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Far too often candidates do not take a job application form seriously. Without sounding dramatic, it’s a legal declaration and there’s a very real need to ensure accuracy and honesty.

A job application form needs some quality time, effort and concentration to complete successfully.

There are many different variations and formats of job application forms out there.  There are application forms used for applying for the job and application forms used after an offer is made to gather sensitive information for a background check.

Here are the main reasons for using application forms:

Job Screening: These are designed to screen you in or out. Or gather some basic information.

Behavioural Competency Application forms: These forms will ask you to provide specific examples of demonstrating relevant competencies. See below for more information.

Reference or Background Check: Often these application forms are used once a formal job offer has been made. It’s designed to collect personal and sensitive information in order to complete a thorough background check relevant to that sector.

Some applications are lengthy – if you want to join the police force, for example, it can be 20 pages plus. This will naturally screen out some candidates. It’s your opportunity to prove you deserve to be shortlisted and invited to interview.

Read the instructions

It’s so important not to rush into completing an application form. Read the instructions or guidance notes carefully first. It really will help you understand what information they are looking to assess. This will maximise your chances of getting through the screening process and get that invite to interview.

Print and draft

Even if you are completing an online application it’s worth printing off first (if possible). Just so you are really clear about what information you need to provide. Printing off the document first will give you a clear idea of the information they are gathering and help you to prepare.

If you are completing a paper based job application form, then it’s important to draft out to check your answers fit into the text boxes neatly too.

Gather the information

Most application forms will ask you to provide personal information such as full name, current address and possibly previous addresses, National Insurance number, passport or visa details etc. They are also highly likely to ask for education, qualifications and employment history including specific dates for all.

So read through the form and gather all the information together, so you’re not running around the house searching draws and cupboards!

Competency Based

These types of application forms don’t just ask for personal information. This type of form will ask certain questions to assess whether you have any relevant experience in specific scenarios. These sections will need some careful thinking through.

Read my previous blog on using the S.T.A.R. process (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) to give you some tips and techniques on structuring your answers. You’ll probably need to write concisely as there is likely to be a word count on application forms.

Proof read

Most application forms these days will be online. There are still paper applications and you’ll definitely need to draft these first, write in your best handwriting and proof read. Some online applications don’t have auto correction functionality. So make sure you’ve read thoroughly and check your spelling and grammar. You can write your answers in MS Word first and copy and paste over to the form. Make sure you still proof read to check if it makes sense.

So make sure you’ve read thoroughly and check your spelling and grammar. You can write your answers in MS Word first and copy and paste over to the form. Make sure you still proof read to check if it makes sense.

Legal declaration

It’s absolutely essential to provide accurate and truthful information. Again without sounding dramatic, for some organizations lying on an application form could result in a prison sentence for fraud.

Today you cannot get away with using the excuse that your education or training certificates are in the loft or at your parents home!  Don’t try this because a lot of larger companies will outsource their reference checking and background checks to a specialist third party to handle.

If reference checking is outsourced they won’t even need to see certificates, they’ll go directly to the education centre, school, college or university etc. They may also have centres worldwide, so if you were educated outside of the U.K. it’s not a problem checking if these qualifications are genuine.

It’s also important you understand the reasons for using application forms instead of asking candidates to send a CV. Organisations in the public sector, in particular, want to be fair, consistent and as objective as possible when screening candidates. They want to ensure every candidate has the same opportunity to demonstrate the requirements for their vacancies. It provides an even playing field for all candidates.

Quick dos and don’ts review:

  • Read all instructions and guidelines thoroughly
  • Try to provide an answer to every question
  • Don’t leave a text box blank – write N/A as a way of acknowledging the question
  • Never say “see CV” – job application forms are mainly designed to ensure all candidates have the same opportunity to answer specific questions
  • Stick to the word count for each answer. Draft your answer first in MS Word and that will automatically count the words and characters for you
  • Check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors
  • A good tip is to read your answers out loud! It’s difficult to proof read your own writing

About Dawn Moss

Dawn has worked in a corporate environment for over ten years providing Recruitment & Selection Services, and has been involved in Coaching & Educating Business Leaders, Managers and Employees in all aspects of the recruitment process.

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