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Filling in the blanks

Published February 20. 2010 09:00AM

For many job seekers, their search begins with the simple, standard job application. Many companies have blank forms on hand in their human resources office, or even in their lobby or reception area. Hiring managers collect dozens of these forms at a typical job fair.

These applications are a vital, but often overlooked, step in the job search process.

Plenty of job seekers don't realize just how important a fully complete application is, and tend to not take them seriously. Ask any hiring manager and they can tell you countless stories of receiving applications with missing information, misspelled words, or illegible handwriting. Then ask them how many of those folks were contacted for a job, and you'll get a quick answer: None.

Believe it or not, a job application can say a lot about you before you're even called for an interview. It shows your attention to detail, as some applications sneak in some important fine print that only the really observant folks notice, and it also shows the obvious information like past work experience, education, and job skills.

It's true that many people fill out applications on the spur of the moment, so they may not know the exact dates of their last few jobs off the top of their head. When I was in the middle of my job search and sending out resumes and filling out applications by the dozens, I got tired of trying to remember all of those details, so I wrote everything on a piece of paper and kept it in my purse. That way, I had the information handy if I did decide to stop in somewhere to complete an application. This is also a good idea because many companies ask applicants to fill out the form right there rather than take it along. Be sure to write clearly and legibly, even when writing numbers, so that the hiring manager can reach you easily.

Another thing to be aware of when filling out an application is the kind of pen you use. It sounds silly, but hiring managers notice these things, and they can actually form a negative impression of you just based on what color ink is on the application. Blue or black ink is the safest bet; steer clear of colored pens, and absolutely, positively never use any kind of gel pen with glittery ink. That can earn your app a one way ticket into the garbage, or at least into a deep dark filing cabinet that will probably never see the light of day again.

You don't have to list every job you've ever had on the application; usually the last three places you've worked will suffice. If you've been laid off or have any gaps in your work history, you will have to account for that time, either on the application or during the interview. The most important thing to remember about filling out an application is to have the complete, correct information for past companies you've worked for, supervisors, and your full job title. List the full names for everything. Some applications also ask for references, or those who can put a good word in for you. Have a few names of non-family members or close friends on hand who can speak for you should the company call them. Be sure to have their full names and correct contact information listed on the application, as well. You want to make everything as easy as possible for the hiring manager.

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