Filling in an application form

Application forms may be electronic or, in rare cases, handwritten. There are usually certain standard sections.

Experience, Education, Qualifications

Much of what goes on the application form will already be on your CV, including education, previous work experience and qualifications.

If this is the case then you can (more or less) cut and paste from your CV, although make sure that you keep to any word limits and emphasise the information relevant to the organisation to which you are applying.


You may be asked to give references on an application form.

At least one of your references should usually be your current or most recent employer, and it's usual to ask your line manager for a reference. If you don't feel able to ask your manager, you could instead ask their manager, or another colleague at your manager's level who has seen your work over a reasonable length of time.

If you don't have much work experience, then try to find someone who has seen you do some of the things that you need to do in the job. You can draw on voluntary work, or membership of clubs where you have taken responsibility for something. You can also ask a college or university tutor: they will at least have some idea of how hard you can work.

Competence and Examples

The application form is likely to contain a section in which you can set out how your experience fits you for the job.

This may be more or less structured, from an empty box to a table with "competences" down one side and boxes down the other for you to supply one or more examples that illustrate that you possess the competence.

However the form is structured, this is the place for you to use examples to demonstrate that you possess all the characteristics required of the post holder.

Don't start to write straight in the form. Draft your examples first in a separate document and refine them carefully until you're sure that:

  1. You have chosen the right examples.
  2. You have described your examples as well as possible.

Refining Your Examples

Start with the situation. Describe it in as few words as possible to make the position clear. This is the least relevant part of the example, and should be no more than 20% of the text.

"I was asked to carry out a review of departmental funding as part of my role as Head of the Finance Team."

"As manager of the section responsible for handling complaints, I initiated a review of staff workloads to see whether it was possible to achieve shorter deadlines for replying to customers."

Next, say what you personally did to address the situation that demonstrates your ability and/or competence. Make sure that you focus on "I" and not "we" or "the team": it's you who is applying for the job, not them. This should make up about 40% of the total text.

"I involved key colleagues in identifying budgets with flexibility and where spending was already committed. I coordinated a presentation to directors showing them how budgets could be redistributed to address spending needs."

"I discussed my team's workloads with each person individually, making sure that they understood the purpose of the review. I then facilitated a whole-team meeting in which team members were encouraged to identify areas where they could shorten the process and so provide better service to customers. Once the new process had been agreed, I followed this up with each team member individually to agree new targets for volume and workload."

Finally, describe how you knew that the action had been a success. This might include demonstrable results, or praise from managers, or staff comments in a survey. Again, this should be about 40% of the total text.

"As a result of the process that I initiated, directors were able to identify and agree funding to meet a shortfall, and also to make a good case for funding an unforeseen pressure. The review was used as a model for a later organisation-wide process."

"As a result, the team now routinely responds to complaints within three days instead of five, and the volume of repeat complaints has dropped by half. Staff members also report that they are much happier with the process, and feel that it serves customers better."

The Legal Bit

There is usually a signature space at the bottom of the application form for you to sign to say that everything in the form is true.

Even if completed electronically, this is legally binding, and will form part of your employment contract with the company. Do Not Lie. You will almost certainly be found out eventually and then you will probably lose your job.