How to Fill Out a Job Application (Without Screwing It Up)

By Mike Simpson

Ah, the job application. It can seem so simple on the surface. But the thing is, if you don’t nail it, landing any opportunity is ridiculously hard.

Why? Because if you don’t master who to fill out a job application, you’re not going to stand out from the competition. The average corporate job opening attracts an astonishing 250 resumes. Of those, only four to six applicants will actually land an interview. That’s a measly 2 percent. Yikes, right?

Overall, it usually takes nine weeks to land a new job. But, if your job application isn’t on point, it’s almost guaranteed to take longer. You don’t want that!

Luckily, you’re here. We’re going to help you make sure your employment application shines. So, let’s get started.

What Is a Job Application?

In the simplest terms, job applications are documents you submit that showcase to a hiring manager why you’re a great fit for the role. Yes, that’s a bit ambiguous, but that’s the gist.

Looking for more detail? Alright. When we say “job application,” we are actually talking about two things. First, there’s the actual job application form that some employers use. We’re talking about that classic fill-in-the-blank approach where you’re presented with fields and have to type in the information.

But we aren’t limiting our definition to that. We’re also talking about the process of applying to a job opening, even if it doesn’t use a standardized form. Technically, if a company wants you to email your resume to a specific address for consideration, that, too, is a job application.

So, whatever approach the employer wants you to take to throw your hat in the ring is that company’s job application process. Every organization may use a different one because they each have unique needs, preferences, and systems in place.

However, no matter what shape the process takes, it’s super important to get it right. Whether you send in an application form, pass along a resume, or even submit your LinkedIn profile, you really need to get it right. Your application for employment is the first impression you usually make on a hiring manager. If it doesn’t wow, yours could end up in the discard pile.

How Does the Application Process Work?

As we mentioned above, every company’s process might be a little different. But they all serve the same purpose and tend to have a similar flow.

Usually, the first stage is you providing everything the company asks for. This can include filling out an application form, submitting a resume, attaching a cover letter, and answering some standardized questions.

Once you submit your information, it’ll typically go through an initial screening. If the company uses an applicant tracking system (ATS), that process may be automated. Essentially, the software will scan your form entries and attached documents for specific keywords that relate to the job. In most cases, the keywords are the same words and phrases you see in the job ad, particularly the skills and traits on the must-haves list.

After that, the applications that are the best match move forward to the next stage. This could be a general review by human resources before the top candidates get sent along to the hiring manager. However, they can also go straight to the hiring manager for review. It all depends on that employer’s approach.

Once the hiring manager has your job application, they’ll take a look and decide if they want to bring you in for an interview. If so, you’ll get a meeting invitation and have a chance to answer a slew of job interview questions in hopes of impressing the hiring manager. If you shine there, you may have a job offer headed your way.

So, that’s the basics of how job applications are handled and reviewed. Even though individual steps may vary from one company to the next, most use that pretty standard formula, so it’s worth keeping in mind as you work to land a new opportunity.

How to Make Your Application Stand Out

Alright, we’ve already mentioned how important standing out from the crowd is when you want to snag a new position. But how do you separate yourself from the pack? Well, by using the right approach, of course.

First, you need to embrace the Tailoring Method. Your job application should always speak to a specific role. If you go with generic information, you aren’t talking directly to that hiring manager.

With the Tailoring Method, you focus on relevant details. You’ll showcase not just why you’re a great candidate but why you’re an exceptional fit for that specific job. That helps the hiring manager envision how you’d perform in the role. Yes, it makes a difference.

Additionally, whatever you do, don’t just rehash your duties in your application for employment. Hiring managers want to hear about your achievements, how you put your skills to work, and how you drive results. Focusing on your relevant accomplishments strengthens your value proposition. Plus, it gives the hiring manager critical context about your capabilities.

MIKE'S TIP: Struggling to find a relevant achievement? It could be that your definition of “achievement” is holding you back. While it can undoubtedly reference an award-winning moment in your career, it doesn’t have to. In fact, something as simple as completing a big project successfully counts. So, if you’re drawing a blank when it comes to accomplishments, use your past projects as a starting point.

Along the way, you also want to quantify your achievements. Numbers visually stand out, drawing the eye to different parts of your application. Plus, they give the hiring manager more insight into the value you provide.

If you need to include a cover letter or answer essay questions as you complete the employment application, then you can also add more interesting tidbits. For example, highlight why you’re passionate about the field or industry. Let your excitement radiate from your application.

You can also discuss your continuing education efforts. Hiring managers prefer candidates that stay on top of emerging trends and new advances all on their own. So, if you devour trade magazines, take skill-building classes on your own time, or attend professional conferences, you can certainly mention it.

Finally, if there’s a spot for it, don’t be afraid to add a link to your LinkedIn profile. A LinkedIn profile can hold so much more than you can fit on a resume. Plus, if you blog there to showcase your expertise, you’re making sure the hiring manager can find those posts.

Common Mistakes When Filling Out a Job Application and How to Avoid Them

Alright, we’ve talked about how to stand out in a good way. Now, let’s talk about how you can end up standing out in a bad way.

Certain job application mistakes can seriously hurt your chances of being selected. But many missteps are shockingly common. Luckily, you’ve got us on your side. We’re going to tell you about these issues, giving you the ability to avoid them.

The biggest mistake you can make is not following the blasted directions. If the job application form says you need to do something a particular way, do it. Failing to follow the instructions is almost guaranteed to come back to bite you.

So, double, triple, and quadruple check each part of the directions before you hit submit. If you need to attach a cover letter for the job application, make sure you do. If you have to fill out every field and submit a resume, then do that. If you’re told not to attach anything extra, make sure you don’t. Do what the application says you need to do, period.

Not targeting your application is another biggie. Yes, we mentioned above how important using the Tailoring Method can be, but it bears repeating. Make sure your application speaks directly to that opportunity. It’s crucial.

You also need to review your employment application for spelling, grammar, and other errors. Now, this is usually pretty simple if you have to attach a resume and cover letter. After all, most document programs come with spelling and grammar checks built-in.

However, if you’re filling out fields in a job application form, you might not have those tools readily available in your browser. If that’s the case, you need to take extra steps to check your entries.

You may want to initially write your answers in a Word or Google document. That way, you can use the built-in checks. You could also look for a browser plug-in that’ll do the job, or simply take a moment to carefully review everything you wrote before you move on to the next field.

Finally, make sure you don’t bombard the employer with job applications. Even if you really, really want to work there, blasting the company by applying to every opening they have or submitting applications for the same job through different channels isn’t a smart move. It can make you look scattered, desperate, or unsure about your career. That works against you.

How to Fill Out a Job Application

If you are wondering how to fill out a job application, here’s a step-by-step process that works in most cases.

1. Prep Your Resume

Even if a company uses a job application form, that doesn’t mean they won’t want you to attach your resume, too. So, before you even worry about the form, spend a few minutes tweaking your resume to target the position.

Worst case, if they don’t want a copy of your resume, you can use the information to fill out the form. As a result, your efforts won’t go to waste.

2. Craft a Cover Letter

Unless the company specifics says no attachments or not to send a cover letter, write one. A cover letter for a job application is an opportunity you need to seize.

Why? Because it gives you a chance to do so many things. Got a gap in employment? You can explain it here. Want to highlight your continuing education pursuits? You can in your cover letter. Want to showcase your passion? You guessed it; a cover letter can help.

3. Read the Directions Completely (and Repeatedly)

Now, this may be a step you do once or several times, depending on how the job application form is set up. If the entire application is on a single page, review every direction on the whole document before you type a single thing. Then, read them again. That way, you won’t get tripped up by anything along the way.

If the job application form spans several pages, then you’ll want to do this process on every new page. Read through everything on the page twice before you type in any information, just to make sure you don’t overlook anything important.

4. Fill in Every Field

Even if you’re essentially repeating information that’s also on an attached resume, fill in every single field. In some cases, what you’re providing may seem a bit redundant. That’s okay. It’s possible the company’s ATS can only screen the job application form, but that the hiring manager will actually look at your resume. So, don’t worry too much if it’s a bit repetitive.

The big thing is to make sure every field you need to fill in is complete. Now, there may be a few fields where you think you don’t need to type anything. However, it may be better to put something in that spot.

Unless the instructions specifically say to leave the field blank if it doesn’t apply, consider typing something in the space, like “N/A,” if the field is not applicable to you. That way, you’re addressing every field, decreasing the odds that you’ll miss one you did need to fill out by mistake.

5. Review Your Entries

Before you submit the application or move on to the next page, check your entries for accuracy. Make sure to look for spelling, grammar, and other mistakes. It only takes a few minutes, but it’s time well spent.

6. Add Your Attachments

Depending on how the job application form is set up, when you’ll need to add your attachments can vary. Some leave it for the end; others have a spot near the beginning.

In any case, upload your attachments. Then, double check to make sure they are attached and that the right files are there.

How do you make sure it’s the right files? Well, the easiest way is to name the files something that pertains to that specific application. For example, if you’re applying for an administrative assistant role at ABC Company, you might name your resume file “Admin Asst-ABC-resume” and your cover letter file “Admin Asst-ABC-cover.” That way, you can look at the names of the uploaded files to make sure they’re right.

7. Do Another Full Check

If the job application process gives you a chance to review your information in-whole before you submit, do it. Mistakes can be your doom, so, even if it feels like your millionth time reviewing your application, give it one more look.

8. Hit Submit

Once everything is in place, it’s time to send your employment application on its way.

9. Read the Post-Submission Page

When you hit submit, you probably thought you were done. Well, that isn’t the case.

Usually, when you submit your application for employment, there will be some kind of confirmation page. If that’s the case, read it over thoroughly. Along with letting you know that your submission was successful, it may contain valuable information about what you can expect going forward or who you should contact if you have questions or want to follow up.

Job Application Templates and Sample

We get it; nothing is as helpful as a good example. But if every company’s process can be different, where should you turn for a job application sample?

Luckily, there are quite a few job application templates around. But you don’t want to look at just one job application template. That’ll only show on approach and, since companies aren’t all going to go the same route, it might not be enough information to really help.

By reviewing several job application samples instead, you can get a general idea of what to expect. Each one will be a little different, and that works in your favor. You may come across some fields in one that aren’t in another, giving you greater insight into what you may need to answer or provide.

If you’re looking for a job application template (or several, as we recommend), here are some helpful resources:

Those resources should give you a solid overview of what a job application can look like, ensuring you’re prepared for what any employer may throw at you.

How to Follow Up on a Job Application

Alright, let’s say you’ve submitted your employment application. You’re probably wondering, “When and how should I start following up?”

Well, when it comes to when, that depends. What does it depend on? Whether or not there is a closing date or published schedule in place.

For any job with a closing date for applications, the hiring manager usually won’t start looking at submissions until after that day passes. But that doesn’t mean you should follow up on the closing date. No sirree.

Instead, you need to wait one week after the closing date before you reach out. Usually, that gives the hiring manager enough time to review the applications after closing, so you won’t come across as overly aggressive or pushy.

The same goes if there’s a published schedule. For example, if the application confirmation page says that application reviews will begin on a certain date, wait until one week after that day to follow up, suggesting that date hasn’t already passed.

But what if there isn’t a closing date or published schedule, or the schedule says that the review is already underway? If that’s the case, you should wait one week after you sent in your application before you follow up. Again, it’s about giving the hiring manager enough time to review your submission. So, sit tight and wait a full seven days.

Once you wait the obligatory week, you need to figure out how to follow up. If you got contact information on that handy, dandy confirmation page, or if it was listed in the job ad, reach out that way. If you didn’t, then it may be research time.

You can head to the company’s website and look for the hiring manager’s email address, or do a search on LinkedIn to see if you can find a contact option. If it’s not there, check your network for anyone who may have a connection at that company and see if they can help you get a good email address for a follow-up.

Generally, you want to follow-up with the hiring manager in writing. An email is typically the best choice, though you may be able to send a message through LinkedIn if you can’t find one.

When you craft your message, be clear and concise. Make sure the subject line states that you’re following up on your application. Then, let them know that you’re enthusiastic about the opportunity and would like to find out the status of your application or if there’s any information about a timeline. Thank the hiring manager for their time, and sign off with your contact information.

If you don’t hear back from your follow up email, you can try calling the hiring manager for an update one week after you send the follow-up. Only call once. If they don’t pick up, leave a message.

After that, back off. Any additional follow-up may seem aggressive or even creepy. Instead, just keep focusing on your job search.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, figuring out how to fill out a job application doesn’t have to be challenging. Review the tips and templates above for guidance. That way, when it comes time to submit your next one, you’ll be ready to go.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.