Filling Out Job Applications

At some point in the hiring process, every prospective candidate will need to fill out a job application.  Some employers require candidates to fill one out at the beginning of the process; others might ask them to complete one while they're visiting for an interview.  Either way, filling out a job application is an important step; here's why.

Why is Filling Out a Job Application Necessary?

Job applications are just one of the tools an employer can use to gather the same exact information for each potential employee.  In other words, the application itself makes the information gathering process consistent for all job candidates.

In fact, large companies that might be hiring unionized craft workers, blue collar workers, or professionals, will normally use the same job application; regardless of the position they are seeking to fill in their organization.  Using this approach also makes the process a fair and equitable one too.

How Do Companies Use Job Applications?

For some openings, typically those that might be considered blue collar jobs, the application can be used as a substitute for a resume.  That means the form needs to be structured to screen applicants prior to any formal job interview.

Other companies might use the application to gather information after an interview.  In other words, the resume is used to screen candidates, and the information gathered via the application is used to standardize the information known about each candidate.

Information Gathered via Job Applications

Later on, we're going to provide some hints on how to fill out an application.  The list below outlines the types of information typically gathered using these forms:

  • Present and past home addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • Emergency contact information
  • Social Security number
  • Driver's license number
  • Information concerning criminal and/or civil convictions
  • Available for work date
  • Military service dates, including date of discharge and type of discharge
  • Education and training dates
  • Schools attended, dates of attendance
  • Class rank, grade point averages
  • Prior work locations, job titles, responsibilities
  • Work references

If someone takes their Social Security card, driver's license, and a copy of their resume to an interview, they should have about 95% of all the information needed to complete an application.

Tips and Hints for Filling out Applications

It pays to keep in mind the basics.  Don't forget to arrive on time, bring a black ink pen, dress appropriately, print as neatly as possible, and try not to leave any information on the application blank.  When you think the application is complete, take a few minutes to proofread and review the form again.

Application Instructions

Remember to read all the instructions on the form thoroughly.  In fact, read the entire application before starting.  This way if a part of the instructions is not clear, there might be hints later on in the document.  Pretend the application is like a test; take your time and score 100%.

Tailoring Responses

When seeking a specific type of job at a company, there is nothing wrong with tailoring responses to that job.  In fact, this is the exact same approach to take with a resume and cover letter.  Emphasize job skills and work experiences that are aligned with the position being pursued.

While the goal here is to tailor responses to a particular job, make sure the information appearing on the application is consistent with the resume.

Blanks / Unanswered Questions

Try to avoid leaving blanks or questions unanswered on the form.  If a question on the application does not apply, then simply use a "not applicable" or "N/A."  If a question is left blank, then provide an explanation as to why.

Never fill out a job application by using "see attached resume."  You might be viewed as being lazy.  The application is a separate document from the resume, treat it as such.

Answering Questions Truthfully

Always answer questions on a job application truthfully.  Employees have been fired for falsifying job applications, sometimes years after they've been hired.  It's nearly a sure thing that a lie on an application will eventually be found by the human resources department of the company.

That's not to say it's necessary to fill the application with potentially negative information.  For example, if someone is a victim of downsizing, simply state that the job ended on a certain date.  That's the complete truth, and provides an opportunity to explain exactly what happened later on during an interview; if the question comes up.

Salary Requirements on Applications

If a job application asks for salary requirements, which many do, avoid getting too specific.  This is a negotiating point that should happen much later in the process; don't start negotiating a starting salary via the job application.  Viable candidates can be eliminated from consideration because of a response to this question.

The standard way of answering this question is to put down the truth:  "Negotiable."

References

As part of the job screening process, potential employers may want to talk to someone that you've worked with in the past.  This can include former teachers, bosses, peers, coworkers and direct reports.  When listing someone as a job reference on a resume or application, make sure to gain their permission first.

If you've recently applied for a job, and suspect the hiring company is going to contact a reference, then it's a good idea to reach out to the people on the list and explain that a call might be coming their way from a potential employer.

Completing Forms

These forms will run the spectrum from simple one-pagers to complex multi-page electronic documents.  For some companies candidates might have to go to a keyboard, other forms might look like they've been photocopied too many times, and are merely attached to a clipboard.

No matter what the job application looks like, filling it out neatly and accurately is still important.  Bring all the information needed to do a thorough job filling out the document.  And remember, a job application is often used to screen out a candidate.  So think of the process as the doorway to a job interview, and you can't go wrong.


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