Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Online Application Forms

I notice that Cumbria County Council recently changed their online application form. The new version is not bad to use contentwise but there are some technical problems. You can only navigate it using the forward and back buttons on the webpage - there's no chance of skipping from section to section. So you need to press 'forward' or 'back' abvout three dozen times to review a completed form. It also seems to be hosted on a separate server. As our University server is very suspicious of rival server content anyway, it means our students can't access or print the pdf preview of a completed form when working in college.

These little local disturbances have jogged my memory to write a list of tips on completing online application forms. It's not a straightforward task as the first thing you need to know is that different online forms behave in different ways. But here goes:

Completing online application forms - seven key questions to ask yourself
1) Can you view or download the whole form before you start?

Not all forms allow you to, but it can be a big help when planning out your answers.

2) Does the form start with a few simple looking questions?

Beware of false friends. A wrong answer here may eliminate your application and block you from seeing the rest of the form.

3) Can you paste text into the form pages?

If the form allows this, you can prepare material and check it offline before copying it onto the form.

4) Is there an autosave facility?
Some forms do not save your work for you. If you haven't saved it yourself, you may have to retype everything after logging out or if the system crashes. Very annoying!

5) Is there a selection test built into the form?
This is increasingly common with online forms. Ideally, you should have an idea of the kind of test and how to approach it before you begin.

6) Is there a time limit?
Not very common, but some organisations see beating the time limit as part of the selection process.

7) Is there a space limit for the 'Supporting Comments' or similar section?
This is far more common. A page on your wordprocessor may not fit into one page on the form. There may be word limits, or even limits to the number of characters (sometimes including spaces!) you can use.

Last of all
remember that all the usual rules for completing paper application forms still apply. Research the job just as thoroughly and don't resort to email or txtspeak. You can find online applications discussed more thoroughly on the University of Kent careers website and try out a (rather rough and ready) sample online form at

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