One of the ways job seekers apply for available positions is by completing a job application. This can be done online or in-person, according to how the employer wants to receive applications. Depending on the position, job applications may take many different forms and include a wide range of questions about your education and employment history.
Employers will often use an online or paper application for part-time, entry-level, retail, hospitality, and blue collar jobs, as a way to decide which candidates they want to interview. For professional jobs, an application may be required in addition to a resume and cover letter.
The signature (either pen or electronic) on the application attests that the information provided by the candidate is accurate and truthful.
Why Employers Require Job Applications
Having every candidate complete a job application provides the employer with consistent information for each person in the applicant pool. Employers use applications to compare applicants and decide which candidates to interview.
When companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) that means an automated system is in place to collect all the applicant's information and to ensure consistency in the hiring process.
Signing the application, either by pen or online, attests that all the information provided by the applicant is truthful.
Questions Asked on a Job Application
Below is a list of some of the types of information which you may need to supply, though not all of these will be required for every application.
- Name, address, telephone number, email
- Desired job
- Desired salary
- Previous positions, including titles, duties, employers, locations, and dates of employment
- Salary history (in locations where it is legal to ask)
- Names of previous supervisors
- Permission to contact your current employer
- Reasons for leaving prior jobs
- Educational background, including majors, degrees, schools, locations, dates of attendance/graduation, GPA, honors, awards
- Extracurricular activities
- Military experience
- Volunteer work
- Specific skills related to the job
- Essay with topics such as why you're interested in, or qualified for, the job
- How you learned about the job
- Employees you know at the company
- References (typically three references with their contact information)
- Whether you have access to an automobile for work purposes
- Driving record (with limits on what can be released)
- Whether you have the authorization to work in the U.S.
- Times and days you're available to work
- Start and end dates you're available for seasonal and temporary jobs
- Social Security Number (only legally required in some states and by the federal government: you may want to say "Will furnish prior to employment offer" or "Please contact me to discuss")
- Whether or not you have been convicted of a crime and, if so, what crime and when (only legally required in some states)
- Certification that all the information you have supplied is accurate
Information You'll Need to Complete an Application
In-Person Applications: When you're applying for a job in-person, bring a list of your employment details with you. It will be much easier to complete the application if you have the information with you, and don't have to rely on memory.
Another option is to pick up a copy of the application form in advance, and return the completed application form when you apply. You can also download a sample job application form, complete it, then use the information to complete the employer's application onsite. Most companies ask for similar information.
Online Applications: For online job applications, have a copy of your resume available so you can upload a copy or copy and paste information directly into the employer's application form.
Supplemental Documentation: Some organizations may request supplemental documentation along with your application. For example, you may need to provide references, transcripts, writing samples, or copies of your certification. Be prepared to provide this supporting documentation with your application.
Tips for Completing a Job Application
Bring the necessary information or have it ready to input online. That includes your resume details, identification (including a social security card and driver’s license), proof of citizenship, and contact information for previous employers.
Follow instructions precisely. Read and review the entire application form first before you fill it out, and then do so legibly. Consider your application as a reflection of your work ethic. Don't leave any questions blank (write "N/A" for answers that aren't applicable) and don't write "See resume" instead of answering a question. For online applications, check for typos before you submit them.
Shape your answers to fit the job. Avoid writing a laundry list of your education and experience. Instead, offer details about skills and accomplishments rather than a list of duties. To substantiate your experience, draw on your school work, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work. Try to craft an application that sets you apart and details why you're not only qualified but bring uniqueness to the role.
List references. Provide professional references, if you have them. If you don't have a long work history, include character references in addition to (or instead of) past employer references. If your work history is more robust, choose references who can attest to your skills and accomplishments relevant to the position.
Avoid specifying salary requirements. Employers often use this question to screen applications, and you don't want to be ruled out before getting an interview. The best answer is "Negotiable" or "Open."
The Bottom Line
Be prepared to complete a job application: Many employers require formal job applications.
Make a list: Have a list of your credentials ready or use your resume as a guide, so you have all the information you need available when you apply.
Be honest: Be truthful, accurate, and honest. False information on a job application can be grounds for not hiring an applicant or for termination after hiring.