By Mary O’Brien-Killeen, Career Coach & Managing Director, Sli Nua Careers
Job application forms are the bane of many a career coach’s life. In theory, they should be absolutely simple to complete – a few questions, inviting you to highlight key competencies and strengths, appropriate blank spaces left to capture all the information, what could go wrong? Lots.
The approach of getting people to fragment their lives under various headings (leading teams, managing budgets, getting results through people, etc.) can prove remarkably difficult because it forces candidates to assess their careers via filters through which they may not have looked before.
People tend to think chronologically about their careers. Any deviation from this can be challenging. Application forms tend to ask you to view your career through the prism of competencies, attributes and achievements. It is a new line of vision and people struggle to arrange their careers in this way.
When we are asked to represent our careers in written format, the output can appear more cut and dried than we would like. Most career paths are far from linear, straightforward affairs. So when you are completing an application form, one of the first challenges you face is that of putting your career into context – because it is still unfolding, you still have ambitions and hopes, and you may not have processed various incidents or periods from your career just yet.
This is why getting somebody else – be it a colleague or a professional – to assess your career under the headings provided in the application form can be highly beneficial. It may be that they just ask the right questions to knock the right answers out of you. O they may write the application form and feed it back to you – once that step is taken, people tend to have much more clarity about their careers and how they might profitably depict them in the form.
Another little-known fact about application forms is that almost invariably they are formatted so poorly Bill Gates himself would struggle to fill them: not to mind in the input of all those who modify the original form, adding in tables, borders, page breaks and section breaks until the application form becomes almost completely impenetrable.
A surprising amount of our time in Sli Nua Careers is spent reformatting forms. It is an added complication for applicants, particularly if they leave it until the last minute, only to discover that nothing fits in, pages overrun, borders develop minds of their own, and so on.
Our advice when you are asked to complete an application form is to create a separate Word document with all the relevant headlines. Work through that first of all to get the crucial information down on paper – using a friend or professional if necessary – and then move on to working on the actual form itself.
In that way, you only have to worry about formatting at that point. Whereas if you approach the project by attempting to complete the writing and formatting at the same go, you could be highly frustrated.
And then, back to what matters most in any job hunt: make sure you have the best information you can possibly have that will help you get this job. Never deviate from that guiding principle.
If you would like to make a booking with any of our career coaches mentioned above, see HERE for CV Preparation and Interview Training.