Guidelines for Applications

Employment application sampleCompleting a job application is a basic step in every job search.

Whether electronic or in paper form, all job applications are asking for the same thing: important information from you about your career, education and job qualifications.

Completing a job application can be a tedious process without the right preparation because it requires a great deal of detail, from dates of employment to addresses and supervisors.

The importance of correctly completing an application should not be underestimated. The document provides a tremendous opportunity to sell yourself to and make a good first impression. That's especially important considering that some employers require you to submit one before they'll even look at your resume or cover letter.

Your application will be studied and compared with other job seekers by human resource personnel, hiring managers, division heads and, at larger companies, applicant tracking software.

Creating a Personal Data Record 

Several strategies can help shorten the time required to complete applications. Once you have the basic information collected, you only have to re-purpose it again  and again and again. Start by creating a Personal Data Record. This will have your job career history and personal information in an online or paper file.

Preferably, you should have your data record as a digital file because you can then simply cut and paste the information into applications as you fill them out.

Another time-saving device is the "auto-fill" feature available on some web browsers and as part of Google's toolbar. The built-in function allows you to fill out personal data once and then have it automatically populate online applications and other web-based forms.

So, what information do you need for standard issue applications?

Obviously, be ready with your name, address, phone numbers (business, home, fax and mobile) and e-mail address. Then, collect your career information  your past four jobs (or more or less), the addresses and phone numbers of those companies, your managers in each of those positions and their phone numbers.

You will need the month and year you started working, when you left and the reasons for your departures. Write a brief description of your duties for each position, too, because most applications include a place for that information.

Additionally, you should collect information on your degrees, certifications, honors, special training, hobbies, volunteer activities and other relevant experience that could help win you a job.

Tips for Completing an Application

Whether you're filling out a paper document or an electronic form online, completing a job application requires precision and professionalism. Here are some important things to remember:

  1. Never use abbreviations, slang or emoticons.
  2. Avoid writing "see resume" on websites that request an attached resume, since applicant tracking systems may not understand that phrase. Fill out the entire application.
  3. Keep the personal data record you created to avoid making errors. For paper applications, print clearly in black ink. Respond to all questions. Use N/A (not applicable) if the section does not apply to you.
  4. Avoid negative information, if possible. Be truthful and positive when touchy information is unavoidable. Never give false information.
  5. If you have a felony criminal record, try to meet an employer before submitting your application. This provides a chance to sell your skills and enthusiasm before those who do the hiring learn about your offense.
  6. If you come across applications that contain illegal questions, use N/A to answer.
  7. Target your qualifications. Many applications have limited space, so showcase the skills and experience best suited to the job.
  8. When applying for specific positions, be sure to include the correct job title on the application.
  9. If you have gaps in your employment history, list positive ways you spent the time while unemployed.
  10. When asked about salary requirements, give a range or respond "negotiable."

Case Study 
Learn how human resources manager Jan McCullough advises job seekers to fill out job applications. Read Jan's story.

Dealing With "Reason for Leaving" 

Explaining why you left an employer can be a sensitive topic. Saying you hated your boss or the firm had a work environment akin to a prison are probably not good options. Reasons for leaving can be a tough part of the application to fill in truthfully without having your application and resume rejected by potential employers.

When responding to "reasons for leaving" choose your words carefully because negative responses may provide an easy way for the employer to eliminate you from consideration.

When stating why you left a job avoid using the words "fired," "quit," "illness" or "personal reasons" because those responses may reduce your chances of being called for an interview. Always look for positive statements. You could say, for example, you returned to school to learn new skills or to find a job that more closely matched your skills.

If you were fired don't use that word or "terminated." Find a phrase that sounds neutral such as "involuntary separation." And then call past employers and negotiate what they will say in response to reference checks.

When contacting former employers, reintroduce yourself and explain you are looking for a new job. For legal reasons chances are good they will not tell future employers you were fired, and you can ask that they simply provide your dates of employment, your job title and a description of your job duties.

Should you face termination in the future you should request that the employer's records reveal a mutually agreeable reason for separation. You don't want to hurt your future employment opportunities, and your employer may feel the same way.

After all, people are asked to leave for any number of reasons that have little to do with their job abilities and more to do with a poor job match or poor fit with an organization's culture.

Have you quit a job? Be prepared to offer an explanation. If you left under less than favorable conditions, avoid saying anything negative about the employer and use terms such as "resigned," "wasn't a good fit" or "voluntarily separated," which imply you followed proper procedures in leaving the job.

Other reasons for quitting a job include volunteer work (state what kind of work and with whom you did volunteer work), starting your own business, a scholarship or raising your family. In all of these cases, you need to assure the employer you're now fully ready to assume the responsibilities of a new job.

If you resigned for a better job, that statement better be true. That could include leaving for advancement potential, to work closer to home, to have a better work environment, higher pay or for a career change. Make certain the reason "for a better job" shows no noticeable break in employment that might raise a red flag to hiring managers who may suspect an exaggeration in the statement.

Quitting to move to another area for family, greater economic potential or suitability for raising children is a fine reason, but try to use it just once. If that's the reason for several job jumps you may come off as not being a dependable or stable employee.

Leaving to attend school is a good enough reason, but make sure your application and resume agree. You should assure the employer any continuing school activities won't interfere with the job.

Many workers have been laid off through no fault of their own. Those circumstances can be explained with phrases such as "lack of work," "lack of operating funds," "temporary employment," "seasonal employment," "company closed," "plant closing," "company downsizing" or "corporate merger."

Layoffs have been such a common aspect of the employment landscape that hiring managers will not hold it against applicants since many of them  or their family members  have suffered the same fate.

In the economy of the last two decades many people have been employed in several jobs. It's no longer a shame to have a portfolio of different jobs and careers. There are employers who appreciate a reservoir of experience and understand a job market where rapid transformation and consolidation have left many workers with few options other than changing jobs.

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