How to complete an application form

Grow People

As Employment Officers, we're used to supporting people with completing application forms for jobs. Being able to write a good application form is something that a lot of people find tricky, so we thought we'd give the main points of how to write an application to give you the best chance of getting an interview.

Identifying key words/phrases

The first step in completing an application form is to prepare. You need to gather as much information about what the employer is looking for before you start your application form. You need to identify the key words that the employer thinks are the most important for a successful applicant.

You can find this information:

  • In a job advert – this is a brief overview of the role, what the employer is looking for and any key details about the role
  • In a job description – this describes the job you would do if you got the role
  • In a person specification – this describes the person the company want to have apply for this role

You can circle or highlight all of the words or phrases you can see that the employer has identified as important.

An example is shown below from a job advert for a Stock Assistant at Aldi. We have highlighted the key words in bold:

Stock Assistant at Aldi

"It feels brilliant to be part of a business that does things its own way and achieves fantastic results while doing so.

"That's how you'll feel as a Stock Assistant with Aldi.

"It's a really fast paced environment, so there's certainly no risk of getting bored. And everyone here understands exactly what needs to happen to make their store a success and gets on with doing it. But the team is fairly small, so if you're not contributing it will soon show.

"Time will fly by as you work hard to keep stock losses to a minimum, help out with inventory counting, check off deliveries and ensure the shelves are fully stocked with attractive, well presented products. And, of course, you'll provide excellent customer service at all times by attending to customer needs in a prompt and friendly way."

As you can see, it can be hard to pick out the important parts but look for those that ask for specific skills or attributes.

Here is an example from a job description for a Sales Assistant at H&M. Again, we've highlighted the key words in bold:

Sales Assistant at H&M

As a sales advisor you are responsible for always putting our customers first while creating an exceptional shopping experience in store. Together with a great team you contribute to the sales and profit in your store and share product and fashion knowledge.

Great Customer experience

    • You demonstrate a customer first service to interact and engage with our customers.
    • You are aware of our customers whilst carrying out your day to day tasks.
    • You are responsible for inspiring our customers by offering purchasing suggestions, promoting campaigns, offers and activities by being commercially aware within H&M, other retailers and the current environment.

Sales & Profit

    • You ensure great garment care is maintained through the day to inspire our customers.
    • You replenish sizes and new stock through efficient delivery routines.
    • You ensure operations are followed at the cash desk, fitting room and the shop floor whilst also reacting to our customer's needs.

Great teams

    • You help support and promote a positive working atmosphere
    • You give and receive honest feedback to support not only your own development but also your colleague's development
    • You follow health and safety routines to promote the safety and well-being of all our colleagues and customers

It's much clearer and easier to do this in a job description.

Lastly, here's an example from a person specification for an Apprentice Business Administrator at Southampton City Council:

Apprentice Business Administrator at Southampton City Council

Person specification

    • Qualification: A good level of general education, literate in English and Maths (GCSE A*-C/9-4)
    • Knowledge, experience and Skills: A good level of IT literacy and familiarity with MS Office software

Core behaviours

    • Takes personal accountability and holds others to account
    • Takes responsibility for own development
    • Listens to and respects the opinions of others
    • Asks for, reflects upon and acts on feedback
    • Works collaboratively with others to delivery the best outcomes
    • Actively seeks opportunities for improvement in processes and activity
    • Engages with and contributes to change projects and activity
    • Sets standards for customer service
    • Builds relationships of trust and alliances with customers groups

This is the easiest way to identify exactly what an employer is looking for. Remember to look at all the information the employer is giving you before you start your application, so you know exactly what you need to show in your application form.

Complete it all

An important thing to remember when you have an application form in front of you, is that it needs to be completed fully. Complete all the boxes neatly either on a computer or using a black pen. If a box doesn't apply to you, write or type Non-applicable or N/A. This shows you have read it and understand what they are asking but it's not relevant to you.

Use all the sections to your advantage

If there are parts on the application form where you are asked for your experience and are asked to describe your duties, make sure you include some of the key words you have already identified.

If you don't have any paid work experience, think about any voluntary work you may have done, either through an organisation, or for friends and family. This could include caring for an elderly relative or neighbour, babysitting, helping with DIY or gardening.

Sell yourself

Make sure you write about what you have been doing, not what you might be missing. Talk about your strengths and achievements, however small. This is a chance to sell yourself to the employer, and make sure to include those key words and phrases.

Writing about your skills, experience and achievements

Quite often on an application form, there is a section where you are asked to describe why you think you would be suitable for the job. This could be one big blank box or separated into different questions or sections. You must complete this section for an employer to consider you for an interview. This is often the section that people find the most difficult. There are a few tips to help you below:

  • Use the key words and phrases you have identified to guide you in your answers
  • For each key word or phrase, write about an example of a time when you have demonstrated this skill or attribute or had experience
  • Examples can be from school, college, work experience placements, voluntary work, paid work or your personal life
  • Write a paragraph for each key skill or phrase
  • Use the STAR technique (more about this below)
  • Use positive language and stick to those skills, attributes and experience you have identified will be important to this employer and job

The STAR technique

This is a key technique you can use for both application forms and interviews. It is a way of giving clear examples, and structuring your answer.

STAR stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

For each of the key words/phrases, think of a time when you have shown that skill and write a sentence.

An example for the key phrase of excellent customer service would be:

  • Situation: For my work experience, I worked in a café serving food, clearing tables and dealing with customers
  • Task: There were a lot of older customers who got confused or couldn't hear, see or move very easily
  • Action: I made sure I always had a smile on my face, helped carry trays to the tables and was patient with people
  • Result: As a result, the owner let me know how pleased she was as several customers had commented on how helpful I had been

As a paragraph, this is: "For my work experience, I worked in a café serving food, clearing tables and dealing with customers. There were a lot of older customers who got confused or couldn't hear, see or move very easily. I made sure I always had a smile on my face, helped carry trays to the tables and was patient with people. As a result, the owner let me know how pleased she was as several customers had commented on how helpful I had been."

Disclosing criminal convictions or disabilities

We will be writing another blog post going in to this in more detail, but in summary:

  • You only need to disclose offences that are not spent
  • You only need to disclose enough information about a disability to ensure the employer makes reasonable adjustments for your interview
  • In either case, you can write 'to discuss further at interview', and you can prepare what you want to say at that stage

Other top tips

  • Always get someone to read through and check an application form before you send it in to check for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes
  • Read through the whole application form before you begin so you can prepare
  • Make sure you make a note of the word or character limit in any boxes, so you don't write too much
  • Make sure you have contacted your references before putting their details on an application form, and make sure they are happy to be a reference and their contact details are correct
  • If you email the application form in, include a cover email. This is another chance to sell yourself.
  • Keep a copy of your application form in case you get asked to interview, and keep a record of the jobs you have applied for
  • You can often copy and paste information from an old to a new application form, but make sure it is still relevant and makes sense

If you need any specific advice about completing application forms or would like to find out more, you can email us at, call us on 02380 917585, speak to your work coach or leave a note in your Universal Credit journal.

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