Job Applications: Presenting a Compelling Case

Job Applications

Filling out a job application is often a necessary part of landing certain types of jobs. Blue collar work, entry level positions, and service sector roles are the most likely to start with an application form.

Regardless of the specific job you are applying for, this guide will give you the information you need to stand out and get noticed by potential employers. Want to get your chance to be interviewed for the job? It all starts with a strong application.

1) Preparation

The nice thing about time spent getting prepared is that you only have to do it once and it is ready to go for any applications you need to fill out. To start, build a comprehensive document so you have everything you may need for any job application in one place.

Your list should include the following information for each work, internship or volunteer experience:

  • Full name of the company or program
  • Address and phone number of the organization
  • Official job title
  • Full name and phone number for your direct supervisor
  • Dates of employment (month and year)
  • Reason you left the job (keep it positive, but accurate)
  • Skills and responsibilities for each position you held

In addition, include the following items in case you need to draw on them:

Reference List

Include the names, job titles, and contact information (phone and email) of at least three people that you have worked with or have known personally who will speak positively about your character, work ethic, or aptitudes.

Teachers, coaches, former employers, or people you have worked closely with on volunteer projects are good prospects. Make sure to give them a heads up that they may be contacted to provide a reference.

Awards and Honors

If you have received any special acknowledgement for your hard work, be sure to add them to your list. Include the full name of the organization and the official title of the award so that you can be specific and accurate on your application.


Take the time to really think about your availability before applying for a job. Do you have weekly obligations at a certain time or limitations on the total number of hours you can work? You may be asked about this, so be prepared to give an accurate picture of when you can, and can’t, work.

2) Filling Out the Application

In most cases you can bring a hard copy of the application home to fill out. If you can, copy the blank application before filling it out in the event that you make some mistakes. In other cases, you can fill out a form online before either printing or submitting electronically.

Your goal is to be honest, accurate and concise while also positioning yourself as a strong candidate for the job. Here are some tips:

Choose Wisely

When it comes to helping your application stand out from the rest, the most important thing you can do is to tailor it to the exact job you are applying for. Employers do care about qualifications, but their number one priority is fit for the position itself.

Unless it creates a large and noticeable gap in your work history, you do not have to list every single job that you have held on your resume. This is particularly true if you have held more jobs than will fit in the space provided. Instead, choose those most relevant to the position you are applying for.

The same is true when it comes to listing job responsibilities and skills. Look at the job advertisement and put yourself into the position of the person that is making hiring decisions. Choose to list those qualifications that are going to be most impressive to them, as long as they are true.

Pay Attention to Keywords

If you are filling out an online application, then you should try to make sure that you include relevant keywords on your application.

The reason this can make a big difference is that it is likely the employer is taking advantage of computer technology to save time and money. These programs are often the first screening step and can be the deciding factor when it comes to which applications will even make it into the hands of a person for review.

Computer algorithms work by looking for specific terms, called keywords, that are most relevant to the position or the job history that typically leads to the job in question. These can take the form of job titles, skills, and certifications.

A good place to find the types of keywords that these tracking systems are set to look for is to carefully read the description in the job advertisement. In addition, you can do some research on the job and find other ads for the same type of position at other companies.

Remember, your application will eventually be read by a person so try not to be repetitive with your language, or make it obvious you are “keyword stuffing.”

Use Action Verbs

Be specific whenever possible and use action verbs which have more impact on the reader. This is particularly true when it comes to listing qualifications and job responsibilities.

Passive: I was the supervisor for crews with 15 employees in them.
Active: Supervised 15 person crews.

Be Concise

Since space is usually quite limited on an application, it is important to cram in as much relevant information as you can, while also saving valuable words. It is okay to use lists of phrases, rather than complete sentences, to describe responsibilities in your work history section.

Ask yourself: Is there a way to rewrite this to say the same thing with fewer words? Are all the details relevant to the job I am applying for?

Too wordy: I was the primary contact for all vendors that attended our “Autumn Harvest” series in the park.
Concise: Coordinated with vendors.

Keep It Positive

Your application should frame things in a positive light. At the same time, it is important to be honest about the information you include on your application.

This is most likely to come up if you are asked to give your reasons for leaving a previous job. The application is not the place to complain about a previous employer or go out of your way to highlight your weaknesses.

If you left your job voluntarily, focus on how you were seeking a new opportunity for professional development. If you were terminated, just say that with a brief explanation, but leave out the details.

Politely Avoid Salary Questions

In some cases, the application will ask about your salary or wage requirements. It is perfectly acceptable, and indeed desirable, to decline to provide specific information here. Instead, answers such as “Negotiable” or “Open to a conversation” are just fine. This gives you room to discuss salary in an interview.

3) Double Checking Your Application

Before submitting your application, take the time to give it a thorough read once over for accuracy and completeness. Nothing will turn off a potential employer more than a sloppy, error filled application!

Here are some things to look for and correct:

  • Spelling errors and typos
  • Messy handwriting
  • Unanswered questions or unchecked boxes (Write N/A if a question does not apply to you.)
  • Blank signature or date line
  • Lacking required additional materials
  • Extraneous words or experiences that do not add value

4) Conclusion

Take your time filling out application forms in order to put your best foot forward. It may even be helpful to write out a first draft, particularly for the more descriptive sections of the form. That way you can do some editing before putting your final words down.

Remember, the application is your first impression with your new employer. Make it count!

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