How to Guide: Completing Applications

An application form is the initial method for the employer to ask the questions they want answering, so it is important you do exactly that. However, keep it pertinent and succinct just like a CV, with everything an employer would need to know. This is again all about selling yourself to prove that you possess the skills required to do the job, but with an application there is more opportunity to celebrate you in more detail; so ensure your do.

Format: Every application format is different, just like a CV, but it runs on the same type of info requirements; personal details, education details, work details and then skills section, equal opportunity monitoring, plus your references. One thing to note here is that if they ask for your National Insurance number as proof of eligibility to work in the UK on the form, you don’t by law have to submit this. Your National Insurance number is highly confidential and sensitive info. If this was to become lost so too is your entire life history and details of all of you, be warned. They will no doubt ask to see your ID at interview anyway, so let them see it then.

Employers have definitely become nosier: I have noticed that now online applications often ask for submission of qualification certificates. Again I am always cautious and recommend people send the info (as often the form will not submit without these), but ensure certain elements of the documents remain obscured. Think about it, unless the employer is guaranteed as reputable and even then, things can go astray; especially so if the application is to be posted to the employer. If you have submitted all of your life, address and then qualifications too, not to mention a picture of yourself perhaps, then a potential ID thief has it all.

Skills Prep: As we now know employers are fond of their long winded person specs and lists of wanted skills, so check off all of the points they categorise as essential to the role, and as many from their desirable list as possible too. When it comes to constructing your skills section, once again tell them how you match their requirements with your skills, experience and education. Include relevant stuff, and use working examples not just; “I have excellent communication skills” – really, well how? Prove it. Once again if you are unsure there are plenty of online examples, some will be absolute nonsense, but some sites will give you better understanding of what you could include. If you need any help on this matter let me know – I prepped people daily with recruitment and interview skills and I am used to giving my advice to employers regarding their recruitment processes.

Answer the question: The other thing I would always stipulate is how important answering every question is; even if it is a case of placing ‘none applicable’ in the space. Otherwise it looks as though you have forgotten about it, and this looks careless. Often questions can be repeated in one version or another IE ‘Where do you work now or have worked most recently – include address’, ‘Reference address for current or previous employer’ – they will be the same, but include the info twice anyway. Annoying as it is though.

Honesty: If the form requires your reasons for leaving a job don’t be too blunt. Instead of saying ‘I was fired’, explain why you chose to leave in a positive note. I know many people who have left jobs on not such good terms, but manage to secure another, mainly because of how they explained their departure to their potential new employers. Always think; reinforce any negative with a positive outcome, as employers like this.

Check and double check: Ensure the spelling and so on is correct on your application, just as you would with your CV. I advise, especially with lengthy and complicated applications to complete rough drafts, and allow plenty of time to complete the actual version. Ensure you make as many final checks of this as required, and then make amendments. It is rather like completing an essay for university; only after some time away and reflection can you see the wood for the tress and detect mistakes.

Completion: On many applications it might be possible to reduce time but cutting and pasting information from one document to another, but as my previous post regarding recruitment stated, this isn’t always the case. It can also become messy and upset the whole application format. It is the case unfortunately of adding in the details one tap of the keypad after the other. Take regular breaks though, as there is nothing worse than staring at a computer screen feeling as though you haven’t a clue what to type. If you prep and know the jobs’ requirements, know your skills and strengths it will become easier; use the tips I provided for building your CV to help you with this element.

Interests: If the form asks for your interests outside of work, please don’t include anything you wouldn’t want to tell your Mother, or even things like stamp collecting. There is nothing wrong with stamp collecting, and although employers tend to like innocuous hobbies they prefer those which; A) either show team spirit, B) show creativity or C) prove you have no life at all which might come into conflict with the job you are applying for (which doesn’t signify stamp collecting).

Hope this helps you with your application doldrums; any question regarding this topic and let me know. I am happy to help.

What not to do and recruitment


After many years of working with employers to update their training, development and recruitment processes, and of course as an applicant myself; I have come to realise just how clueless employers can be regarding these key elements.

In many cases employers do not give enough consideration to the needs and requirements of candidates going through the recruitment process, their newly appointed employees or even their current employees. Perhaps it is because employers don’t have a clear enough understanding of what these groups expect, need and appreciate from an employer.

Below are 10 examples of employer’s failings, lessons to be learnt and some solutions to the knowledge gap.

1)Exhaustive ‘wanted’ list on job descriptions; this has to be the top of the bill, and why, well because employers often have an exhaustive list of ‘wants’ from potential candidates. Employers ask that candidates are flexible and can learn numerous duties, but employers refuse to be flexible or savvy regarding what they require – everything is a ‘must’ and top priority. I often wonder who are employers trying recruit; a super hero who doesn’t have a life outside of their work.

In return for this ‘wanted’ list employers offer their candidates no induction process, no training analysis, no support or mentoring, no on-going training, no supervision or appraisal system and no benefits for working with them. They also have the audacity to add insult to injury by offering diabolic wages and hours as a great selling point; bearing in mind these are the jobs which hold more responsibility than simply working as a shelf stacker in a superstore.

Employers please take note; candidates are not to be employed because you as an employer want a general dog’s body about the workplace. It may be a case of an employer’s job market, but how about standing out from the crowd and offering something of worth to candidates. Make it worth their while to apply for your role, and also consider their work-life balance too when you formulate job descriptions. How many times has this got to be reinforced; happy employees are more likely to stay, and also with something of worth being offered you will attract higher calibre candidates not just the desperate.

2)Transferable skills: apparently no longer is there such a thing as transferable skills or the ability to learn and adapt. Regardless of how much or how little a candidate has done in their working career I always taught my life and employment skills students that skills matter. They can work just as well in a retail role as they can in the building profession. Communication, attention to detail, customer relations, problem solving and team work – are all transferable; and yet unless you have worked in one sector and one type of role for at least 5 years none of this seems to matter to employers. I wonder why they can’t seem to attract and retain creative and adaptable staff who can actually think outside of the box.

3)The over reliance of niche qualifications, but no help from employers in achieving them: certain qualifications such as a CIPD (a HR qualification) are extremely expensive to attain as an individual. What is often required is that the company employing the staff member contributes either all or some of the yearly fees. Even so, most HR positions regardless of how lowly require this qualification; even if the employer in question wouldn’t dream of funding it for their employee. There could be an ideal candidate streets ahead of someone possessing this one qualification, but they have little hope of securing a job without it. The employer and employee therefore are missing out on an opportunity to invest in one another.

This then relates back to employer flexibility and their exhaustive ‘wanted’ lists. Perhaps investing in office based training; similar to how things used to be done years ago would prove more beneficial on the long term. Proving that employers are Investors in People as a reality rather than a mere piece of mouldy paper they hang upon their office walls; proof is in the action not the words. It is called investment for a reason, and someone in business should be familiar with this term; you won’t get anything unless you are willing to give something, and perhaps even risk something in return. Buy in to those you want to buy in to you – simple.

4)Application forms; this format in general can be tricky and monotonous. One size does not fit all, but I think it could. If anyone has spent any time completing these boring and often useless things the key to them is loving repetition. Often similar if not the same questions are asked over and over again; for example contact number, skills and abilities, where have or do you work now. One question and one answer to that question is sufficient, but a better solution would be an application version whereby the majority of a CV can be migrated and pasted into the document; this would be a time saver for the job hunter! Seriously though, employers really need to consider and revise the format and the structure of these things. Considering also the appearance of such documents and ensuring they are professional; odd layout, random fonts and limited space for answers is just messy.

5)Recruitment: nothing annoys me more than bad recruitment. OK, employers aren’t necessarily recruitment experts, and yet they should be. If this process isn’t professional, organised and informed then why would a candidate want to work for you? It signifies your company doesn’t know what it is doing; and we all know how important those first impressions are. Small things do matter and are proven to make the difference.

Key information missing from the job advert such as; wages, hours, location, when the closing dates is and when the interviews will take place is just odd; it isn’t a guessing game and leaving this crucial info off the description isn’t good enough. You want a candidate with excellent communication skills; well demonstrate yours – candidates are not psychic.

Another confusing element for candidates; mismatched job titles which do not relate or describe the actual role they are applying for. Is the job what it says it is, or will it metamorphose into something else along the way? Candidates may enjoy a challenge, but they also like to know where they will stand in a few weeks’ time too; keep them informed from the first.

Expecting candidates to attend an interview or undergo recruitment tests without ample prep time; fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Pressurising candidates isn’t a fair game to play, it only creates unnecessary stress and uncertainty, and no one shines their brightest under these conditions.

Expecting candidates to be able to give notice in their current employment ASAP when often one months’ notice is customary; this is again an unfair expectation meeting the needs of an employer not the candidates. If time is of the essence the employer should have begun the recruitment process sooner. As an employer you should know your staff leavers and your staff requirements; if you have been left understaffed for weeks it is your fault as you must have seen it coming.

Reference requests for an inordinate amounts of referees. I have seen employers stipulate up to 6 referees, when perhaps candidates can only produce the usual required maximum of 2 due to their work experience. Not everyone retains communication with their previous employers, and people do move in and out of roles, not to mention are made redundant. 6 referees may be asking the impossible, what do you think? Perhaps as an employer you could use your judgement, because even if candidates can only provide 2 referees these maybe the best quality, plus it doesn’t automatically signal that without 6 referees your candidate is Ted Bundy’s twin in disguise.

6)Equal Opportunities monitoring forms: I hate these. I feel they aren’t transparent at all merely a sneaky tool to discount vast numbers of people from the application process; “We don’t discriminate, but please tell us your intimate details such as whether you have a disability and your sexual orientation so we can see if you’re the right sort of person for us”.

7)Interviews: badly organised interviews create yet more negative impressions, but also they won’t fulfil their primary objective; to secure the best candidate. Employers, who allow staff to perform an interview and quite clearly they shouldn’t; because they have no interview skills at all isn’t a good start to the process either.

Odd questions: Asking odd questions such as; “How are your communication skills” – when the interviewer asking this clearly doesn’t possess any themselves. This is something I have seen over and over; why ask a candidate for something you as an interviewer or employer do not possess? Another odd question not to ask during interview; “Are you suitable for this job; based on your CV you are over-qualified”.  A) This is not a bad thing and can bring a new perspective to the role or new skills into a company; it makes me wonder if the interviewer asking this one is actually insecure about their own skill level. B) The employer obviously hasn’t read the candidates CV before the interview; bad prep! Either way; the candidate is there at the interview because they actually want the job. As an employer ensure you have the best interviewers interviewing the candidates.

Another complete discourtesy is when the interviewer pays no attention to the candidate’s responses or their presentation. This is plain and simple rude behaviour. Why ask a candidate to interview if you as an employer haven’t intended to give them a fair chance? It might have been a long day, they might be the last candidate but this type of behaviour is unforgivable on every level, and demonstrates your lack of merit as an employer.

Give them the info: Another no is allowing a candidate to leave the interview without clarifying their duties, salary, benefits, work hours and also the response time for the interview decision to be made. Candidates may feel unsure if they should ask any of this information at interview, so as an employer you should make these things very clear to them; keep them informed.

Providing zero feedback: Employers should always provide feedback to their unsuccessful candidates, if they don’t it is sloppy and insincere; stinking of a nonsense reason for not hiring that candidate. An email won’t cut the mustard either, call each candidate who attended the interviews and explain why they were unsuccessful. They took the time to be there and to prepare so you should show some common courtesy to them.

Another element to consider regarding the interview process is; stop setting candidates up to fail. Remember it might have been 100 years since your last interview, but the thing is to put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. Interviews are stressful and unnatural situations; how often do you sit in a room with complete strangers and tell them your whole life history, er, never! Have some respect it takes courage and effort to sit there and often be grilled by interviewers with a sense of humour by-pass. Have some thought for those who are trying to impress you.

8)Nepotism: this can be related to the interview process also; often it isn’t a case of what you know but who you know. I have seen many well suited and qualified candidates being refused a job, with very little understanding as to why – making me wonder whether the more a candidate has to offer the less likely they are to secure a job. First impressions you might say, but I call this face fits and it can refer to a case of nepotism. The employers colleague, friend, relative, neighbour already has the job and the interview process was a formality to ensure employment laws are not breached. Remember that the best suited candidate, IE the one who matches your requirements as set out on the job description and person specification is the one you should be hiring. Regardless of whether you like their hairstyle or not; otherwise this is a breach of employment law, and is called discrimination.

I have been told of many stories that point to nepotism. Someone I knew secured a job when a long serving staff member decided to leave that particular company and go elsewhere. This particular person then returned within about a month to ask for their job back, because they hated their new job. The person I knew was then turfed out under some nonsense excuse and the ex-staff member walked right back into their job. Again they were working through their probationary period, and couldn’t prove that their dismissal was due to the other staff member returning and asking for their job back, but it was the reason and everyone who worked there knew it.  I think that this is the biggest waste of a candidate’s time and effort, not to mention rude, patronising and completely unfair.

9)Probation period: the first 6 months of any new employment is often termed the probationary period. Candidates who become new starters have to diligently prove their suitability for the role within this period. Fine, OK, but it is very often that the employer holds all the cards during this period.

If the candidate/ new employee asked all the right questions during their interview regarding; their duties, place of work, colleagues, team, support structure and training – all the better. Yet, if they didn’t receive the absolute truth from the interviewers; any new starter may find that they are stuck in a role that isn’t what was sold to them. Yes it is a case of false representation, but what can a new starter do other than look for another job? Well, not much. If the new starter was caught out as having lied on their application or during their interview they would be fired for it, but when the shoe is on their foot a new starter has no avenue of recourse. Why, because they don’t have many rights during their probationary period (even if they are a member of a union). Basically it is a case of tough luck.

Whether the new starter is treated or spoken to badly, given more duties or different duties than they thought or basically shoved in a room alone to get on with it; no one cares. An employer can also concoct any excuse during this time to remove a new starter from their payroll, and if a new starter becomes too rebellious this could occur through performance management; “You weren’t suitable for the role because of blah, blah, blah”.

A new starter, whether in post one day or one week will be subject to the same standards, rules and regulations as any other employee, and will of course pay their tax and national insurance; therefore I believe a new starter should be also protected from unscrupulous employers who may take advantage of them and use and abuse them. As probationary period is a strange no man’s land for employment rights, I wonder how many people have encountered horrendous treatment but let it slide; A) to save the hassle, B) to save their reference, C) because no one cared enough to actually deal with the incidence and how could they prove their rights were being abused in any case? It is just one pf those things and comes with the territory of probationary periods.

Regardless of the length of time an employee has been on the payroll, their rights should be the same as any other employee to ensure such abuses don’t occur so easily, and don’t go unaddressed and unpunished.

10)Providing an ex-employee with a reference: I believe an employer should only provide a good, but impartial reference for an employee. I know that by law this should be the case, but the ex-employee has no forewarning regarding the questions a potential employer may ask an existing one. Also they have no say over how or what will be discussed about them in what might be deemed to be confidential terms.

For example; how well an employee performs in a team, what type of person are they, what is their sick leave record like? Such questions may at first sight appear innocuous, but what if an employer has an axe to grind with their ex-employee? Will the employer then tell the truth about the ex-employee, and if not how would the ex-employee know what lies are being told and then prove them to be lies? Some might refer to the training and development the employee underwent, such as supervision and appraisals, but there are still some companies out there who don’t have these processes in place. So, where is the proof that what the employer has to say is of more credence and relevance than the ex-employee? Prove what you say to be the truth.

I believe that anything personal IE time off work with depression, surgery and personal leave for family death and so on should be up to the ex-employee to relate to their new employer. It is after all personal information of a sensitive nature, and often relates only to a one off time period. If it is depression; most cases I have come across are in fact due to work related stress incidences. Therefore once the ex-employee has left their current workplace and are feeling happier and more valued, this is unlikely to reoccur. Although even if it does, depression is recognised under employment law as a disability; even if many employers don’t regard it as such. Given the fact that this illness is on the increase, many employers do little to help employees with this; depression remains frowned upon as a sign of weakness. What utter callous nonsense.

It is the case that one person’s impression of another person can vary; therefore believing an employer just because they are an employer is unfair. It ensures the employer remains in a position of power over an employee, and can abuse this as they see fit. The reference should be simple; when an employee worked there, what role they did and their skills – end of.

To sum up:

The recruitment process is often a difficult one for both candidate and employer. What I too often see are guides for how candidates can improve their chances in this process, but I believe based on my experiences that employers need guides also; especially when they often have little clue about the processes, how to relate to or interact with candidates. The key is to learn and then revise the process; create solid job descriptions and job titles, ensure interview questions match the role, get in the best interviewers to interview (train them with the skills if necessary), keep candidates informed at every step, treat them with respect and acknowledge them, be transparent and provide reasons and proof for everything to ensure no candidate can excuse you of being unfair because of your approach.

                      Any questions regarding your recruitment processes? Let me know and I am happy to answer them.