A job application may look like an innocent bit of paper, but don’t be fooled! It can be a ticket to a promising career…or food for an employer’s waste bin. Much depends on your attitude and creativity in filling out the perfect job application.
How creative can you be with names, dates, and addresses? Much of the information seems set in stone. But there are plenty of areas where you can slant the odds to your favour. The trick is to interpret, brainstorm, and customise. Show why you are a match for the job.
Before we get to the creative part, let’s look at the black and white. There may be fewer of these parts than you think. Of course, you must write your name, address, and phone numbers correctly. Be absolutely neat and clear. Give all requested information and leave no blanks. When finished, you will proofread the whole form to be sure it is neat and errorless. After all, you wouldn’t want to be eliminated for something silly–and make no mistake, employers are all too ready to weed you out just to reduce the pile of papers!
Now, for the creativity. You must show that you are eminently qualified for the job, and to do this, you must customise your answers to any question that allows it. Make sure you understand what is being asked. Just think about the employer’s real reason for wanting the information. Don’t get carried away with data that is strictly red tape (e.g., for purposes of identification, etc.). The areas in which you have the most creative freedom are open-ended requests, such as “Describe any skills that apply to the position” or “Summarise any related experience.” On these, you can really capitalise on your strengths. Some areas are partially open-ended. For instance, you may be required to fill out an education chart, including schools, courses, and dates, as well as a similar chart for previous jobs. Don’t think exclusively about formal degree programs here. Have you ever taken a workshop or class associated with a college or other school? If it was relevant to the job, there is no reason you shouldn’t list it. The job experience chart gives even more opportunity for customising. Think of the jobs that used skills most closely related to those required for this job. List those first unless the application specifically requests chronological order. Alternatively, list the most important jobs in order and add a note directing the reader to summary of in-between jobs. (Make sure it is neat and clear!) For both these and more open-ended questions that allow communication of your skills and experience, follow the steps below.
To Customise your Job Application
Though you should always be honest on forms as well as in interviews, there are ways to enhance your attractiveness to a prospective employer. In fact, often you will give a much truer and multi-dimensional picture of yourself by following these customisation steps. The problem is that we are so familiar with ourselves, we tend to downplay our skills and experiences! Attempt to see yourself from another perspective, in terms related to the requirements of this job.
1) Learn all you can about the job tasks. Read the job description and/or advertisement. Look up the company website if they have one. This can give you additional insight as to job expectations—ones that might not be explicit in the ad. If you need more information, don’t be afraid to call the company. Just be friendly and polite, and have clear questions when you call.
2) List all the necessary skills for this job. Include everything you have learned about it. Put requirements in order of importance.
3) Brainstorm: Get a big piece of paper. Using the list of skills, think of all the talents and abilities you have that match. Don’t censor yourself! Write everything you’ve done that uses that skill or related skill. Think of all jobs, paid or volunteer, and even personal activities that use these skills. If teaching is a preferred experience, think of times you have instructed someone, on any level. Granted, just showing your nephew how to tie his shoes probably won’t impress; for now, write it anyway—it may jog other memories.
4) Organise: Now group the skills and experiences to see what best applies to the job as a related skill. For example, if you have been an informational speaker in any formal or semi-formal situation, especially multiple times, this can apply as teaching experience. Let’s say you gave regular reports to your gardening group and showed members how to pot plants.
5) Write: Word your description in a way that highlights the important job skill. If the job requires experience teaching, mention that you have presented informational workshops and given hands-on instruction. If there is room, include evidence of favourable results or positive feedback. At first, write it out without worrying about length and grammar. When you have all the important information, cut it down to a clear and concise summary of your strengths in that area. Do this for each skill.
After completing these steps, try adding the information to a disposable copy of the application form. Make sure what you write in each section is proportional to the amount of space you have and is a directly relevant to the given question. If possible, forget it for a day. When you read it again, you should be in a better position to judge it impartially. Pretend you are the employer under the gun to find the best applicant for the job. Are there errors? Where could you improve it? Think about the kinds of questions it will raise for the employer. (You will need to anticipate these and be prepared with an answer, when you interview, that puts you ahead of the crowd.)
Proofread your application and write or, better, type the final information in the appropriate areas. Give it a final once-over and you are almost ready to fire it off to the appropriate person. If you are mailing it or e-mailing it, write a cordial letter introducing yourself and stating briefly what job you are applying for and, why you want it, and why you are qualified. Even if you must deliver it in person, it never hurts to write a cordial note of introduction. Make sure you have the right address, and spell the recipient’s name correctly!
When you have double checked both the application and the letter, send them off or deliver them in person. Now you will need to start preparing for the interview, which will surely follow the employer’s receipt of your perfect application!