STAR technique in your long-form answer questions.
- You have respected the word count in all questions.
- You have attached your CV if they have asked you to include one.
- Keep a copy of your application form.
Best of luck in your job hunt!