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Some employers prefer you to fill in an application form rather than send a CV, particularly for public sector jobs. The main rules are to follow the application instructions, present the information neatly and sell your most relevant skills. Read on to find out how you can make your application form stand out.

Job application forms 

Many employers prefer application forms to CVs. Forms are easier to compare because, unlike CVs, they follow the identical format.

If you're filling in an application form, you'll still need to work out the best way to present your skills and experience. This is why completing an application form often takes just as much time and effort as writing a CV and covering letter. However, the more forms you fill in, the quicker you'll get at doing it.

Some jobs ask you to apply online, which you might not have done before. Read the instructions on the form very carefully and follow them. Taking it step by step and using the guides on this site will help you to give it your best shot.

Online application forms

If the form is online, draft your application offline first – in a word processing package like Word – and save it to your computer. This way you'll be able to run a spell check before you copy the information into the online system. It also means you'll have a back-up if there's a problem with the form.

More and more sites offer the option of storing your application online and coming back to it. If you do this in more than one sitting, keep a record of any usernames and passwords so that you can get back in.

Online forms can be longer and more complicated than paper forms – follow the instructions carefully and check how many screens you have to fill in before you can submit your application. Some employers will ask for a ‘personal statement‘.

If necessary, copy all the questions into an offline document – that way there’s no danger of submitting an incomplete application.

Paper application forms

If you’re filling in a form by hand, write as neatly as you can in black ink. Use block capital letters if the form asks you to.

A good way to avoid mistakes and crossings-out on the final form is to photocopy the original and practise filling in this copy first. Take care of the original form – don’t spill anything on it or leave it in your bag to get creased!

Check and recheck

Get it right — whether your form is online or on paper you should:

  • read it over a few times to check for spelling and grammatical errors - these are one of the most common reasons applications are rejected
  • ask someone else to proofread it and check it for you
  • check you've filled in all the boxes that are relevant to you. If you leave an empty box the employer might think your form is incomplete. If a box isn't relevant, put 'N/A' (not applicable) in the space provided
  • photocopy or print out the finished form, so that you have a record of what you've written. You'll need to be able to refer back to it at the interview stage
  • take note of the closing date and send your application form to arrive in good time.

Your questions answered

Now you've got the basics, read more do's and don'ts about filling in application forms.

Read frequently answered questions about application forms

Filling in your personal statement

This section at the end of the form is the most important, so leave plenty of time to fill it in. This is your chance to persuade the employer that you've got the skills and enthusiasm for the job.

Read more about personal statements