by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor
Article Sponsored by: Northern California College of Construction
Even in our increasingly digital society, career transition and job hunting require a tremendous amount of old-fashioned paperwork. Documents such as resumes, cover letters, thank-you letters, writing samples, and application forms continue to be both useful and expected. Like all mechanical preparations, paperwork only becomes an issue when done improperly or left undone. The subject of my column this month is the application form. Although many companies treat them as a formality, you would be ill-advised to do the same.
Proper completion of the application form ensures that it will not be a cause for rejection. There are nine issues to consider: making copies, paying attention to detail, using the correct materials, being thorough, achieving accuracy, mentioning your military service, making more copies, replying in a timely manner, and asking for assistance, if necessary.
Make copies. The first step is to make several copies of the blank form. Why? Well, it is nice to have a working copy to play around with before you complete the final draft. In addition, if an error occurs, you can redo the form. Clean copies provide a more favorable impression on potential employers.
Attention to detail. Read it! More specifically, read the application form cover-to-cover before any ink hits the page. Sometimes, instructions are embedded in the document may impact what you may have already written. The extreme example is the company that begins its application form with, “Before you complete this application form, please read it in its entirety” and later suppose the document randomly has the phrase, “After you have read this application form in its entirety, do not complete any part of it. Sign and date the final page, and return it in the envelope provided.” Did you follow instructions? Thank goodness for those copies!
The proper materials. Now you are ready to begin, maybe. Do you have the proper materials? Did the instructions specify black or blue ink? Number-two pencil? Do you have access to the information requested? Previous addresses? Contact information for references?
Be thorough. Unless instructed otherwise, you should leave nothing blank. You do not want to be interpreted as lazy or lacking attention to detail. Never use the phrase, “See resume.” That is interpreted as “I am too lazy to restate what is already on my resume.” Be careful with phrases like “open” or “flexible” because some companies treat those responses the same way they would if the space was blank. Your goal is to appear flexible and keep open as many doors as possible. You can accomplish this goal and still fill in the blanks by being a little creative. For example, if the opening is in Atlanta, put “Southeast” in the geographic preference box. Rather than listing a specific salary, put down an acceptable salary range. Under objective, two things are important. First, make sure your responses indicate interest and also experience; second, verify that the position you are interested in is available.
Accuracy. There are two parts to this one. First, be sure that everything you put on the form is truthful, accurate, verified, and documented. No guessing! If you use estimates or approximations, make sure you qualify that information accordingly. Second, check for any typographical or spelling errors, poor grammar, or other mistakes, as these lapses would reflect badly on you.
Military service. Many application forms are not designed to take into account the number of different assignments typical service members have during their time in the military. Some application forms have a special section for military service and it is usually a relatively small space. What to do? Consider the space available and summarize your total military history in the space allotted - do not overflow to an attachment unless the instructions give you that option. Forget the “resume” temptation.
More copies. Assuming you have your final product in your hands, what now? Make copies, again as there are several reasons for this. One, potential employers have been known to lose them and your foresight will be rewarded. Two, once you have completed one company’s form, you probably have gathered together much of the information requested for another’s. And, three, you might need to recall exactly what you put on the form when you submitted it months or weeks ago.
Timeliness. Another issue to consider is timing. When will you receive the application form? For some companies, that is the very first step in the evaluation process. For others, you are only asked to complete one as the final step before receiving an offer. Still others wait until your first day in the new job to have you complete one. Regardless of when you receive it, treat it like a time bomb. You need to return it before it explodes. Unless the company representative specifically states that you are not to complete and return it immediately, then you should do so. Although timeliness is important, do not sacrifice accuracy, neatness, and completeness in your desire to return it promptly. Consider using an express delivery service. If there is a digital submission option or requirement, use it, but be sure to make a copy before you hit ‘send.’ This can both make up for lost time and also send a strong “I am interested” signal.
Do you need assistance? If you are completing the application form at the very beginning of the process with a company, you are probably on your own. The exception would be the availability of a personal advocate in that company. Or, if a recruiting firm sponsored you to this company, then one of its counselors will have guidance for you. If you are filling out the forms at the end of the recruiting process and you either have the offer or one is highly likely, then take advantage of the fact that you now have allies in the company - people who want you on the team.
Successful use of application forms should be no big deal. Just keep in mind accuracy, neatness, thoroughness, attention to detail, and a back-up plan - attributes you already have in place due to your military service.
Tom Wolfe is contributing editor & columnist for Civilian Job News and author of ‘Out Of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.’
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