Application forms demystified

It is important to take the time when writing your application form.  It is important to show the correct combination of skills, qualities and experience, making you the best candidate for the vacancy.

Here you will find information to help you get the most of what you put into your application form and present yourself in a positive light, and give evidence of how you meet the job requirements.

Many organisations and recruitment agencies use application forms as a way of selecting people for interview. It means they can get the information they require about you, in the way that meets their processes and makes things easier for them, rather than having to receive and sift through your information in the way you would set it out. Although the details requested in the application form will vary, the same rules apply as a CV. What you put in the application form should get the reader interested enough to want to see you for interview, and then you have the opportunity to sell yourself face to face.

Many companies use similar questions in their application forms, and may sometimes also give advice on how to answer them. They are providing a structured means of seeing how you respond to such questions and are looking at your self-awareness. The questions are also designed for you to sell yourself and demonstrate you have the right skills and personal qualities an employer is looking for. Think about how you can best answer the questions about yourself and how you can provide the information the company is looking for. Compose your responses carefully and make sure what you write makes sense.

One way of answering application form questions is via the STAR approach – Situation, Task, Action and Result. This is a way of framing your answer by explaining a work Situation you have been involved in (S), what the specific Task you were trying to achieve was all about (T), how you dealt with the situation – i.e. the Action (A) you took, and the Result (R) of taking the action.

S – Situation, background set the scene

T – Task or Target, i.e. the specifics of what was required, for when, where, who was involved

A – Action, what you did, the skills and behaviours you used, the characteristics you needed that were important in dealing with the task

R – Result – the outcome, what happened

The Situation and Task could easily be combined and would effectively be the introduction and setting the scene in your response. The Action you took would form the main body of your answer and the Result would be your conclusion. This is really the same format you would use in writing an essay. Many of us will not have done this for some time, so it does take quite a lot of thinking about.

Think about your personal qualities and the role you’re applying for – these skills and guidelines are examples of the key skills a company may be looking for.

Goal setting

Employers want motivation and commitment. Are you ambitious and driven or the type to give up easily?

Communication and people skills

Interacting with people and getting your ideas across is important. Have you got the people skills to get colleagues working effectively with you? Are you a good communicator?

Sticking to policy and procedure

Rules can be really important to the smooth running of a ship or business. Are you able to stick to rules and procedures?


Companies have to be responsive to many factors in a working environment or in general business operations. How do you handle change or how might you ensure others adapt effectively?


There will be many work-based situations where you have different views to those of others. How do you get your point across and respond to people with conflicting opinions?

Decisiveness and judgement

You’ll often encounter situations at work where difficult decisions need to be taken in order for progress to be made. Do you have the confidence and skills to do so?

Organisational and planning skills

Employers are looking for high productivity. Can you organise your workload so that tasks are done well and on time?

Problem solving

Every day we come across obstacles of varying scale. How do you approach problems and implement solutions?

Work under pressure

Performing well under stressful situations is important for many roles. Can you keep a clear head and think on your feet?


Very few professions require individuals to work in isolation. It’s important you can work towards a common goal with a team of colleagues as well as contribute on an individual level.

The questions usually fall into 5 categories:

  • Demonstrating your technical skills relevant to the job role
  • Showing your organisational/planning skills
  • Identifying your leadership/teamwork skills
  • Showing your problem-solving abilities
  • Demonstrating your ability to deal with challenging situations

Some application forms will use a skills based questioning approach, which will also say what you need to cover in your answer. You have to think about how you can relate this to your personal work or professional experience and expertise.

Your personal statement could be the key to a winning application that gets you that all-important interview. This is where you have the opportunity to write about you. But before you do that, you will need to analyse the job description to ensure you cover what is being looked for. Use your personal statement to your advantage and make sure it is well thought out, well written and well organised, using positive, persuasive language, demonstrate your skills i.e

  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Organisation
  • Flexibility

In completing any application form remember the three E’s

Enthusiasm – show your interest in the company by researching it and referring to specific aspects

Evidence – give examples of your successful achievements

Employability – show how useful you will be to that employer

DO research the company, the career area and the actual job for which you are applying. Make sure you can offer the qualifications, experience and personal skills that the employer is seeking.

DO make sure you are using the right form – some employers have different forms for different job functions.

DON’T use a CV if the employer specifies that you should use their application form.

DON’T start to write on the form itself until you are certain of what you are going to say.

DO write your first draft on a photocopy of the form, to make sure that you can fit everything you want to include into the space available.

DO think about whether you should complete the application form on the computer or in writing. You may not have a choice, but if you are completing it in writing, make sure it is readable, and use black ink – your form will probably be photocopied and this makes it easier to read.

DO find a quiet place to fill out the form – keep coffee cups and chocolate bars at a safe distance.

DO read the form through and follow all instructions. DO keep a copy of each application form. When it comes to the interview stage, it is hugely useful to remember what you have told the employer!