November 3, 2007

How to successfully fill-out an application form

Okay, so you know the store you want to apply to. You’ve done a great resume and cover letter and you go to hand them in. Only instead of accepting them, the hiring manager gives you an application form and asks you to complete it and staple it to the front of your cover letter/resume.

You panic – you’ve never done an application form before. All of a sudden, you’re looking at this blank sheet of paper, unaware of what to do.

Sound familiar?

Don’t worry if it does. Here are some tips for successfully completing an application form.

But why the emphasis on application forms. Well here’s why – in my opinion, application forms can honestly be the single thing that determines if a candidate is even offered an interview.

And so why is that you might ask?

Well take a look at an application form. All the information that a hiring manager needs is all neatly arranged. Good managers know exactly where to zoom in on a completed form. Plus, if it’s done correctly, it saves the manager time they would’ve spent reading a longer cover letter/resume combo.

So let's start from the top. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1) Make sure you print neatly. Don't hand-write it since it can be difficult to read, and the boxes are typically very small. And if you're writing is messy or hard to read, have a friend/family member with neat printing complete the form for you.

2) Put all your basic information on. You'd be surprised how many people forget to put their phone number on the application form. Even more shocking – I’ve seen application forms that have been submitted that don’t even have names!

3) Do not put your SIN or Social Security number on the form, even if there is a box. This number is only needed for payroll purposes after you've been hired. And the great thing is that 90% of the forms out there don’t ask for it anymore. But just think – if your form is thrown out and you put your number on it, some guy rummaging through a landfill could come across it and commit some major fraud.

4) Make sure your availability is open. Ever notice how the box where you fill out your availability is separate from everything else? That’s because manager’s eyes naturally fall to that area. And if you don’t fill it out, your application is definitely going to the ‘no’ pile. A good rule of thumb is give the manager at least 3 or 4 shifts that you are available to work, and be sure to include at least one day on the weekend

5) List your experience (work or volunteer) from most recent to least recent. Or, if you’re like me and have tons of experience, put your most recent job first, and then use the other two sections to list previous employment that is most relevant. And be careful

6) If the application form has any supplementary questions (something like “Why do you want to work with our company?”) be careful – they can be traps. Don’t be too honest (like saying you just want to work for the company because of the awesome employee discount and world-famous parties). Use these questions to highlight skills that you have that would benefit the store you are applying at.

7) Sign the application form. On some forms, simply not signing the form puts your application right into the ‘no’ pile. Typically, you are signing a declaration that you are providing the correct information and that you consent to verification of such information (i.e. through a reference check with a former employer)

8) I know it goes without saying, but do not leave a box blank. If it doesn’t apply to you, just put ‘n/a’ – leaving something blank makes it look like you have something to hide, especially if the boxes are for answers relating to previous employment.

In the end, keep in mind that application forms typically go on top of a cover letter and resume. They are the first thing that a manager sees. They’ve been trained to look at specific areas as a way to pre-screen potential employees.

Even though they may not be as in-depth as a resume or cover letter, a well-done application form can definitely compensate if your resume or cover letter is sub-par (not that they should be!).

And if you’re lucky and the manager has enough time to scan your application form when you’re dropping it off, you might just end up with an on-the-spot interview, or if it’s really great, a job offer – and who wouldn’t want that?

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