Following the instructions carefully is the main thing to do when filling in application forms. Helen Boddy, assistant editor at BCS, gives some pointers to help make sure your responses are tip top.

Companies have reasons for preferring application forms to CVs

Companies ask candidates to send completed applications forms, rather than CVs, for several reasons:

  • so that the procedure is fairer as all applicants use the same format;
  • to make applicants show commitment by applying in a more time-consuming way;
  • because applicants sign to say information is correct, making it more legally binding if information is later found to be false.

Some companies ask you to fill in the forms by hand, sometimes so that they can analyse your hand-writing, or sometimes just to make the process more time-consuming. Others request typed forms or online applications. Below are general tips on filling in forms, followed by some points that refer specifically to handwritten and online forms. Send a covering letter with your application form.

Tips on filling in application forms

Before starting filling in the form, read it thoroughly to make sure you understand the instructions for each section. Always decide exactly what a question is asking before answering it; it's easy to misinterpret questions.

Read up about the company and look at the original job advert to help you understand what skills and experience are required for the job. Some companies will also send you a detailed job description. Refer to all of these to help you with questions about your skills, experience and what you will bring to the job.

Referring to the information on your CV can help fill in applications forms more quickly as some sections can be copied or adapted to the form and job on offer.

Keep your responses short and to the point. You don’t have to fill in a whole section.

When writing a list, consider using bullet points for variety.

Use clear, positive language.

Never leave blanks. Put N/A if not applicable to you.

If asked for referees, check that they are happy to provide a reference before including their names.

If asked for current salary details, remember that you can include benefits as part of them. For example, £25,000 per annum + package.

Specific to online forms

Some sites give you the option to save your work as you go along. If so, make the most of this function to save it and come back and look at it later.

If you do not have an option to save the form as you go along, prepare long answers in advance in, for example, Word, so that you can spell check them and then copy and paste them in the final copy to submit.

Print out the completed copy, proof read it and get a friend to check it. Keep the printed copy to look at if you get an interview or to copy material from in the future.

Specific to handwritten forms

Check to see if the form stipulates that you have to write in a particular colour ink or in capitals. Photocopy the form and make rough drafts before filling in the final version.

Once completed, proof read the form and get a friend to check it. Keep a photocopy to look at if you get an interview or to get material from in the future.

Try to keep the form neat. If you need more space to answer a question, and the form does not forbid it, use separate sheets.