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Completing Job Applications

In this day and age, are job applications still used? Yes. And while most applications have moved online, many employers still require job seekers to complete a paper application. The following tips will help you successfully complete both online and paper applications.

The main reason employers use applications is to easily screen potential employees; they use the information from the applications to determine who they are going to call for a job interview. It is also a way of standardizing the information they obtain from all job-seekers, including some things that may not appear on a resume. Job applications are typically used in the post-offer, pre-employment background check, so it is important to answer all questions accurately and honesty. In fact, some employers ask you to complete an application when you come in for a job interview or even after being hired.


Preparing to Apply

Before you begin applying for jobs, gather the information you’ll need to complete applications. This will commonly include:

  • Previous Work History: Names, addresses and phone numbers of previous employers as well as the name of your supervisor. Your job title, list of your responsibilities/accomplishments, starting/ending salaries and the dates of your employment.
  • Education Information: Required educational information includes the name of the college you attended, its location, your major, the type of degree you earned (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s…) and dates you attended school. Some organizations may even ask for your GPA.
  • References: Many applications also require you to include 3 or more references. References are people who can attest to your skills and work ethic. Supervisors, co-worker and instructors are some potential references. On your application, you will need to include their name, place of employment and contact information, which may include address, phone number and email address.
  • Other: You might need to fill out sections of the application asking about technical skills and/or military experience. Track down that information and have it organized.

BONUS TIP: Consider filling out a sample application with your information and keeping it as a reference to use each time you fill out a real application. This will allow you to apply for new positions more quickly.

Filling out the Application

A job application is a legal document. When you sign it, you are verifying that everything you have said is true. With modern technology, it is very easy to verify the information that you provide as either true or false. Answer each section honestly and as completely as possible. Here are some things to remember when filling out an application:

  • Read and follow instructions carefully: Spend a few minutes reviewing the entire application before you start. Some applications ask for information differently -- and all have specific spots on the application where you are expected to answer questions. Make sure you know what information will be required where before starting the application. If you are filling out an online application where you cannot page ahead, carefully review the parts that you are able to see, fill them out as completely as possible and then move to the next page. Most online applications will allow you to return to previous parts of the application and make changes before submitting.
  • Fill out the application as completely as possible: Your goal is to complete the application as completely and honestly as you can. Don't leave any blanks on applications. If there are questions that do not apply to you, simply respond with "not applicable," or "n/a." Do not leave the work history section blank, staple your resume to it and write "see resume". You may include the resume, but you still have to complete the entire application. If you do include your resume, be sure the information on both documents match in regards to titles, dates of employment, etc.
  • Focus your information on the position you are applying for: Just as with your resume and cover letter, focus your content to the job at hand. Give details of skills and accomplishments relevant to this particular job and do not include information about unrelated experiences.
  • Pay attention to detail: When completing a paper application, complete it as neatly as possible. Sloppy handwriting may send a message that you are not fit for employment. Consider typing it if you have access to a typewriter. If completing it by hand, be sure to use only a blue or black pen. Do not make spelling mistakes.
  • Be honest: This one should go without saying but lies or inaccuracies will immediately destroy your chances of being hired. Always answer questions truthfully.
  • Carefully consider your salary requirements: You will likely be asked to include your salary requirements. Employers often use this question as a screening device, and you don't want to be eliminated from consideration based on your answer. Do not give a specific number. Instead, research the salary range for that type of job and answer the question with the range. For example, writing “$32,000 to $38,000” is more effective than “$36,000”. You could also say "open" or "negotiable", but a range is better.
  • PROOFREAD: Once you've completed the application, proofread it. If possible, have at least one other person check for typos and misspellings.
Answering Difficult Questions

Depending on your background, some application questions can be very difficult to answer. Below are some tips for answering the most difficult questions.

  • Reason for Leaving a Previous Job: Most applications ask your reason for leaving a past job. If you left of your own accord and for a different job, you can answer by saying you resigned for a better opportunity. If you left because the job was not working out, you can say you were seeking a better fit. Do not say, "The boss was a jerk." or "The company was dysfunctional.", even if those things were true in your mind. Providing any negative comments on a past employer is a big mistake.
    If leaving was not your choice, answer the question as positively as possible. There is a difference between being fired and being laid off. Being laid off means your job ended because of business conditions, not because of your performance. "Laid off", "Downsized" or "Workforce reduction" are all acceptable reasons you can provide. On the other hand, being fired means you lost your job because of your actions, such as poor performance, disregard for safety or, attendance issues. Don't say, "Fired" or "Terminated". Consider phrasing it more in a way such as "Job ended" Writing only, "Will explain at interview" is usually a dead end. The potential employer may simply be checking on your honesty more than anything else. Just because you were discharged doesn't mean the employer won't hire you. If you were discharged and the application form allows, consider writing "Discharged - Willing to discuss." This shows honesty and openness which could yield more positive results. If the application only allows for a checkmark, use your cover letter to address your interest in discussing the ethical (values, conflict, etc.) issue related to the termination at the time of the interview. However, don't go into too much detail. A short, general explanation may be enough to satisfy the employer. Regardless of what you put, be prepared to discuss this situation in the interview.
  • Criminal History: Most applications will ask about arrests or conviction records. Criminal background checks are now commonplace in the hiring world, and many companies have policies about employing people with criminal records. Criminal records are recorded in federal or state government data banks and are easily accessible, even those from other states. Any falsified information will be discovered and will eliminate you from further consideration. Honesty is the best policy here. Prior arrests and conviction records do not automatically disqualify you for a job. All cases are considered on an individual basis, and the offense will be compared to the position that you are applying for. Be prepared to discuss this issue in the interview.
    Be sure you understand the specifics of your criminal history. There is a difference between a misdemeanor and felony. Misdemeanors are often not looked on as harshly as felonies. If asked whether you have been convicted of a felony and you've only been convicted of a misdemeanor, you can legally answer "no". Also know the difference between being charged and being convicted. Simply being charged with a crime is far different than being convicted. Again, you can honestly answer "no" to the conviction question in this case because arrest doesn't confirm guilt. If you have been convicted of a crime, some experts suggest adding a paragraph to your application briefly describing your offense and how you've successfully applied what you learned from your experience.
  • Employment Gaps: Gaps happen no matter how great an employee you are! They can be caused for reasons that are very understandable: a layoff, a return to school, the need to care for a sick parent, a new baby, or a desire to travel, relocate, raise your children. They aren't necessarily a problem unless you have a history of gaps. It's best to be truthful. Enter the accurate dates, including month and year. Though your gap may stand out, you have the option of briefly explaining the gap in a cover letter. This should be done in a general and positive way. If you used your gap time to expand or apply your job-related skills, include this.
  • Disability: When addressing disability, the first thing you should do is study state and federal law so that you know your rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers to ask if you have a disability. If an application asks if you have a disability, it's therefore advisable to leave it blank or write a dash so the employer knows you read the question. If you have been informed of the requirements of the job AND you are asked if you are capable of reasonably performing these requirements with or without reasonable accommodation, then you should disclose. To decide what you will disclose means you need to know the requirements of the job and how you can fulfill them with or without accommodation. To receive the accommodation, you must by law disclose your disability. If you can reasonably perform the job duties without accommodation, you should not disclose. If you don't need reasonable accommodation for the job, but you do need it for the interview, then disclose your accommodation needs verbally when you are called to schedule an interview. This allows the employer to make arrangements ahead of time. Be well prepared for your interview. Practice how to answer both appropriate and even inappropriate questions. Refocus the interview away from your disability but be open to briefly educating the interviewer by answering questions politely.
  • Recognizing Illegal Questions: Some applications may include questions that are illegal, although this is rare. This is because the information they are seeking is not relevant to your ability to do the job. This includes your age, date of birth, race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, health or medical conditions, citizenship, or credit history. Write "n/a" if you see questions like this. In rare instances, it is legal to ask for a job seekers gender on an application. If you see this question, consider asking why this is necessary. It may be because the position is legally required to be a certain gender.

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