Application forms
Application forms: Where to start?

Q: I am going for a promotion in my job – it’s a public service position, Along with all my job details (i.e. dates worked, positions and responsibilities), there are another 12 sections in the application form where I’ve got to elaborate on what I learned, my greatest strengths, specialist knowledge, examples of self-development, where I showed leadership, how I make decisions etc. I’d want to take a week off work to complete it. Or am I missing something here? – (LT, email).

A: Alas, LT, you’ve summarised it just about perfectly. I sometimes think there are people in semi-state and state bodies whose job it is to come up with one more – just one more, for now – section to add into application forms, writes Deirdre May, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

Application forms

The long and the short of it is that the employer is looking for information – examples of when you did things, your plans for the role, your approach to tasks. They circle around asking a variety of questions, full in the knowledge that if you don’t have the experience, you will run out of fresh examples.

Key words

So before you commit a word to the form itself, I would take out a blank piece of paper, and on it write all the key words and phrases they have put into the form – e.g. leadership, analysis, decision-making, team work, problem-solving, IT skills, results orientation, plan for action, vision for the role, and so on.

The 12 sections to which you refer will all have a key word/phrase or two. You will end up with, say, 15 key words or phrases.


Now, beside each one scribble an example that elaborates on, or proves, the key word/phrase. Muster an example for each one without repeating your examples. So the story about ‘overhauling the database management system’ can be deployed to prove, say, analysis; but, ideally, it would not also be used to prove, say, leadership.


This exercise will force you to excavate deep into your career. You might find that by identifying the key word/phrase, long-forgotten stories or scenarios from your career come up. We forget things. I mean, we really do forget things: I have sat with clients who suddenly remember something significant and powerful from their careers.

When you’ve done this exercise, you are then ready to tackle the form. As with the tackling of an elephant on your dinner plate, it’s a step by step, bit by bit, bite by bite, job.

Take breaks. You won’t complete it in one sitting. But with your scribbles at the ready, you will get it all done.


I’ve a colleague who breaks up the 12 sections you’ve mentioned into 12 separate Word documents before starting to write. It saves having to go through the whole, unwieldly, lengthy form every time. Write a section, mark it as done, and move onto the next one – and then he brings the whole lot back into the actual application form right at the end.

The, er, good news, LT, is that when they call you to interview, they may ask you to have a second example at the ready for each key word/phrase. Out with the blank paper again, then – but that’s not your worry for now. Best of luck.


Deirdre May is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers.

Make a booking HERE  for CV Preparation, Application Form writing, Interview Training and Mock Interviews.


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