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Job Applications

Ready to apply for a job? The job application is often your first step. Employers use it to learn about your qualifications and compare you to other applicants. But some prefer that you submit a resume. (Learn how to write a resume.) Here are some tips for completing applications successfully.

Follow directions. Avoid having your application rejected because you filled it out wrong.

  • Read the entire application before you complete it.
  • Pay close attention to what is being asked and how you are expected to respond.
  • Do not write in sections that say "Do Not Write Below This Line" or "Office Use Only."

Fill out applications neatly and completely. Make sure that your application creates a good impression by answering all the employer's questions.

  • Before you leave home, create a personal data sheet. This should include all the information you might need to complete an application like names of previous employers, employment dates, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. Use it as you fill out the application.
  • Most applications will ask for references. Add this to your personal data sheet.
  • Do not use abbreviations, except for "n/a" (not applicable).
  • Respond to all questions. If a question does not apply to you, use "n/a" to indicate that it is not applicable. This shows the employer that you did not overlook anything.

If you are filling out a paper application:

  • Make a rough draft. Write out responses on a separate sheet of paper before completing the real application. Or get two copies and use the first one as a rough draft.
  • Write clearly. Use a black, erasable pen, and print clearly. Or use a typewriter.
  • Proofread it. Make sure that you have no grammar or spelling errors. If possible, have someone else review the application. They'll catch errors that you might miss.
  • Keep it neat. Use correction fluid ("white out") to fix minor errors, but use it sparingly.

Always list your "position desired". Do not leave this question blank or use "any" or "open."

  • If you're answering a job ad or looking for a specific position, enter that job title.
  • If you are not applying for a specific position, enter the name of the department in which you wish to work.
  • Fill out more than one application if you are interested in more than one job.

Give a range for your salary requirements. Employers may use this question to screen out applicants. It is best to give a salary range or list "negotiable", even if you know the wage. This leaves you room to negotiate a higher salary.

Give positive reasons for leaving past jobs. Choose your words carefully with this question. Avoid using the words "fired", "quit", "illness", or "personal reasons". Always use positive statements. Here are some possible ways to handle this question.

If you were fired:

  • Do not use the terms "fired" or "terminated". Consider using "involuntary separation."
  • You may want to call past employers to find out what they will say in response to reference checks. When doing so, reintroduce yourself and explain that you're looking for a new job. Be honest that your termination hurts your chances of getting another job. Past employers will usually agree to use the term "resigned." This response saves them potential headaches and even lawsuits.

If you quit your job, use the term "resigned" or "voluntarily separated." These responses indicate that you followed proper procedures in leaving the job. If the application asks for a reason (or if you are asked in the job interview), you can respond as follows:

  • Quit for a better job. This response includes leaving for advancement potential, to work closer to home, for a better work environment, or for a career change. If you quit for a better job, there should not be a long break in employment. Your employment history should support the statement.
  • Quit to move to another area.
  • Quit to attend school. If you use this reason, the education listed on your application and/or resume must reflect it.
  • Quit for other reasons, such as took an extended vacation/sabbatical, did volunteer work, started own business, or raised family.

If you were laid off from a job due to no fault of your own, indicate the reason for the layoff. Here are some possible phrases to use:

  • Lack of work
  • Lack of operating funds
  • Temporary employment
  • Seasonal employment
  • Company closed
  • Plant closing
  • Company downsized
  • Corporate merger

Watch for illegal questions. Applications may contain questions that are illegal to ask before a conditional offer of employment. These include questions about:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Creed
  • National origin
  • Public assistance
  • Sex
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability

You need to decide how you will respond. If the question does not bother you, answer it. If it does, you can use "n/a." But be aware that you may get screened out by having too many of these responses.

Present a positive, honest picture of yourself during your job search. The information that you provide may become part of your permanent employment record. False information can become the basis for dismissal. Answer all questions honestly. Provide only the information that the employer wants or is needed to sell your qualifications. Avoid any negative information.

Target your qualifications. Include only those that meet the specific needs of the job. Many applications have limited space to record your skills, experience, and accomplishments. To decide what information to include, research the company, its products or services, and the skills needed for the job. Attach a resume that details your skills, experience, and accomplishments.



Department of Labor CareerOneStop is sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor,
Employment and Training Administration