Once you've prepared your CV and found a role that you'd like to apply for, you may be asked to fill out an application form. Organisations are increasingly asking jobseekers to apply using their own forms or online portals. The questions on these forms help them assess your suitability for the role, which may not be immediately obvious from traditional applications. Here are some tips to help you.
The application form
Meet the organisation's requirements
Some roles require certain grades, skills or knowledge of particular computer programmes; make sure you have these before submitting your application. Companies can quickly reject applications because you don’t meet the specific requirements listed in the job specification. If you feel you have equivalent expertise or extenuating circumstances, you can highlight this somewhere on the form.
Do your research
Find out about the organisation you're applying to; what it does, what it can offer and what it’s looking for. They will probably ask why you’re applying and it’s important that you’ve considered what you want to gain from working for them. You should read up on the skills needed to work in the organisation and make sure to include your relevant experience of those skills in your application.
Think about the language you use
Just because you’re submitting an application online doesn’t mean you should be careless when completing it. Check your language and don’t use ‘text speak’ when you complete an application - it’s amazing how often this is done!
Remember to consider the length of your answers. Recruiters will be looking for quality, not quantity - they won't want to read pages and pages of answers. Make sure to keep your writing concise and clear, with the most important information listed first.
If the form does require longer answers, it may be useful to write these in a word processor (like Microsoft Word) before submitting them online. This will allow you to check through your content carefully first, and save a backup somewhere on your computer so none of your work is lost.
Check your qualifications are correct and complete
Employers may ask for certain academic grades for the role. Take care to check your qualifications are correct and up-to-date and make sure you attach copies of the relevant certificates if required. Most recruiters will check your qualifications so it's important that you keep your records accurate.
Ensure there are no gaps on your application
If there are years missing from your application or CV, such as the time between school and university, highlight these rather than leaving them blank. Recruiters will want to see a full chronological history of your schooling through to university and your work experience. Be prepared to discuss reasons for any gaps in the interview.
Answer the questions asked, not the questions you wished you'd been asked
Employers ask questions to discover whether you meet their requirements. However, it’s surprising how many candidates don’t answer the questions they’re asked. If the question has two or three parts to it, answer each in turn to demonstrate you’ve read and understood them.
Check the content and spelling
Always make sure you double check the spelling and grammar in your application - simple mistakes can make a big impression on recruiters. Online application forms often don’t have a spell-checker, so here again, writing your answers in a word processor first and then pasting them into the application form can help you avoid these errors.
Make sure you take one final look over your application before submitting it. You get only one chance, so make sure it’s as good as can it be!
The cover letter
Similar to application forms, a cover letter or email can market you and showcase your skills. Just like your CV, you will need to amend each cover letter for each job application to make it suits that particular employer. Keep a ‘draft’ copy saved on your computer so you can adapt it each time you apply for a job.
Find out the name of the recruiter and address your cover letter or email to them directly. It makes your application more personal and shows you’ve used your initiative. If a name is not available, use ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ instead.
Keep it short
Don’t write an essay about your skills and how much you want the job. Keep it short and to the point. Aim for a letter that fits on a single A4 page, or if it's an email a few paragraphs will be fine.
What to include
This is your chance to highlight your key skills, experience and/or qualifications that are relevant to that particular job. Explain why you want to work for the company and what you can bring to the role, expanding on any relevant projects or accomplishments that are not already listed on your CV.
Be clear on your availability
If you’re going to be away or out of reach for some time, for instance if you're heading away on holiday, let the recruiter know. It’s frustrating for busy recruiters when they can’t get hold of candidates.
Close with a positive
End the letter on a positive note, expressing your willingness to discuss your application at interview. Perhaps highlight that you will call them to follow up in a few days and remember to include your contact details in case they want to reach you.
Final checks are a must
Lastly, review your spelling and grammar. If you’re applying online and there is no chance of adding a covering email, you can make your covering letter the first page of your CV, so it’s all in one document. Personalise the letter and title it ‘Covering letter for x company’.
View our other guides:
A career in HR and L&D opens doors to a huge variety of roles in every type of business and industry - the world is your oyster! Find out why a career in HR and L&D could be the perfect choice for you
As a member, explore the CIPD Career hub to build your skills, knowledge and experience