Not every job search is the same. Some organisations, particularly in the public sector, do not accept CVs. Instead you are required to submit an application form. The recession has hit the public sector particularly hard, with 15% of local authorities planning to make job cuts in 2009, according to the Local Government Association. But that still leaves 85 per cent who are not planning redundancies. So it is well worth you including public sector vacancies on your target list; and consequently understanding how to best fill in application forms.
The frustrating thing about application forms is that each one has to be written from scratch. Unlike a CV you cannot use a template that you adapt for each application unless you are able to complete your application form electronically. In those cases you can cut and paste a lot of the information from your CV template. More positively, the questions that are asked on an application form tell you a lot about what the organisation is looking for. By paying careful attention to these, you should be able to submit more focused, targeted applications.
All application forms will ask for the same basic information – your personal details, career history and so on. Because they appear in a box on a form there is often a temptation to provide a basic, factual answer, without going into too much detail, in much the same way as you might if you are if you are filling in an application for a passport or bank account. Make sure you resist this. Your application form is every bit as much a sales document as your CV; each and every question that you answer has to communicate your strengths effectively and compellingly. So although you will have to enter your career history in the format demanded by the form, which may well limit the space you have for your answers, you should still ensure that you include the achievements and skills that are relevant to the job, just as you would on your CV. In addition to the basic information a good application form will ask you questions about why you are applying for this particular job and what relevant experience you have. Treat this as an opportunity; it is not one that you get with a CV-based application. When sending a CV the only opportunity that you get to match yourself in writing to the job is in the covering letter, which is necessarily short. In an application form however, you should be able to be more expansive, particularly if there is a section that allows you to provide further information. But, unless the form specifically says that you can continue on a separate sheet if necessary, make sure that your answers are contained within the space provided.
Equal opportunities and diversity monitoring
Many public sector application forms contain sections that ask you about your age, sexuality, ethnic group and religion. While this might appear intrusive, and to be in conflict with equal opportunities legislation, in fact it is quite legitimate and often required for statutory processes. The application form should make clear that the information is only required for monitoring purposes, that it will be retained by the human resources department and will not be shown to anyone involved in the recruitment process.
Even though it is quite safe to provide this information, if you have been the victim of discrimination in the past you may feel uncomfortable answering these questions. But there is very little you can do about it and in fact if you do get a public sector job you are likely to be asked similar questions every time you enrol on a training course or apply for a promotion. If you really do feel uncomfortable in disclosing personal information, the public sector is probably not the place for you to form a career.
Key points to note about an application form:
■ Follow all the instructions;
■ Answer all the questions fully and concisely;
■ If you are writing rather than typing your answers, make sure your handwriting is legible;
■ Highlight your achievements when describing your previous jobs;
■ Sell yourself strongly as you would on your CV, but remember not to write too much, people can get bored with reading;
■ Complete the sections on diversity and equal opportunities in full;
■ Ensure that you submit your application form on time.