What, another shameless plug for Job Chop-Chop!™? Using “JC-C” makes it easy and painless to fill out job applications, but there’s a lot more to it filling out an application than meets the eye. Let’s explore what makes a winning application…and what doesn’t.

The Obvious

Appearance: You wouldn’t go to a job interview wearing wrinkly and smelly clothes, would you? The same goes for your application: neatness does count. (Although handwritten applications have been mostly replaced by electronic forms, legibility counts, too—always use block letters, not cursive, when completing applications. Sure, it looks aesthetically nicer in cursive, but many companies use scanners and software to convert scanned text to electronic text when storing it electronically—the software doesn’t stand a chance interpreting cursive writing accurately.)

Grammar: Equally “smelly” is using Engfish, or English that stinks. If you have to, hire/barter/bribe/blackmail an English-wise person to review your application for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.—if you don’t express yourself well on the application then you’ll never be called in for an interview because you’ll appear ignorant, careless, and/or lazy. (Of course, if you’re applying for a job that involves writing then you might want to re-think that idea if your English skills are lacking.)

The Not-So-Obvious

Most applications from small companies, and even government agencies, a poorly composed and constructed, often leaving you no chance to expand on important information like job descriptions and job history. You have a couple of options:

  • Insert the phrase, “See attached”, in each of the fields you want to expand on and include additional documentation by either stapling it to your paper application or as an attachment to your e-mail. Make sure you insert a short reference before your text to reference where in application it should go—including the question number, if present—e.g., “Question 3 — Additional job duties and responsibilities performed at Madam Wa’s House of Pain and Pleasure.”Note: You may not have an option to include additional documentation if it’s a web-based form, so e-mail your additional documentation directly to the person (in Human Resources) who can attach your e-mail with your on-line application.
  • Recreate or reformat the application; this is the route for the serious applicant. I’ve received many applications from employers that were amateurish and downright embarrassing: tenth-generation, faxed or scanned copies of the original; text and rules skewed at an angle as if the original had jammed in a photocopier or scanner; MS-Excel being used as a word processing document instead of MS-Word so it was a royal challenge to even complete the form, and more application horrors. (If a company can’t take the time to create decent applicant forms, what does that tell you about the company, itself?) However, if you recreate the application so it looks new and orderly, that will definitely get the reviewers’ attention and in a good way. That, and there’s a benefit: If you recreate the form, especially if it’s a paper one, you can store a copy of it electronically as a backup…or even re-use it later since some companies buy/use generic application forms so you can save a lot of time and work later by repurposing an existing (recreated) form.

If it’s a paper application, recreate it in MS-Word and format it like the original, including (a scanned) logo, dingbat style and size, text styles, font sizes, etc.

If the application is an MS-Word form already—and it isn’t locked—you can click the Show/Hide button (¶) on the toolbar to see styles and tab marks used, then edit at will. (This may be really labor intensive if you’re not good at MS-Word and/or the document was poorly constructed, i.e., a zillion tab stops were used instead of using tab stops and styles.)

If it’s a .pdf, then you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Pro—or another .pdf editing program—to create and/or edit form field locations and sizes. (Acrobat Reader won’t help you—it’s used for reading and filling out forms, not editing them.)

If you recreate/reformat the application form you’ll need to not only submit it in the original document type (.pdf or .docx, for MS-Word, or printed on paper if paper-based) but it has to have the same layout and look as the original. Why? Three reasons:

  • Because that’s what the reviewers are familiar with. If you go crazy being creative with a new look or style the reviewers will think, “What the hell is this?” You just made extra work for them. Not good. Sure, it may show off your creativity skills but an application is a formal, company-owned document—it’s not yours to redesign.
  • You have to be mindful of form field names—the smarter companies have software that extracts the data from .pdfs and MS-Word forms to automatically input into a database. If you change the field names, or add new ones with differing names, they won’t scan correctly and may cause your application to be rejected because it would take too much of the reviewers’ time to figure out what-goes-where.
  • Legal issues. Because applications are legal documents, if you add your own/new fields that weren’t on the form originally then that can be problematic since, technically, you changed that document so it’s no longer a standard used to screen applicants fairly.

A final note about recreating an application: not only will it stand out because it’ll look better than other applicants’ applications, but you’ll demonstrate to reviewers that you have better-than-average computer skills, something which is a definite plus in your favor!

“This will take me hours to recreate a form. Why should I work so hard just to apply for a job?” The simple answer is, “How much do you want the job?”