Online application forms

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Online application forms

Online application forms are used by many employers in the recruitment process. They differ from company to company, but can include:

  • Basic forms which request your personal contact information, and ask you to attach a CV and/or covering letter
  • A detailed online questionnaire which asks for specific, in-depth examples of your knowledge, skills and experience, instead of, or in addition to attaching a CV and/or covering letter

For many applicants, it is the second type which can prove particularly challenging. Here, we provide some advice to help you prepare.


Why do employers use online application forms?

For many people detailed online application forms can be a real challenge and even feel like a barrier to entering employment with a particular firm. The answers being sought can often require a lot of detail, asking you to refer to very specific examples or times in your life. Online application forms can often take a long time to complete, and if you are studying and working part-time, you need to find the time to complete them.

Companies use online application forms for a variety of reasons:

  • Find out about your skills and experience in more detail – for example, allowing you 500 words to provide an example of your teamworking ability, whereas on a CV you may only have room for 100 words
  • Use the same questions to compare you with other candidates to create a level playing field so all candidates can be compared on the same basis. CVs tend to be more personal with different focuses.
  • Find out what you know about the company, its products/services and training scheme – with questions such as ‘Why do you want to work for us?’
  • Manage high volumes of applications, particularly for graduate schemes. Large employers attract THOUSANDS of applications each year but may only have 15-100 places on their graduate schemes. Online systems help sift these numbers and employers say it would be impossible to employ enough people to look through this number of applications individually.
  • ‘Scan’ for key words – online systems can search for use of key words which apply to their business and/or job specifications. It helps you to know which ones are important to employers.
  • Limit the number of applications received – online forms can be time consuming and some applicants are likely to miss the deadline, or not complete the form. Online forms may also contain entry questions which mean not everyone can progress to the next stage. If this happens to you, there may be other ways to apply and you should seek some careers advice.

Tips on getting started

Get to know your soft skills

Having a really good understanding of your soft skills, transferable experiences and key knowledge relevant to your profession is important before you start any detailed application form. If you have already done your CV or written covering letters, you may already have a good understanding. If not, a good place to start is by thinking about what soft skills are relevant to the roles you wish to apply for and how you can articulate these. If you are not sure, the job descriptions will list the key skills required as well as imply many more.

While different employers may ask for similar skills e.g. teamwork examples, the way they word their questions may be very different. Therefore, by preparing in advance a separate list of examples which demonstrate your key soft skills, knowledge and aptitudes will help you be ready to adapt and modify depending on the application form questions.

Research the employer

Most forms will start with a question like ’Why do you want to work for us?’. Here, the employer expects you to provide detailed knowledge and awareness of the company, its products/services, the role you are applying to and how your knowledge, skills and enthusiasm fit the criteria. Do lots of research about the company from a variety of resources, not just their website homepage. Employers are looking for candidates who have taken the time to find out about what they do as this is seen as an indication of someone who is more motivated and more likely to stay.

Set aside a solid block of time

Detailed online application forms can take hours, not minutes, to complete. If you spot an opening one month before the deadline, it is tempting to wait and go back to the form the day before the deadline, especially if you have other commitments or deadlines. However, this may provide a shock if the form is very long, presents some unexpected or challenging questions – or you are just not sure what are the best examples of your experience to use.

You may want  to get some advice from a careers advisor and the deadline may fall during the holidays with no help available. Therefore, try and log on to the form well before the deadline, save the questions and if you think you will need help advice or someone to check your ideas, then you will have plenty of time for this.

And if you do take several days or more to complete an online application form, this is not necessarily a bad thing as you should be taking care over your answers.

What kind of questions?

Unfortunately, online application forms vary from employer to employer, even when they work in the same sector and may have quite similar skills and knowledge requirements. The questions may focus on similar skills but could be worded in very different ways. Questions may also look for several skills/aptitudes within one question. The examples below are from aviation and aerospace employer online forms:

  • Please give an example of a time where you worked as part of a team. This should include your role within the team, how you personally contributed to the success of the team, any problems the team faced and how these were overcome. (max. 250 words)

> This question requires you to show understanding of how the team worked together, your specific contribution and problem-solving as a team.

  • Please describe in some detail your involvement in a key university/college/work project. This should include the problem addressed, management techniques applied, your approach to the management of the task and how the conclusions were communicated. (max. 250 words)

> This question asks you to talk about your contribution to a project, defining the problem the project addresses, managing the project, drawing conclusions and communicating.

  • Describe a challenging occasion, which required your persuasive skills and ability to organize people in order to reach a successful outcome.

> This question asks you to discuss an occasion in which you were leading and organising people, possibly faced resistance and need to persuade/negotiate with a successful outcome.

RAeS Future of Aerospace

Word limits

In the above examples, two questions have word limits, one has no word limit. Word limits could be quite high e.g. 500 words – if you only write 100 words it may appear that you are not interested in providing detail and therefore not genuinely interested in the role/employer.

On the other hand, with a low limit like 250 words, you may wish to re-use a longer example from another form, it could take some time to reduce the length and get the wording right.

Should I use work experience or study projects in my examples?

If you have recently completed your education and only worked in part-time role not directly linked to your field, you may only want to use university/college examples as they feel more relevant to the area of work the employer does. This may be fine, and the form may also ask you to use a specific example such as a group project. On the other hand, employers are often keen to see examples of how you perform in the workplace and, even if the role is outside the field you are entering, examples from any job can give a good illustration of your work ethic, how you deal with difficult people, customers, time management and taking responsibility.

Therefore, it is often good to bring in such experience as well as sports, voluntary work, community projects, societies, professional bodies etc. The more varied and interesting your examples, the more you will stand out from other candidates.

Mature candidates should see this in the same way. You may have recently retrained for a new profession but highlighting transferable skills from a previous career can show employers you can deal with difficult situations, work pressure or complex projects.

Interview questions

Online application form questions are closely linked to the types of questions you will be asked at the interview stage. Therefore, think about using examples which would make for an interesting discussion at interview, such as activities you have done which stand out from the rest. You need to stand out from the crowd and incite the employer’s curiosity. It is why drawing from a range of experiences, from study to work, to extra-curricular activities, sports, voluntary and community work can make you a more interesting candidate who is worth interviewing.

Online application forms – summary

Don’t despair! Remember these key tips:

  • Before you start, prepare a separate document with examples of your soft skills and knowledge. This will help you tackle different questions
  • You can usually use a variety of examples from all aspects of your life
  • Set aside plenty of time, especially for your first online application
  • Save the questions on a Word document so you can work offline and don’t lose any work as well as have your answers reviewed if you are worried about the content, errors etc.
  • Ensure you demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the employer in appropriate sections

More help with job applications

For more help with making applications, why not visit our pages on CVs, Writing Compelling Covering Letters, and Interviews. You can also start preparing for the selection process and aptitude tests with our Self Assessment Portal.