What about application forms?

Application forms are often used now instead of CVs. This is particularly true in larger organisations and the public sector. So, whilst there is no danger of your CV becoming redundant any time soon, many of us will have to fill in at least the occasional application form.

Where do I start?

I believe that there is no better preparation for writing an application form than to have a base CV ready to go, from which you can pick out the most relevant content each time you write an application. You can then apply for several jobs more efficiently than if you were starting from scratch each time and you still have a good CV available for those speculative applications or for those organisations that still rely on CVs.

The key question

Almost all application forms that are used in recruitment have one killer question, and it goes something like this:

‘Please give details of how your skills and experience match the requirements of the role’

It’s a clever question because it is testing your ability to do a number of things:

  • Judge the appropriate length and level of detail in such a response
  • Take the time to get hold of and analyse the details that are available about the organisation and the role (in the application pack – which usually comprises a job description and person specification)
  • Match details about your experience to these criteria
  • Write persuasively and in an appropriate style

So, they can now assess your communication skills, judgement, personality, attention to detail and the extent to which you really want the job, amongst other things.

Regarding the appropriate length of this response; you need to bear in mind that this question comprises the main evidence that will be used to shortlist candidates for interview. It therefore requires significant effort, even if your employment history and education listed prior to this question are extremely impressive. The worst mistake you can make is to believe that this question is somehow complementary to your other answers or some form of ‘additional detail’.  Even if the question is phrased like this, what you actually need to do is include evidence to match all of the criteria that they have given.

So, even if the last question is phrased in a misleading way, you should always interpret the question as meaning ‘Please give details of how your skills and experience match the requirements of the role’.

Should I have a CV as well?

All candidates should have a CV that they keep updated with a reasonable level of frequency. There will always be some recruiters who prefer them, and agencies are unlikely to do without CVs.

In any case, you will find it much easier to complete an application form if you have the details you need on the CV, ready to ‘re-purpose’ for the application form. So, you will now have the basic details ready to transfer across, then the achievements and responsibilities ready to be discussed in relevant ways on the form.

Ultimately, an application form is a time consuming thing to write. You may as well make it as easy as possible.

Should I attach the CV as well?

You should never attach a CV if an application form has been requested. This is the only time when a CV is not appropriate, since the form is deliberately designed as an alternative. Attaching a CV could be seen as an attempt to gain an unfair advantage or be misinterpreted as lazy.

So, the two key rules for application forms are:

  1. Follow the instructions
  2. Write the last question as if it was the only thing that the recruiter was going to look at.
Graeme Jordan

Written by

CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.

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