July 24, 2010

The art of completing an application form

Today, I want to touch on one of the basic skills needed to get many part-time jobs - the art of completing an application form.

So let's say you've got a store in mind 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 and 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?

Well, if it does, don't fret.

Here are some tried and tested application form tips.

First of all, any job seeker has to understand why application forms are used. Some hiring managers will simply say that Human Resources requires them while others will say that they want to see if potential employees are dedicated enough to complete the form properly or if they're just handing out their resumes in the mall like flyers, hoping for the best.

But after speaking with retail hiring managers I know, the most common reason for using an application form is that it gives the person doing the hiring all s/he needs to know. Good managers know exactly where to zoom in on a completed form and if it's done correctly, it saves the manager time they would’ve spent reading a longer cover letter and resume combo.

So let's start from the top. Here are they application form tips I give to anybody looking for a job where they will have to complete a form as part of the hiring process:

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 or family member with neat printing complete the form for you.

2) Put all your basic information on the form. 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 I'd say that 90% of paper and online application forms don't ask for it anymore. And 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 identity fraud.

INSIDER TIP: If you're uncomfortable with leaving the box blank, put it a phrase like "To be supplied at a later date"

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 relevant jobs in chronological order.

6) If the application form has any supplementary questions - think something like "Why do you want to work with our company?" - be careful as they can be traps. Don’t be too honest and offer an answer like, "I want to work for the store because of the great employee discount and infamous holiday parties".

Instead, use these questions to highlight skills that you have that would benefit the store.

INSIDER TIP: Check out a previous posting I wrote with tips on how to answer off-beat and tricky questions on application forms.

7) Sign the application form. On some forms, not signing the form puts your application right into the NO pile as their HR policies prevent them from accepting or processing it.

Here's why - 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). That's why your signature is so important - so don't forget it!

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, remember to your application in the following order - application form, cover letter, and then resume. Because hiring managers are trained at what to look for, put the application form first since that's what they use to pre-screen potential employees.

And consider this - 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, but if they are, an application form can do wonders!

Plus, 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 in this economy, who wouldn’t want that?

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