Application forms (online and paper)

Application forms allow employers to compare groups of candidates and are often the first point of contact that you will have with an employer. Even though it may seem like you have less chance of getting your information across, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances. 

Top tips for application forms:

  • Set aside enough time to complete the form ­– application forms can take longer to complete than expected. 
  • Do a rough copy or first draft of your application - photocopy the original if you only have one copy. Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar are all correct and ensure your hand-writing is clear and legible.
  • Always follow the employer's rules – if they request 'black ink' or 'capitals' use black ink or capitals.
  • If it is an online application, check at the start whether you can save and edit as you go. Some application forms may not allow you to do this. Alternatively, make your draft in a word processing programme until you are ready to submit the form.
  • Application forms can have competency-based questions and/or personal statement questions. Competency-based questions ask you to provide evidence for particular competencies, whereas personal statement questions are more open, e.g. what skills and experience do you have that relate to the job? For these kind of questions, you need to use the requirements for the job (look at the advert and person specification) to provide evidence of your suitability.
  • Provide real examples and analyse what you actually did – instead of saying 'working for Quay Radio developed my team working skills' – show more clearly what your role was and how it developed your skills. However, don't waffle! Keep your examples relevant and structured.
  • Make a backup copy of your application form. If you are selected for interview, you can read this over to help you prepare.
  • In most cases, you do not need to attach a CV with an application form. Only do this if it is asked for.
  • Get your free copy of ‘Application forms guide’ and use the range of reference materials available at Purple Door to learn more useful tips on completing your application forms.
  • Book an appointment to see a careers adviser who will be able to talk through your application form with you.

Speculative applications

Speculative applications involve sending a CV and covering letter to an employer asking whether they have any vacancies in the sector you are interested in, even if the company is not currently advertising for a role. They are a great way to access "hidden jobs". Some estimations suggest that more than 50% of jobs go unadvertised and are filled by speculative applications or networking!

When should speculative applications be used?

  • Speculative applications may be suitable if you want to work in a particular geographical area or highly focused field (i.e. sports psychology) or if you want to work in a small, but popular, area such as film and broadcasting.
  • Smaller employers may not recruit as regularly so speculative applications may be well received - they can save the company a lot of time and money in advertising.
  • If you are looking for vacation work, work experience or work shadowing approaching specific companies directly may be beneficial.
  • Speculative applications are not just effective in niche or popular areas, they are also accepted in areas such as law, civil engineering and management consultancies.

You can find more advice on making speculative applications including how to find contacts and what to put in your application in our Speculative Applications Guide .

Further advice and information