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Application forms

Many recruiters use online application forms, so knowing how to fill them in and stand out from other candidates in the selection process is a crucial skill. As an applicant, you should always tailor your application to the company and the job to which you are applying, and therefore it is essential to spend time researching your potential employer and paying attention to the specific requirements outlined in each job description.

On this page you will find information about the typical sections contained in application forms, and advice on how to complete one to your advantage.

Key sections

Before inviting an applicant for an interview, employers want to find out more about the person’s background, skills, knowledge and interest in the role. Application forms usually request:

  • Personal details
  • Education and qualifications
  • Employment and work experience
  • Personal interests and achievements
  • Additional information
  • Motivation and/or competency-based questions
  • References

Types of questions

Motivational questions

These questions require you to demonstrate your motivation for, and knowledge of, the job. Typical questions in this category include:

  • What attracts you to this job?
  • What qualities do you think you can offer?
  • Explain how your interests and experiences might make you a strong candidate?
  • Why would you like to work in this company/industry?
  • What are your career ambitions?

Competency-based questions

Competency-based questions are aimed at finding out how a candidate would behave in different situations that arise in the workplace. Employers use these questions to find out how you have behaved in similar situations in the past, so that they can understand how you would deal with different scenarios that are likely to arise in the role. You will be asked to present evidence of how you have dealt with a range of situations in the past, and will be expected to provide examples to support your answer.

You will find that the competencies in the application form will be taken from the job description, so familiarise yourself with the job description before you apply to help you tailor your answers.

Answering application form questions

Application forms provide an opportunity for you to demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm for the role and to highlight your relevant skills, experience and interests.

It is useful to apply the CAR model when answering the questions as it helps you to tell the whole story about how you demonstrated your competencies. The CAR model stands for:

  • Context – Introduction to the scenario you wish to talk about
  • Action – What was your responsibility? What kind of skills did you use/demonstrate/develop?
  • Result - What was the outcome of this scenario? What did you learn? How would you do this differently next time?


CAR worksheet

Example A:

Question: “Can you provide an example of a time when you had to complete several projects within a short period of time?”

Context: When I was studying Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin I had to submit a number of assignments with strict deadlines and attend compulsory lab workshops as part of the programme.

Action: I used my organisational and time management skills to prioritise my work by putting together a list of all the deadlines and allocating time towards each assignment. I considered the complexity and length of the various assignments, and calculated that I had to start some assignments ahead of time allowing some time for review and quality. 

Result: As a result of my time management, I successfully submitted all my assignments on time, and achieved full attendance at all lab workshops and managed to achieve a 2.1 in my final year.

Example B

Question: “Give me an example of a situation where you worked as part of a team and describe the role you played?”

Context: As a volunteer at community based charity I was responsible for managing and running events for underprivileged children. I was asked to organise an event to celebrate multiculturalism in the community, and was given only 4 weeks to coordinate and run the event.  

Action: I put together a group of 6 people to work together on the event. I started with a planning meeting and ensured that everyone knew the purpose of the event, and based on the tasks at hand and people’s strengths and interests I allocated roles. I took the lead role, ensuring that everyone knew what had to be done and supporting them to progress with their work.

Result: Thanks to the team effort we had a successful event attended by over 100 people from the local community, and we received very positive feedback from attendees. It was the first time the charity had run this type of event and as a result of its success this has become an annual celebration.

Top tips

  • Familiarise yourself with what is needed in each section so you can decide what evidence or example is best suited in each instance.
  • Answer all the questions. If a question does not apply to you, make this clear by writing n/a (not applicable) in the box so the employer will not think you have simply forgotten to answer.
  • It is important to stay within their stated word limit. Do not write too little – if the word limit is 250 words you should write at least 200 words in that section.
  • Reflect on why a question is being asked in the context of the specific role and answer it accordingly.
  • Write formally, avoid abbreviations and especially text speak.
  • Draft your answers first to make sure they fit in the space available.
  • Proof read and spell check before you submit your form.
  • You may be completing multiple applications to tight deadlines - although you may be busy, it is essential to tailor each application to the company (and to double-check that you have included the correct company name!)
  • Get someone to read over your answers and give you feedback to give yourself the best possible chance of making a good impression.
  • Keep a copy of your form so that you can review it in advance of an interview.
  • There is often the option to explain any extenuating circumstances, for example, if you feel your academic grades aren’t as good as you would like them to be, or if you have a gap in your CV. Make use of this option where relevant.