Q: The closing date is tomorrow. Last night, after much procrastination, I finally opened the application form and started to fill it out. I failed. Between the requests for examples of competencies, exhaustive previous experience, exact number of months worked, and a whole host of other questions, I just couldn’t get it done. Is this a common experience? I hate missing out on this job opportunity but I simply ran out of road. (LD, email).
A: Yes, this is an all-too-common scenario. Well, the exasperation you articulate is very common among those forced to tackle application forms, though, thankfully, I reckon most people do get them completed on time, by hook or by crook, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.
Forms can be highly frustrating. In my view, they regularly seek far too much minute detail and promote repetition. There’s only so much detail people can muster to explain how they displayed this, that or the other competency. Give candidates a break. Forms often amount to a wading-through-treacle endurance test.
In fact, in this age of stunningly effective technological tools, it amazes me how teachers have to fill out a new form every time, just as public service employees must start afresh too. Surely online portals could hold the key information and allow candidates to simply tweak the application each time – I see teachers who have to enter all their teaching experience over and over again into similar forms, often struggling with just the wearying copy-and-paste demand of it all.
The key thing is that you must allow yourself time. Forms are a rabbit hole. When you dive in, you’ll be amazed how much you have to cover.
Observe word count guidelines. It always surprises me how many people think than an instruction of maximum 250 words means they can go as far as 350 words. I have only heard of one or two cases where exceeding the word count instruction has knocked candidates out of contention – but even if it doesn’t result in a red card, you should question why you need to even go as far as the maximum word count offered.
Are you confusing or clarifying? Can you make your point quicker?
Another reason you need time is that, in all likelihood, the boxes will start to flow in the wrong direction and text will disappear – well not really disappear, but steal away under the covers of an adjacent box, innocently sitting there minding its own business. Fonts will clash and page breaks will suddenly appear without your prompting.
A useful tip can be to break out the various sections of the application form into individual Word documents. You may need to do a lot of copying and pasting initially to make this happen, but it could save you having to work through the entire form every time you want to tweak anything. In reality, an application form is a series of shorter forms and tackling them individually can make things simpler.
But, most of all, give yourself time. You won’t just magic up a good application form in a couple of hours. You need time to write it, get some feedback on it, edit it and think about it some more before doing the final edit and pressing the button.
Liam Horan is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers in Ballinrobe.
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