Using Application Forms

Whether you plan to recruit online or offline, by yourself or with help from an agency, you need to consider how applicants will submit their applications. Traditionally, you would ask candidates to submit a CV with covering letter. Whilst this may still work for you, increasingly organisations are adopting dedicated application forms, which request specific information from each applicant. So would an application form work best for you? How would you go about making one?

Increasingly, organisations request that jobseekers complete a dedicated application form, rather than simply send in a CV with covering letter. An application form allows for the information needed by the employer to be presented in a consistent and uniform manner, and simplifies the job of comparing two separate applications. Using an application form ensures that applicants supply all the facts required, and that any skills gaps or career breaks are obvious. The job of short listing applicants for interview is made easier, as information about each applicant is presented in the same place in each application.

Questions to ask

Your organisation may have standard job application forms that are used for all vacancies, regardless of the requirements or seniority of the role. Alternatively, you might be creating an application form for the first time to use for a single vacancy that you wish to fill. In either event, there are a number of key areas about which you will want to collect information:

  • Full name
  • Home address & telephone number
  • Name of employer & work telephone number
  • Age / date of birth
  • Employment history
  • Education
  • Training
  • Hobbies & interests
  • References

In addition, you will probably want to get candidates thinking about their reasons for applying for the vacancy, such as:

Q: Please use this section to tell us how you feel you meet the requirements of the enclosed Person Specification. Give as much information as necessary to demonstrate the skills, experience and knowledge you have gained. This could include voluntary work, leisure interests and any other activities that you consider relevant to this position.
Q: Use this section to say why you want this job, how you are suited to it and what you feel you can contribute to this organisation.

Many organisations use data supplied from an application form for statistical monitoring of their equal opportunities policy. Questions on the form regarding sex, race or gender are asked on a separate removable sheet, and are not used as part of the interview selection process. Over a fixed period, an organisation can compare the race and gender mix of job applicants with the mix of those appointed to the positions.

Advantages of using application forms

The benefit of using applications forms comes when you start receiving applications through the post. It is much easier to compare individual applicants who have supplied answers to exactly the same list of questions, and have displayed their answers in the same place on each form. Applicants will to need to supply succinct answers to your questions because space on the application form is limited. So they will not be able to waffle, and they will have to think very carefully about the experience that they consider most relevant to the vacancy on offer.

There are other advantages of using application forms. When assessing CVs, it is easy to get carried away by a particular qualification or experience that a candidate has, even though it is not a fundamental requirement of the position. By using an application form you are considering only the skills and experience that you consider relevant to the position you wish to fill.

Application forms can also help an organisation’s discrimination and fairness policy. All applicants begin the application process on a level footing, and all personal details regarding sex, race and gender are recorded at the front or back of the application form. So it is straightforward for you to monitor the racial mix of the applications you receive, leaving you less vulnerable to challenges of unfairness or discrimination.

Some organisations record the details of all applicants onto a database. This is a good idea because you are then able to acknowledge applications, invite candidates to interview and reject unsuccessful candidates, all using a simple mail merge operation. As long as you abide by all the requirements of the latest data protection legislation, you can also use the database to search for suitable candidates for future job vacancies. It is much easier to extract data from an application form, than from a CV and covering letter.

Disadvantages of using application forms

The use of job application forms can reduce significantly the number of applications that you receive. From a candidate’s point of view, applying for a job using an application form is a lengthy and time-consuming operation. It is harder for an applicant to avoid addressing areas of weakness, and they may decide not to apply at all. Whilst this means that the applications that you do receive ought to be serious ones, you may miss out on applicants who satisfy most, but not all, of your criteria. There is no doubt that application forms are more suited to certain jobs than to others. If you are trying to fill an administrative position, with a number of essential person requirements, then the use of an application form is ideal. For more senior or management positions, you may decide that a CV with covering letter is more appropriate.

The other disadvantage of application forms is the cost, both in time and money, of designing, printing and distributing the forms to applicants. A job advertisement will often quote a telephone number for applicants to register for an application form, and this extra process will need to be administered. Although many job application forms are now available to download from an organisation’s website, you will still need to offer an alternative for those without Internet access.

Designing a job application form

Designing a job application form is a time-consuming process, and requires a good deal of planning. You only have a limited amount of space to request all the relevant information you need to make an informed shortlist of candidates to interview. So spend some time thinking about what you need to know, and how much space would be required to do justice to the questions you are asking. It is common practice to allow candidates to add follow on sheets where necessary, but you should ensure that you provide sufficient space on the form for most applicants to complete their answers. You also need to consider how candidates will complete the application form. Will they complete them by hand? If so, you need to leave sufficient space to allow someone with larger than average handwriting to supply an adequate answer. On the other hand, many applicants will word process their application, and so less space for each answer will be required.

It is important that the application form is not too long, otherwise you will put off a number of potentially good candidates from applying. Four sides of A4 is ideal, six sides is okay, and eight sides is too many. Too many pages will put potential candidates off altogether.

Consider also the different ways that the application form might be used. Will you allow candidates to complete an application form online? If so, you might want to list the questions to be completed, and provide a word limit for each one. For example:

Give brief details of current employment (max. 250 words)

What application forms can reveal

Because application forms spell out the specific information required by short listers, they can often reveal information about a candidate that might otherwise be hidden in a CV or covering letter:

  • Career breaks and gaps
  • Skills shortages
  • Absence of specific work experience
  • Missing qualifications
  • Weaknesses in the applicant’s career relevance

Application forms: Checklist

  • Are application forms appropriate for the vacancy you are trying to fill?
  • Will you make the application form available online as well as offline?
  • Have you thought about what questions to ask?
  • Could you design your own application form, or do you know someone who could help you to design one?