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How NOT to write a winning application form!

How NOT to write a winning application form!, image by Unhindered by Talent
Image by Unhindered by Talent

When you sit down to tackle an application form, trying to think of a witty way to ensure you are remembered by the reader or producing some flagrant lie in the hope of securing the job might seem like a good idea at the time: after all, you want to try to guarantee every application gets you an interview. But wit is rarely appreciated and lies can come undone. Equally unwise can be the desire to get as many applications written as possible, neglecting the care and attention each one should receive. So to help you avoid making a faux pas, here are a few of the most common application no-no’s that should be avoided at all costs!

The generic mistake

When applying for many jobs at the same time, it may seem like an excellent time-saving exercise to write out introductory paragraphs and descriptions of your personal qualities that can be used for any job application. It isn’t. Employers can spot these a mile off: a “Dear Sir/Madam” salutation, the old “I am very interested in joining your company” and “I am a dynamic, hardworking individual” are fooling no one. Tailor every sentence to the job and company you are applying for, and if you need any more information to make it as direct and relevant as possible do not be afraid to get in contact with the employer. A short phone conversation can clear up queries and gives you the chance to break the ice.


It only takes a few minutes to read the instructions on an application form: do so! A form arriving with blue-coloured, lower case letters will be promptly discarded if black ink and block capitals were requested. Potential employers are looking for smart, efficient and careful candidates so any failure to follow specific instructions at this stage will be frowned upon. Your spelling and grammar need to be perfect too: even if it means it takes a bit longer to complete, it will be worth the extra effort.

When you do finish an application, read it through, print it out and have another look: it is easy to overlook an error or misread what was wanted the first time round. Then give it to someone else to read as their fresh eyes will offer a further check. Whether it is your first application or your last before you tear your hair out, care and attention are essential every time.

Lies, lies, lies

Boosting your ego with claims of foreign language skills, finishing top of the class in subjects you never studied and having hobbies you’ve never tried is risky business at the best of times. For a job application it may get you into the interview, but chances are your interviewer will be an expert in anything you claim you are not. You say you led an expedition of French-speaking tourists through the Alps? Then you will be grilled by a French mountaineering expert more interested in your supposed skills than your skills for the job. Stick to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth otherwise you will come unstuck somewhere down the line and your career will be short-lived.

Greasing the wheels of recruitment

A subtle £20 note, a cheque for something larger or the offer of a service (I won’t ask what) with your application are not ways of easing your way into an interview! An employer will not be hiring on the basis of who buys them the nicest present so if you have not got the skills, a dodgy backhander will not do your job for you.

Putting beauty over ability

Even if you have the looks of a top class catwalk model, do not submit a picture with your application or even put one on your CV unless requested. Only actors and models have to put their looks above knowledge when applying for work: chances are you could be putting any genuine talent at risk from appearing vain or, worse, unfashionable.


Word counts are final: staying within them while covering all the necessary details is a skill. Writing endlessly about your past work experience is not something a potential employer wants to plough through so don’t do it! They want clear, succinct applications that can be read quickly yet contain all the information they need. It may not be an easy thing to do, but it does have to be done!.

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