Back to Tutorial

Lesson 3: Completing a Job Application

/en/jobapplications/obtaining-references/content/

Introduction

Employment Application

For many employers, asking you to complete a job application is the first step in the hiring process. Depending on the circumstances, you might complete an application in person, online, or before an interview. Some employers require an application even if you've submitted a resume. Whatever the situation is, if an application is required, it should be taken seriously as an important part of the hiring process.

In this lesson, you'll learn the basics of completing a job application, including ways to answer common questions (and more difficult ones too). In addition, you'll understand the role of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Employers in the application process.

Basic advice

photo of woman filling out application

People who make hiring decisions often must read many applications in order to fill a position. Applications that are not filled out correctly are often rejected. To increase your chances of being considered, follow these basic guidelines.

  • Follow directions. Be sure to read through the application completely before filling it out. Gauge how much space is allotted for each answer, and phrase your answers accordingly.
  • Fill out the application completely. You may be required to fill out a job application on site, so be prepared to respond to all questions. If a section doesn't apply to you, enter N/A (not applicable) instead of leaving it blank. This shows the employer that you didn't overlook anything.
  • Be neat. When filling out paper applications, your answers should be clearly written in blue or black ink, and most importantly, free of errors.
  • Be honest. Surveys show that 90 percent of employers conduct some type of background check during the hiring process. If you give false information, it could cost you an important job offer—or worse, lead to termination if you get caught later. It's important that you tell the truth about everything on the application, including your employment history, education, and criminal background. Stretching the truth, even just a little bit, isn't worth the risk.

Did you download our Personal Information Worksheet (Word, Google Doc, PDF) in Lesson 1 of this tutorial? Remember that you can bring it with you to fill out job applications in person. You can also copy and paste from it to apply for jobs online.

Applying for jobs online

Although some companies still use paper applications, most modern businesses require you to complete an application online—including national brands like Walmart, Bank of America, Ford Motor Co., and millions of others.

When you apply for a job online, you may be asked to create an account for the website, fill out a form, and/or attach your resume. Each online application is different. If you know what to expect, however, you'll be prepared for almost anything.

Searching for jobs

Many company career pages begin with a job search. This gives you an opportunity to search for a specific position or see if the company has any job openings. You can also narrow it down to your city and state if the company is a national brand.

To learn more about searching for jobs, visit our Job Search tutorial.

screenshot of job search pageCareer page with job search

Creating an account

To apply for a job online, you typically have to create an account first. Because every company has its own website (and its own application system), you can expect to have to do this several times during your job search.

Your online application will contain a good amount of personal information (including your Social Security Number). Therefore, it's important to create a strong password to protect your account. For help, check out our lesson on Password Tips.

screenshot of login/register pageLog in or register

Filling out forms

Many online applications use forms that look similar to paper applications. They provide a place for you to enter your personal information and answer questions about your background.

If you saved your information in a document (for example, our Personal Information Worksheet), try copying and pasting your answers from the document into the form. This way, you don't have to retype the same information each time you apply for a job online.

screenshot of form with personal infoCompleting a form

Providing your resume

Some companies ask you to provide a resume in addition to your application. If this happens, don't panic. Here are some tips and resources to help you prepare.

  • Follow instructions carefully. Does the company want you to copy and paste your resume into a form, upload it as an attachment, or send it in an email? There are several different possibilities, so it's important to show the employer that you know how to follow directions. Pay particular attention to any file size limits on resumes if you're asked to upload documents. If your file is larger than the accepted size, you may have to compress it before uploading.
  • Double-check your resume. Make sure it's in the correct format, if necessary, and ready to be sent electronically. Visit our lesson on Preparing Your Resume for the Internet for more information.
  • Create a resume if you don't have one yet. You'll be glad you did, even if you need it only once or twice during your job search. For help, try our comprehensive Resume Writing tutorial.

Common job application questions

Each application is different, but many have certain questions in common. We've compiled a list of some of these questions and answers in the example below.

Use the interactive to learn more about common job application questions.

labeled graphic

How did you learn of the company / position?

Employers ask how you found out about the job so they know which advertising or recruitment strategies are working.

If an employee, job recruiter, or other contact told you about the position, enter their full name and job title.

Drug-Free Workplace

If you see the phrase drug-free workplace anywhere on the application, expect that you may have to take and pass a drug test in order to be hired.

Authorization

Most applications include a short legal notice stating that all the information you've provided is true, and that the company is authorized to investigate anything they wish. If you falsify any information, you can be refused employment, or you may be fired if the employer finds out later.

Read over your information carefully, then sign and date the application.

Employment History

Follow instructions, and provide the appropriate information for each employer. If you're currently employed by any of the companies on your list, enter present as the last date of employment.

Job hunting while currently employed can be difficult. For example, you may not want your current employer to know about your plans until you're ready to give your notice.

Most hiring mangers understand this predicament, and—if requested—will not call your current employer until they're ready to extend an official job offer.

What position are you applying for?

Enter the position you're applying for. Don't leave this section blank, or write any or open. If you don't know the job title (or if don't have anything specific in mind), write the department you're interested in instead.

If you're applying for more than one job, ask if you should fill out more than one application.

Date available for work?

If you're unemployed or if you've already made arrangements, you may know the exact date that you'll be available. If not, the standard practice is to give your current employer two weeks notice before you leave your position.

Have you ever applied / previous worked for the company?

If the answer to this question is yes, follow instructions, and include details if necessary. For example: dates of application and employment, departments you worked for, and your supervisor's name and title.

Difficult job application questions

photo of woman who is worried

Some questions are more difficult than others to answer. There are many reasons this might be the case—maybe you don't know what to say, or perhaps you're afraid the answer will hurt your chances of getting hired.

For help completing the more difficult parts of a job application, review the questions and answers below.

Sample questions and answers

  • Have you ever been convicted of a violation of law other than minor traffic violations? If yes, explain.

    Here, indicate whether you've been convicted of a crime other than minor traffic violations in civil or military court. If you have not been convicted, enter no. If you have a conviction on your record, enter yes, and supply a typed explanation. Include the nature of the offense, the date of conviction, location where convicted, and disposition (sentence, probation, etc.). Depending on the nature of your offense, how long ago it took place, and what state you live in, you may have the option to expunge your record or recieve a Certificate of Good Conduct. It's a good idea to research these options before applying for a job.
  • Why are you interested in working for us?

    To stand out from the rest of the applicant pool, do a little research before you start filling out the application. Find out more about the position, the company, its philosophy, and its work environment, then explain why you think you'd be a good fit for the team. Avoid answers that may sound self-involved, such as, "I heard the company pays well".

    Here's a much better example:
    • "As a Humane Society volunteer since the age of 16, I strongly believe in your organization's mission to provide low-cost vet care, vaccinations, spay/neuter, and other services to pet owners. I'm hard-working and experienced, and think I'd be a great asset."
  • What skills and abilities qualify you for the position?

    If you're responding to a job posting or advertisement, take a closer look at the job description it contains. What skills can you list that would demonstrate you can not only do the job, but do it well? This is the key to answering this question effectively.

    For example, qualifications for an administrative assistant may include greeting customers and guests, managing an administrator's schedule, and proficiency in Microsoft Word and Excel. If you have these skills, list them by name, and highlight them on your application. Don't forget to include other relevant skills, such as words per minute (WPM) typing, foreign languages, software, and office management experience.
  • Reason for leaving your last position?

    Avoid terms that may reflect poorly on you or make you seem unreliable, such as illness, quit, personal reasons, fired, or didn't like my supervisor. Never criticize a former employer. Instead, use positive terms to explain your reason for leaving, such as:
    • "Pursuing degree"
    • "Seeking advancement"
    • "Relocated"
    • "Resigned"
    • "Career change"
  • If you were terminated from your last job, you may want to contact your former employer before you begin filling out applications. Politely explain the situation, and ask what they'll say in response to reference checks. Often, they'll agree to use the term resigned instead to save themselves the trouble (and even a potential lawsuit). If they don't agree, it's best to tell the truth on your application. Use the expression involuntary termination, and look for an opportunity to explain the circumstances to potential employers, especially if you were terminated without cause.
  • What are your salary requirements?

    Employers often use this question to screen applicants. Even if you know how much you'd like to make, leave your answer open-ended. List a salary range instead rather than a specific amount, or say negotiable. This will give you more room to negotiate if you're offered the job.

    To learn more about this topic, visit our Salary Basics lesson.

Resources

For more help filling out job applications, visit the resources below.

Equal Employment Opportunity

photo of diverse employees

When filling out job applications, you may notice that a company is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action (EEO/AA) employer. What does this mean?

As a result of the civil rights movement, organizations and institutions with affirmative action policies promote diversity by recruiting minorities and women, as well as giving them special consideration in hiring, contracting, and admissions decisions.

Equal Employment Opportunity laws are designed to prevent the opposite from happening. They prohibit discrimination or mistreatment based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 and older), disability, and genetic information.

If you're faced with questions about race, religion, or something similar on a job application, it's up to you how you choose to respond. Employers are prohibited from using this information to make unfair hiring decisions, but they sometimes ask for their records.

To learn more about affirmative action and Equal Employment Opportunity laws (including how to file a claim if you feel you've been discriminated against), visit the sites below.

/en/jobapplications/dealing-with-online-application-headaches/content/