Ready to apply for a job?
The job application is often your first step. Employers use it to learn about your qualifications and compare you to other applicants. But some prefer that you submit a resume. (Learn how to write a resume.) Here are some tips for completing applications successfully.
Follow directions. Avoid having your application rejected because you filled it out wrong.
- Read the entire application before you complete it.
- Pay close attention to what is being asked and how you are expected to respond.
- Do not write in sections that say “Do Not Write Below This Line” or “Office Use Only.”
Fill out applications neatly and completely. Make sure that your application creates a good impression by answering all the employer’s questions.
- Before you leave home, create a personal data sheet. This should include all the information you might need to complete an application like names of previous employers, employment dates, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. Use it as you fill out the application.
- Most applications will ask for references. Add this to your personal data sheet.
- Do not use abbreviations, except for “n/a” (not applicable).
- Respond to all questions. If a question does not apply to you, use “n/a” to indicate that it is not applicable. This shows the employer that you did not overlook anything.
If you are filling out a paper application:
- Make a rough draft. Write out responses on a separate sheet of paper before completing the real application. Or get two copies and use the first one as a rough draft.
- Write clearly. Use a black, erasable pen, and print clearly.
- Proofread it. Make sure that you have no grammar or spelling errors. If possible, have someone else review the application to catch errors you might miss.
- Keep it neat. Use correction fluid (“white out”) to fix minor errors, but use it sparingly.
Always list your “position desired”. Do not leave this question blank or use “any” or “open.”
- If you’re answering a job ad or looking for a specific position, enter that job title.
- If you are not applying for a specific position, enter the name of the department in which you wish to work.
- Fill out more than one application if you are interested in more than one job.
Give a range for your salary requirements. Employers may use this question to screen out applicants. It is best to give a salary range or list “negotiable”, even if you know the wage. This leaves you room to negotiate a higher salary.
Give positive reasons for leaving past jobs. Choose your words carefully with this question. Avoid using the words “fired”, “quit”, “illness”, or “personal reasons”. Always use positive statements. Here are some possible ways to handle this question.
If you were fired:
- Do not use the terms “fired” or “terminated”. Consider using “involuntary separation.”
- You may want to call past employers to find out what they will say in response to reference checks. When doing so, reintroduce yourself and explain that you’re looking for a new job. Be honest that your termination hurts your chances of getting another job. Past employers will usually agree to use the term “resigned.” This response saves them potential headaches and even lawsuits.
If you quit your job, use the term “resigned” or “voluntarily separated.” These responses indicate that you followed proper procedures in leaving the job. If the application asks for a reason (or if you are asked in the job interview), you can respond as follows:
- Quit for a better job. This response includes leaving for advancement potential, to work closer to home, for a better work environment, or for a career change. If you quit for a better job, there should not be a long break in employment. Your employment history should support the statement.
- Quit to move to another area.
- Quit to attend school. If you use this reason, the education listed on your application and/or resume must reflect it.
- Quit for other reasons, such as took an extended vacation/sabbatical, did volunteer work, started own business, or raised family.
If you were laid off from a job due to no fault of your own, indicate the reason for the layoff. Here are some possible phrases to use:
- Lack of work
- Lack of operating funds
- Temporary employment
- Seasonal employment
- Company closed
- Plant closing
- Company downsized
- Corporate merger
Watch for illegal questions. Applications may contain questions that are illegal to ask before a conditional offer of employment. These include questions about:
- National origin
- Receiving public assistance
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
You need to decide how you will respond. If the question does not bother you, answer it. If it does, you can use “n/a.” But be aware that you may get screened out by having too many of these responses.
Present a positive, honest picture of yourself during your job search. The information that you provide is likely to become part of your permanent employment record. False information can be the basis for dismissal. Answer all questions honestly. Provide only the information that the employer wants, or that is needed to sell your qualifications. Avoid any negative information.
Target your qualifications. Include only those that meet the specific needs of the job. Many applications have limited space to record your skills, experience, and accomplishments. To decide what information to include, research the company, its products or services, and the skills needed for the job. Attach a resume that details your skills, experience, and accomplishments.
Today, many employers expect job seekers to apply for jobs online.
You may need to apply on the employer’s website or on an online job board, like Monster.com or CareerBuilder. Do not e-mail your resume to an employer unless the job ad asks for this. To apply online, you will need access to the Internet and an e-mail account.
If you don’t have a computer
Free Internet access is available at public libraries and here at the Career Center. Make sure you have a USB drive (sometimes called a flash drive or thumbnail drive). This will allow you to bring or save your resume information when working on a public computer. These drives are small and inexpensive. You can purchase one at many retail stores.
If you need an e-mail address, many sites offer free accounts. Visit EmailAddresses.com for a list of free web-based e-mail. Popular free services include Gmail from Google and YahooMail. Use a simple e-mail address with your name or initials. Do not use e-mails like SuperHotGuy@hottie.com. This type of e-mail address is not considered professional.
If you want easy access to your resume, Google Docs has an online word processor. You can save your files there online and export them as PDF files when applying for jobs.
How to complete an online application
Before you can apply online, you first need to register with the job website. This simply means that you need to create an account. To do this, you will need to choose a login name and a password. Many websites will use your e-mail address as your login. You will have to register separately for each job website.
Once you have account, you can add the information from your resume. Below are the three most common ways to do this:
- Attach a file of your resume. Many applications allow you to browse for a file on your computer or USB drive. They often ask for a PDF, text, or Microsoft Word file. Select your file, and click “ok” or “insert.” It’s just like attaching a file to an e-mail message. Online applications often indicate if the file has been successfully uploaded.
- Copy and paste your entire resume into the online application. Open your resume file. Highlight all of the text using the mouse. Select “Copy” from the menu or by right clicking. Go to the online application to insert your resume. Select “Paste” from the menu or by right clicking. Make sure you check the formatting of your resume. You can add your resume to an e-mail message using the same method.
- Enter your work history manually one field at a time. Some online applications have different fields for different information. For example, you enter a past employer’s name in one field, your dates of employment in another, and your duties in yet another. This type of application can be very time-consuming to complete. To save time and reduce errors, cut and paste text from your resume using the method above.
If you’re having trouble completing the application, look for a “Help” button or link.
What about a portfolio?
A portfolio is a collection of work samples that you can bring to an interview, send to a prospective employer, or even post online.
- Provide evidence of work that you’ve done.
- Illustrate your skills and abilities.
- Show the quality of your work.
A portfolio is a way to organize and present your skills, projects, training and education. It allows you to display your best work. It also can provide a way to tell the story of your career and the challenges you have overcome. If you are looking into several types of jobs, then you may need more than one portfolio. Read below to learn about the types of portfolios you might want to create for yourself. Then visit Work samples to learn about samples you might want to include.
For a paper portfolio, begin with a loose-leaf binder with divider:
- The first page can be a fresh copy of your resume. Or place that in a pocket in the front cover.
- Include a table of contents. This makes it easier for both you and the prospective employer to find items quickly.
- Display the rest of the content in clear page protectors.
Group your work samples into logical categories. For example, you could organize by the specific skills used, the type of project, or product line. How you organize your portfolio is up to you, but make sure you label each item. Explain what each item is, your involvement, and the skills you used. If possible, use color copies or colored paper to add visual appeal. Another option is to include partial samples of your work and offer full versions if the interviewer requests them.
Besides work samples, there are a number of other items you could include in your portfolio:
- Employer/industry information (articles on the interviewer, employer, and industry)
- Skills list, matched to the specific job
- Job match letter
- Workshops and conferences attended
- References, evaluations, letters of recommendation, and testimonials
- Letters of thanks
- Articles about you
- Stories demonstrating skills or character (preferably signed)
During the interview, refer back to the portfolio any time you can. Look for opportunities to show and tell the employer what you have done. Each time, pull out a copy to show the interviewer. Have a photocopy available to leave behind.
Online portfolios are an easy way for potential employers to view samples of your work. And that might just tip the scales in your favor. Include your portfolio’s web address on all job search communication. If you participate in online networking, add a link to your online portfolio. This will make it easier for your network to recommend your work to others.
Don’t be tempted to quickly throw an online portfolio together. You need to research your technical options. And there are a lot of them out there — from blogs to free or subscription portfolios to building your own website. Free services allow you to get up and running quickly with limited design skills. But they may come with some disadvantages:
- They may restrict how many files you can upload as well as the type AND size of the files.
- They may allow limited customization.
- They may show ads on your blog or portfolio. (This is how some can offer it for free.)
The online portfolio solution you choose will depend on your needs, time, budget, and web skills. Carefully compare features to determine which one meets your needs.
- Blog portfolios can be an excellent starting point, especially if used only for that purpose. They tend to be easy to set up and use. Most allow you to organize content easily. You can also embed almost anything. Blogs are often free, but many have subscription options with advanced features. This may be a good option if you need a simple portfolio.
- Free or subscription-based portfolios tend to allow a wider range of file types, and larger files. These files are uploaded directly to the host site. Portfolio options are geared toward presenting graphic elements rather than text. These are ideal if you need to showcase work visually.
- Custom portfolios give you the most control over how your work is presented. They also require the most hands-on labor since you must design the site yourself. Free templates and tools can simplify the process. You will also need to register a domain name and host the site somewhere.