I was on Twitter the other day and a young lady commented, “Having to fill out the job application makes you not want the d*mn job!” It was at that moment that I knew it was time to write this article as I totally agreed with her and felt her pain. During your job search, you will probably fill out several LONNNNNNG online applications. It can be a very frustrating and tedious process; however, you needn’t suffer from job application phobia. While each application is different, there are some general guidelines that can be used across the board. I hope my responses to these FAQs help get you through the process while keeping your sanity!
1) Why are job applications so long and detailed?
Sometimes I secretly think they make them so long to see if you actually really want the job and want to go through and answer all their questions!! But seriously, filling out the job application is very important and should not be minimized as employers use this as a screening device. If they see a half-completed application, they may assume that the person is not really that serious about the job and you will most likely be skipped over for the interview. Employers have carefully designed their questions to get the information they need to determine if you are a good fit. The saying is true: “Resumes tell the employers what YOU want them to know and job applications tell them what THEY want to know.” So be prepared to spend 30 minutes to an hour per job application. In case no one has told you, looking for a job IS a job!
2) Do I have to fill out the entire application?
No you don’t, but keep in mind that might cost you the chance to interview. If you want to proceed to the next step, you definitely have to fill out at least the required fields.
3) Should I have my resume and cover letter prepared beforehand?
YES!! This will save you a lot of time. Having your cover letter and resume already prepared means all you have to do is upload it or copy and paste it. Some applications require a cover letter and some don’t, but it is better to have it prepared beforehand then to have to stop in the middle of the process and develop one.
4) What information do I need regarding previous/current jobs?
Most applications want information on the last 3 – 4 jobs you’ve had. So it would be a good idea right now while you’re thinking about it to make a list of pertinent information for those jobs. You know they are going to ask for this information so having it already written down BEFOREHAND will save you so much agony!!! You should have the following information: A) company name and address, B) supervisor’s name, title, and phone number, C) hire date and end date, D) starting and ending salary, E) your job title and accomplishments and F) reason why you left that job. Basically, your success in filling out applications will be determined largely by how prepared you are.
5) What if I worked for a company that no longer exists or my supervisor no longer works there?
Just give the most recent contact information that you had for the company and/or supervisor. You can explain in an interview that the company shut down or your supervisor left. If just your particular location doesn’t exist anymore, give the information for the main office or headquarters. Human Resources should be able to verify the information employers need.
6) Should I submit my references at the same time as my application?
If you are given the option to include references, I would go ahead and submit them. Now remember, your references should be 3 people whom you’ve had a professional relationship with for about a year. That could be a supervisor, co-worker, professor, or someone you’ve worked with in a volunteer capacity – not family or friends. Your references should be up-to-date and not go back to someone you had a relationship with more than 3 years ago, but there may be some exceptions. I normally update my references every 6 months whether I am looking for a job or not. That way when the time comes I already have the people and information I need. Oh yeah, be sure to give your references a copy of your resume and give them a ‘heads up’ if an employer will be calling them about you.
7) Why do they ask you your graduation date from high school and/or college?
My guess would be to try to figure out your age. Most people graduate high school at 17 or 18 and college at 21 or 22. So depending on the year of your graduation, they can add it up and figure how old you are. They may use your age to discriminate against you if they feel that you are too old or too young. I only fill in the graduate date if it is mandatory. (If you haven’t actually graduated yet, you can put the month and year that you plan to graduate.)
8) What should I put as my reason for leaving a job if I was fired?
You can write “would like to discuss in the interview.” That way you can explain the circumstances surrounding your termination. Now you can’t do this for every job, but if there is one job that you feel needs to be explained in person, then it is acceptable. I was a hiring manager for a number of years and when I saw that someone wanted to discuss in the interview their reason for leaving a job, that did not stop me from calling them. (Tip: Make sure when you discuss it in the interview, you discuss it positively. See my blog: “How Do I Talk About Being Fired In an Interview?”)
9) What should I put when asked about desired salary?
Always give a range if you can such as $50,000 – $55,000/year or $20.00 – $25.00/hour based on research you have done in your field or what was mentioned in the job description. Having a range gives you more flexibility when it’s time to negotiate.
10) Is it okay to put “see resume” anywhere on the application?
Absolutely not!! More than likely you can just copy and paste the information directly from your resume. Don’t be lazy!! Remember, applications are part of your first impression.
11) What should I put if an answer is required but the question doesn’t pertain to me?
You should write “NA” or “Not Applicable.”
12) Is it okay to say that I don’t want my current boss to be contacted?
That is perfectly fine. I always say that I don’t want my current boss to be contacted because I don’t want them to know that I am looking for a job. The only exception was when I was transferring to another team/location within my same company.
13) Do I have to answer questions regarding ethnicity, sex, veteran or disability status?
No, you don’t have to answer these questions. Ideally, these questions are asked to ensure fair hiring practices of all genders and ethnic groups. As a hiring manager I had to submit a form monthly to my corporate office detailing how many male, female, Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, etc. applicants I had. This was to ensure I was giving everyone a fair chance and wasn’t just hiring people who looked like me (African-American women).
I have seen an increase in applications wanting to know if you are a veteran. My personal belief is that due to reports in recent years that veterans are not able to find jobs once they return home, companies have been given incentives to hire them. As far as the disability question, it should be done to assess what additional assistance would be necessary for disabled candidates to be able to perform the same job as everyone else.
Now of course, all of the above information could be used to discriminate against you. That’s why I said you don’t have to disclose that information and you can simply select ‘I prefer not to answer.’
14) Do I have to give my social security and driver’s license numbers?
Only if it is mandatory. Other than that, you can leave it blank or put “will provide later.” This information really shouldn’t be needed until the background check is done and you can provide it at that time.
15) What does the fine print on applications really mean?
This is the part normally at the end of the application and you should definitely read it carefully. Most of the time it is regarding the truthfulness of your responses and confirming you didn’t knowingly give false information. Some applications may have statements authorizing them to do a background, employment, and credit check. So again, make sure you read the entire application and are in agreement with what you are submitting.
16) Is it okay to email my resume and cover letter to someone at the company AND submit an application?
You always want to be mindful of the directions in the job description. If it says “No emails or phone calls,” then make sure you follow instructions. Of course, if you personally know someone who works at the company and want them to pass your resume/cover letter along to the hiring manager, that is okay. Just make sure you always submit the application regardless because there are legal ramifications regarding companies not following the proper hiring procedures.
17) How long does it take to hear something after I have submitted my application?
That depends. It could be 3 – 4 days up to 3 – 4 weeks or more. How long it takes could be determined by how many applications they get, how soon they are looking to fill the position, how busy they are or when Human Resources gives them the green light to start setting up interviews.
PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD! Most applications give you the opportunity to proofread before submitting. It is very important that you take the time to do this so that you don’t have any mistakes or misspelled words. Also don’t use abbreviations.