Everything You Need To Know About Job Applications
Updated February 16, 2023
Before you can snag an in-person interview with a potential employer, they may ask you to fill out a formal job application in addition to your provided resume and cover letter. By understanding the purpose of job applications and how to fill one out, you can successfully submit all the essential components to hopefully advance in the hiring process.
In this article, we review the different types of job applications, outline common elements found in job application forms and explain why employers use them, plus show how to fill out a job application and provide follow-up tips.
What is a job application?
A job application is a formal document created by employers for job candidates to fill out in response to an open position. Job applications can appear in print or online formats and require you to answer questions about your credentials, citizen status and other information included in your resume and cover letter documents.
Types of job applications
Although digital job applications are becoming increasingly common, other application formats are still in use. Here are a few types of job applications you might encounter when applying for a position:
In-person: In-person job applications are common to those applying for sales or hospitality positions. This type of job application can typically be filled out immediately, and once completed, candidates might have an in-person interview on the same day.
Paper: Applicants either receive paper job applications from an employer or print them out from an online source to mail to an employer once completed.
Online: An online job application is typically filled out through the company's website or link in the job posting.
Email: With emailed job applications, an employer might post a standard form on their website for individuals to fill out and include as an attachment along with their resume and cover letter in a separate email to a hiring manager.
Common job application elements
Job applications can vary from company to company, but there are a few common elements you might encounter:
Name, address and contact information: Include your full name, home address or general location of residence and the best methods to contact you, such as email, phone number and possibly a link to your professional profile.
United States citizenship/veteran status: This is important for employers to know about for tax and other legal purposes affecting the hiring process, such as forms to complete for sponsoring non-U.S. citizens. Employers also might be passionate about hiring veterans or offer incentives.
Educational background: Specific sections might include names and locations of institutions, years attended, degree(s) acquired, GPA and relevant coursework.
Past employment: Potential sections include company name and location, supervisor information, years employed and specific job duties.
Company-specific questions: A job application might also include company-tailored questions similar to those you’d encounter during an in-person interview, such as "What makes you qualified for this position?"
Verification statement and signature: Toward the end of a job application, you might encounter a statement to acknowledge each piece of information in the application is truthful and accurate. Your signature is likely the last component, whether written in person or typed out in a digital form.
Why employers use job applications
Employers use job applications because it provides them with accurate data from which they can equally judge candidates' credentials. Resumes and cover letters are a unique way for candidates to display their personal details, professional experience and acquired skills.
Candidates can take advantage of formatting tools and free resume templates to make their qualifications stand out, but these creative methods also may make it difficult for employers to weigh comparative qualifications for each applicant. That's why employers enlist the help of uniform job applications, as they can create a list of questions for an even comparison. This also eliminates time spent sifting through resumes and cover letters to find the same information.
Similarly, when employers use a job application, especially in an online format, they can upload these forms to an applicant tracking system (ATS) and automate their search for keywords, degree types, specific skills or previous jobs to narrow down candidates to interview.
Tips for filling out a job application
You should keep the following tips in mind while completing a job application to present yourself professionally to employers:
Gather important documents
Ensure you have all of your job-related documents accessible before you start to fill out your application. This is especially important if you are filling out an application at the job site, but having the correct documents organized and nearby can also help ease the process of filling out an online application. Documents might include your updated resume, names and contact information of references or former employers and your Social Security number for background checks.
Read through instructions
By reading over the application in its entirety, you can figure out what types of information the employer is requesting. This can help you determine any additional documents to gather, as well as where to place certain information such as past employment or references so you prevent yourself from repeating these details later.
Fill in blank answer boxes
You’ll want to present yourself as an energetic and detail-oriented candidate, so if you leave certain boxes blank, employers could get the wrong impression about your work ethic or even your commitment to the open role. If you encounter a question that doesn’t apply to you, simply write "not applicable" so it indicates that you’ve read every question.
Include detailed responses
With the previous tip in mind, make sure to give a detailed response to every question that applies specifically to you and your qualifications. Employers may or may not also use your resume to weigh your employability, so you should contribute just as much detail to your job application answers as your resume—and they should match.
Refrain from specific salary expectations
Some job applications might ask for a salary range, but if you have the opportunity to make an additional comment, you should include the phrase "Open to negotiation" or a similar sentiment. This is more attractive to employers and indicates your flexibility.
Review for potential errors
Just like your resume and cover letter, you should devote a specific amount of time to check for errors and correct any grammar, punctuation or factual errors to give yourself the best chance at continuing through the hiring process.
How to follow up on a job application
Here is a list of steps you can take to properly follow up with an employer after submitting your job application:
Wait at least one week
You want to give employers a reasonable amount of time to review your job application before you contact them to inquire about it. This is also the case for interviews, as it helps you appear professional and interested yet respectful of the employer's time and hiring process.
Reread the original posting
Check back on the job posting or read through the application confirmation email to see if the employer has already established a timeframe or specific date for candidates to receive a response. This will keep you from following up with an employer too soon.
Keep your message professional
Whether you choose to follow up by email or phone, you should continue the professionalism demonstrated in your job application in this follow-up message. Be brief, only including important details such as your name, the position you applied for, the date you applied and your wish to know of any further developments. Conclude your message with a forward-looking statement.
Follow up again after two weeks
If you sent the employer a message at the end of the first week and still have not heard back after the second week, there’s no harm in contacting them a second time. Continue to maintain your professionalism and express your wish for any further information at the employer's convenience.
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