There are two main types of application form that you may encounter while looking for work – the hard copy variety and the online application form.
Hard copy application forms
Some organisations require you to fill in an application form as part of their recruitment process. It helps them to make a direct comparison between candidates on the same issues, to set their own agenda on the key areas of importance and to assess your ability to express yourself in a concise and straightforward manner.
An application form will usually have the following sections:
- personal or biographical details
- a summary of key experiences, such as academic attainments, employment history and extracurricular interests
- commentary on specific issues
- questions requiring you to provide practical, specific examples of experiences that demonstrate particular skills or qualities.
The first step you should always take is to make some copies of the original form – these become your ‘working documents’. In many respects, you should use the same approach as you would in an exam. Read through the whole application form before you write anything so that you are clear about exactly what information you are being asked to provide. Make a draft of what you will write, repeatedly asking yourself ‘Am I answering the question?’ for each section. Never leave any sections of the form blank. If it doesn’t apply to you, then notate that part of the form ‘n/a’ (not applicable).
Given that you either have limited space to write in or have been given a specific word limit, ensure that you use very descriptive and action-oriented language to reinforce the message you are trying to convey. The final hard copy of any application form should be completed in black or blue ink and be clearly legible; printing is often preferable to cursive writing.
Once you’ve completed your research, reviewed what you have to offer, checked that you have addressed the selection criteria and drafted your application form, you should do a final check for mistakes or omissions. Then print off the application, copy it for your own records and then staple securely in the top left-hand corner. Binding the application or inserting it into an expensive plastic folder will not make it any more informative. Vitally important, of course, is to take note of the closing date and ensure that your application is submitted ahead of time rather than at the last minute.
Online application forms
Many large companies use online application forms for part or all of their recruitment process. In general, the same principles apply when completing these as for hard copy applications. There’s a range of options in the use of online application forms – in some cases they can be downloaded, completed and returned either by fax or mail, while others may be submitted electronically.
There are two types of electronic submission. The first involves the applicant registering on the company’s site and completing the form over a number of sessions.
In the second type, the application must be completed in one sitting – that is, once you start filling in the online application form you may not be able to save it and then come back to continue work on it. After you hit ‘submit’ at the end of the process, your information will be stored in a database. Therefore, if possible, you should print out a hard copy of the form, gather all your facts and then write a number of drafts before arriving at your ‘final copy’. This is all the more important when you understand that some applications may take more than an hour to complete online, and that’s without any ‘thinking’ time!
One of the issues with electronic applications is that some systems may not be able to transmit particular attachments (such as academic records). As companies require original copies of academic records displaying the institution’s seal, and, in many cases, it’s not yet possible to transmit these electronically, many companies request these documents at a later stage of the selection process. Companies generally use application forms to make initial selections on some basic criteria (e.g. work experience and qualifications).
It’s anticipated that along with the increasing use of online application forms, there will be increased use of online psychometric tests at this early stage of the application process.