So, you’ve painstakingly developed your skills through a combination of academic studies, part time, full time or voluntary work and have transferred them into a beautifully presented CV.
You’ve subsequently trawled through a multitude of online job boards, and deleted hundreds of non-appropriate mail shots, to finally find the posting for your dream job. Only problem is, it asks you to complete an arduous and time consuming application form rather than submitting your already polished CV and covering letter.
This is the reality that faces a lot of people in the market for a new job right now. The days of the handwritten application form for many graduate roles may well have passed, but the use of a structured application form and the reasons for it are still as prevalent in today’s digital age as they always have been.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t purely to make more work for you. There are many reasons, but here are the three main ones:
By using a standard application form, it means that employers are able to build in only the questions, sections or areas that pertain to the information that is required to initially assess an individual’s skills and/or experiences in relation to those required for the role.
There is no standard layout as to how a CV should be presented or what it should include, therefore it is possible for an employer to receive dozens all laid out in a different format. This makes finding the relevant information much more difficult and time consuming, whereas an application form will have all of the right information in the same place each time, allowing for an easier and swifter screening of skills.
Firstly, it allows an employer to compare candidates to each other or to the skills required for the role, as every applicant is supplying the same information in the same place. Secondly, it allows for Equal Opportunities monitoring and reporting, meaning that an employer can ensure they are being consistent and considering all applications based only on the information provided.
Ok, so we now have a basic understanding of why employers use application forms, so let’s start this section with a question; how long does it take an employer to screen an application form?
I will give you a bit of time to think and come up with an answer…
If you came up with anything over 30 seconds to 1 minute, unfortunately you are incorrect! Believe it or not, an employer may only take 30 seconds to review your application form and make a decision as to whether you should be contacted for an interview.
Application forms can be time consuming and some can take over an hour to complete properly, which seems a little unfair on how quickly they are screened, but it is vital that you take the time to complete each section fully. Any missed, incomplete or poorly presented section could be all it takes for you to get that dreaded “Thank you, but unfortunately…” email.
2. Tailor to the organisation/role
Firstly, do your research and then, as you would with any covering letter and CV, tailor your application form accordingly to the organisation and role, making sure that you tie your experiences into the skills that the employer is looking for. Make sure you use the words or terms that are evident in the job description or advert such as ‘sales’, ‘customer service’ or ‘leadership’, as these will stand out when the application is being screened.
3. Beware the danger of ‘cut and paste’
When completing multiple application forms for similar roles, it may seem like a good idea to cut and paste information from each, but be sure that what you are entering answers the question or is tailored in the correct way. I once received a brilliant application form from a candidate, with evidence of all of the skills we require, adequate detail, tailored to the company etc; unfortunately the company it was tailored to was IBM, not Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
4. Grammar and spelling
Ensure that you check each section fully before clicking the submit button. In this day and age of word processing and spell checking, it is unforgivable for there to be any spelling or grammatical errors; nothing shows a lack of care or attention quicker than this. Take the time to check thoroughly and where possible, have somebody else read through it as well.
5. Personal information and contact details
Make sure you supply the correct information for the employer to contact you on. If you know you have issues with your mobile signal, try to supply a landline where possible, if you have a term time and home address, where will the employer be able to reach you. When supplying an email address, make sure it is professional; what may be funny to you and your friends may not be to a potential employer, so consider setting one up purely for your job applications.
6. Education and qualifications
Include the names of all institutions attended, the course or subjects studied and the grade(s) attained. Group lower level qualifications together e.g. 10 GCSE’s at grade A to C including Maths and English. Do not list every unit or module studied; just highlight one or two key units that give evidence of your skills or knowledge in the areas required for the role.
7. Work experience
Start with the most recent or relevant and work backwards. Include all work experience, including part time or voluntary work, each would have contributed to your skill set and will have played a part in your development. Include the names of the employer or company and the position or job title held. Each could say something about you and your skills which you may not have said yourself, e.g. if you saw the name Enterprise Rent-A-Car on an application, you would know that that individual is trained in and able to deliver exceptional customer service, as that is what we are famous for across the world, even if the applicant hasn’t used the words ‘customer service’ themselves. Ensure you summarize all key duties, responsibilities and your achievements in each of the roles.
8. Other information, achievements and interests
This section, when used well, can really help to communicate additional information about skills that you have developed externally from work or study. Be sure to include things like specific training courses, IT or language proficiency, first aid training etc. Also though, be mindful about what some things could be interpreted as or say about you; does an interest in running show your competitive side or mark you out as a ‘loner’ and not a ‘team player’, does football as a pastime still have the stigma of hooliganism attached to it in some countries or certain generations? Only include these things if they contribute to your skills profile.
Remember, a complete and well presented application form will never get you a job; it will only get you an invite to the interview table, getting that coveted graduate job is all down to you.
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