Application forms

If you are serious about getting a particular job, it pays dividends to be meticulous and answer each question in the most effective way. You need to produce an application form that will be selected and not filtered out.

How do employers use application forms?

Employers who use application forms as part of their recruitment processes do so in order to select the most promising candidates to invite into further assessment or interview. They make these decisions by asking for evidence of the competencies & skills you have developed so far as well as often testing your awareness in other areas such as motivation for the role or commercial judgement.

Although the end goal for employers remains constant individual companies and institutions will structure their forms differently. Some forms may be designed around specific ‘competency’ led questions designed to allow you to demonstrate a specific skill relevant to the role. Other forms are constructed with greater freedom inviting candidates to complete one longer section in which you can showcase your enthusiasm and suitability with little further prompting.

In either format the form is your first chance to display your experiences and skills to your potential employers and prove that these match what they are looking for in a successful candidate. To do this effectively you must identify, research and think about the best way to promote your skill set before you begin the form.

Before you start

  • Photocopy any paper forms or make sure you have saved a blank copy of any you are able to download. If you would prefer to draft your answers in a word processor copy over the full questions including any supporting information and word limits.
  • Read the form through carefully. Identify the questions about specific skills or where you are asked to describe your suitability for the job, as well as any special instructions.
  • Collect all the information you can about the employer - job description, person specification, brochure, web site - and make a list of what they are looking for (skills, experience, qualifications).
  • Spend some time thinking about the evidence you have that you meet the employer's requirements. Think about all aspects of your experience that you could bring in, for example, your course, work experience, voluntary activities and interests.
  • Talk to your referees before submitting your application form. Not only is this courteous but it can help jog the memories of employers or teachers you haven’t seen in a while. The better informed the referee the more considered your overall reference will be.
  • Check the closing date carefully – a well-structured form may take more time than you think and you do not want to be rushing to complete at the last minute. In some instances it can also be useful to check with the employer whether they will be reviewing the applications as they are submitted or only once the deadline has passed as this will affect how you prioritise your time.

Answering the questions

Though different questions will need different answers, there are some general tips that always apply:

  • Be concise
    Reading your form should be easy for the employer – over filling your answer boxes and adding lots of additional sheets start to make this more difficult. Read the form instructions carefully and be guided by what they tell you. If an employer allows you a 250 word limit they aren’t looking for a 20 word answer or a 500 word one.
  • Describe your experiences
    Most application forms will want personal details, information about your academic achievements, work experience, university activities and interests. Some of these questions will ask you to describe what you have got out of all these different experiences - the more detailed, the more interesting. Don’t shy away from putting yourself centre stage.
  • Focus on what the employer is looking for
    A convincing application form starts with a good level of research. Employers are just as interested in why you are applying to them as they are in what you’ve done so far. Researching in detail the company, the role and current trends in their industry will give you the tools to tailor your application and make it as persuasive as possible to your audience
  • Always give examples
    Always back up your statements with an example. It is easy to write ‘I am hardworking, enthusiastic, and motivated’. What sets an application form apart is the evidence and examples that you use to support your claims.

Once you have got to grips with the tips above, make sure you are answering each type of question as effectively as you can. 

Before you submit

A carefully completed form shows the employer that you have given time and attention to completing it; a poorly completed form may demonstrate carelessness and lack of attention to detail, and is likely to end up in the ‘reject’ box. You should check that:

  • You have followed the employer’s instructions exactly.
  • The examples you give for each question come from different areas of your experience.
  • You have read through the form and are happy with it.
  • The form has been proofread both by yourself and someone else.
  • You have actually answered the questions.
  • You have a copy for your own reference and for interview purposes.

Further help

If you would like a more detailed guide, why not try one of these?

If you're applying for a job that requires a DBS (formerly CRB) check, you can find more information on the Home Office website.

We also have a CV & application forms clinic where we can check through your application form.

  • Log-in to Careers Connect to book an appointment.
  • Get career advice from leading executives through a selection of engaging 'bite size' video interviews.(

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