Career guidance: completing a job application form

According to the National Careers Service, providers of information, advice and guidance about learning, training and work opportunities, many employers nowadays prefer application forms to CVs. Forms are easier to compare, because unlike CVs, they follow an identical format.

Some general tips when filling in application forms include:-

  • read the job description thoroughly and note down the key points
  • check for specifications, for example, to use black pen or block capitals
  • do not leave any blank sections. If any area is not applicable, mark it as such, and ensure that any tick boxes have been checked
  • bullet points, headings and paragraph are just as relevant to paper applications as they are to online versions
  • look for key words in the job description and person specification and include them in answers where possible
  • stick to the point
  • back up any points made with evidence and/or examples
  • always start with a draft copy and check carefully for grammar, spelling and ease of reading
  • make a copy of the application form before sending it to the employer as interviewers will often refer to the form at interview
  • check the closing date to ensure that you return the form in good time
  • do not attach a CV unless specifically asked to.

Standard information

Most application forms will begin with personal details, followed by a work history, then education and training to date. This is ordinarily followed by a section where the applicant is asked to provide additional information or a personal statement. Often, the employer will want to see how the information provided in this section matches the person specification and/or the job description.

Skills and experience

It is important to address each point or question thoroughly. Headings followed by an explanatory paragraph make for ease of reading. Some recruiters provide a person specification along with a job description as part of the application process. The person specification can help candidates by highlighting the skills, interests and qualities needed for the job, for example, problem solving, IT qualifications or communications skills.

Questions will require answers based on the applicant’s personal experience that demonstrate how, via examples, the person specification has been met. Applicants should avoid using the same scenario twice and should not exceed the word limit for individual answers if there is one

The following format will ensure that each question is addressed properly within the form:-

  • open with a brief outline of a situation
  • explain how the situation was dealt with in terms of skills and processes used
  • finish with a positive outcome or personal learning point.

Bear in mind that transferable skills can also be used to demonstrate competencies. If the necessary skills are not met directly, think about other examples that may fit, for example, applicants who have taken time out to start a family can highlight their time management, budgeting and organisational skills.

Skills you Need, an online provider of free information and resources aimed at helping people develop their life skills, offers guidance and examples of transferable skills. For further information, see the Skills You Need website.

For further information about filling in job application forms, call the National Careers Service helpline on 0800 100 900, or see the National Careers Service website.

Personal information

There is no obligation to divulge personal details regarding age, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Employers can ask about health or disability if:-

  • help is needed in order to take part in an interview and/or selection test
  • positive action is being used to recruit a disabled person.

Equal opportunities forms do not form part of the job application and are used solely for monitoring the employer’s compliance with equality and diversity policies/legislation.

For further information about prevention of discrimination during recruitment, see the government website.

Online job applications

Many employers now allow people to register their details online, so that progress can be saved and there is no need to fill in the form in one sitting. This process will differ between employers, however, it is normally a simple system that requires little more than a user  name and password.

Do take the time to draft an online application in advance, in particular if there is no save facility on the employer’s website.

If the application also requires a CV to be uploaded, double check to ensure that the CV is tailored to fit the requirements of the role that is being applied for.

Online recruiters will often get in touch via email only. It is a good idea to check emails regularly following the closing date for applications.

Other useful information

See our Looking for work: job vacancy sites fact sheet

See our Careers advice and options for pharmacy graduates fact sheet

See our Career guidance: creating a CV fact sheet

See our Career guidance: job interviews fact sheet

See our Career guidance: using LinkedIn fact sheet

Special thanks go to Renovo, a provider of career management, redeployment and outplacement support, for their help with the production of this fact sheet.

This fact sheet was last reviewed on 6 February 2020.