Job Applications

What Is a Job Application?

A job application is a form, either paper or electronic, that people complete when applying to work for an employer. Submitting an application is usually the first step that a person is required to take in order to be considered for an available job. Some companies accept applications even when there are no job positions immediately available, especially in industries, such as food service, in which there are high turnover rates and frequent job vacancies. Employers consider the information on an application when deciding which candidates to schedule for interviews.

Applications typically include sections for basic personal data, educational background, work history, job-related skills, and references. Employers may also ask for information about a person's physical health or criminal history. Some employers may require candidates to submit a résumé in conjunction with an application, but others, especially when hiring for entry-level positions, may prefer applications alone. Applications may include a written or online assessment of the candidate's job-related abilities or reasoning skills.

Job Applications

Résumé: A document providing a detailed description of a person's previous work experience, educational background, and relevant job skills.

Employers sometimes favor applications over, or in addition to, résumés because applications provide a standardized format. The format and content or résumés vary from résumé to résumé, whereas an application ensures that all prospective employees will provide the same kinds of data. A standardized format also increases the ease with which an employer can compare applicants’ credentials without being influenced by factors, such as visual appeal.

George Muldrow fills out a job application at a National Career Fairs job fair in Arlington, Virginia.

George Muldrow fills out a job application at a National Career Fairs job fair in Arlington, Virginia. ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES.

How Did Current Job Application Procedures Come About?

The job application process in the United States has evolved with the overall job market as well as with innovation in the transportation and communications industries. Industrialization and the growth of cities in the nineteenth century made it important for employers to have a way to collect information about potential employees they did not know. Innovations in printing increased the availability of newspapers, which allowed businesses to advertise for employees. The advent of railroads made mail service more efficient, and job seekers could write to businesses in other cities seeking employment.

Throughout the 20th century, businesses that used job applications relied primarily on paper forms that could be filled out by pen or pencil. As computer technology has advanced, and as mobile devices and the Internet have become more popular in the 21st century, an increasing number of companies have begun to shift to an electronic application process.

What Are Some Different Kinds of Job Applications?

Before Internet use became widespread, job seekers commonly filled out paper applications in person. Some businesses, especially large retailers and restaurants, still prefer a hard-copy application and keep blank forms on hand, but other businesses may direct job seekers to a corporate website from which applications can be printed out and then completed and returned.

As online applications become increasingly common, they could be completed in a variety of ways. Some may be available through a company's website and others can be found on Internet job boards, such as the one provided by Monster Worldwide, . Some businesses have in-house hiring kiosks through which applicants can fill out electronic applications using the company's own computer system. Online applications cut costs for employers who would otherwise need to manually enter or electronically scan each applicant's information into a database. Career-related social networking sites, such as the website of LinkedIn ( ), allow job seekers to submit a user profile as part of the job-application process.

A man fills out a job application at a McDonald's restaurant in midtown New York.

A man fills out a job application at a McDonald's restaurant in midtown New York. DON EMMERT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES.

What's the Best Way to Ask for a Job Application?

Retail, restaurant, and other service-industry businesses generally expect job applicants to apply in person. Businesses or other organizations offering seasonal and part-time employment may have the same expectation. Applying in person can be an advantage for you, because it provides an opportunity to make personal contact with a hiring manager or the hiring manager's representatives.

Job Applications

It is important for you to dress neatly and to be courteous when requesting an application. Applicants hoping for a job in the service or hospitality industries should apply outside peak service hours. For instance, if you are applying at a restaurant you should aim to ask for an application between the lunch and dinner rushes. This tactic can increase your odds of having positive contact with current employees, and it can make the chance of an on-the-spot interview more likely.

What Kind of Information Will Be Required on a Job Application?

Job applications typically begin with personal data, including your address, phone number, and e-mail address. Most will also ask you for a Social Security number and for verification of U.S. citizenship. Some may require you to provide information about any past criminal history,

Using a Hiring Kiosk

Hiring kiosks are an innovation that allows job seekers to fill out job applications at computer terminals inside a store or other business. The kiosks provide a fast and efficient way for job seekers to complete their applications and for hiring managers to process them.

Hiring kiosks are most common in retail settings and are generally located near the customer service desk. Hiring kiosks are convenient, but job seekers should not apply on the spur of the moment nor without adequate preparation. Your application will be most successful if you plan ahead. Schedule a time to visit the job kiosk, and bring your résumé and any necessary notes with you so that you can answer all questions accurately and thoroughly.

Hiring kiosks may rely on traditional computers or touch-screen terminals. Even if you do not have advanced computer skills, you should not be intimidated by a hiring kiosk. The application program will walk you through each step. If you have questions, you should not hesitate to ask for help from an employee.

When you have completed your application, the program will likely tell you what the next step in the application process will be and when to expect to hear from a hiring manager. If this information is not provided, you should ask an employee at the customer service desk. Follow up by phone or in person if you do not hear from a hiring manager within the specified time period.

although the rules governing this practice vary from state to state. Applicants under the age of 18 may need to provide proof of a work permit, also depending on the state. Some jobs may even require you to authorize a background check, which can include an investigation of their credit history as well as any criminal history.

Job applications will also require information about your work history, including the names and contact information of former employers or supervisors, employment dates, details about past wages or salaries, former job duties, and reasons for leaving a previous position. In addition, many employers may ask for a list of references. This list may include professional references, but it should not repeat the names of any supervisors already mentioned in the employment-history portion of the application. You should confirm beforehand that the people listed as references will be available to answer questions from prospective employers, and that they will be willing to share relevant and positive comments about you.

Where Can Job Applicants Find the Information They Need?

Job Applications

Job seekers should furnish the most complete and accurate information possible when filling out a job application. It is generally better to take extra time to complete an application than to provide inaccurate or incomplete information to a potential employer. Before applying for a job on-site, you should collect and organize any information that might be required and take it along.

Applicants who have held a large number of jobs in the past can obtain an accurate list of former employers by submitting a request for Social Security earnings information from the Social Security Administration (SSA). This form is available on the SSA's website, . For a small fee, you can receive a detailed list of former employers with addresses, employment dates, and past earnings. You can also verify this information by checking back tax records, if available, and you can obtain past employment dates and salary information by contacting the human resources or payroll departments of former employers.

What Are Some Common Mistakes in Filling Out Job Applications?

Job seekers often make a number of common but avoidable mistakes when filling out applications. Misspelled or crossed-out words or information entered in the wrong field can make a negative first impression. To minimize such errors, you should read over the application form before you begin to fill it out and make sure that you understand the directions for each section. When completing the form, you should be sure to print neatly and keep paperwork free of crumpling or spills. Online applications have the advantage of being easier to correct. However, in either case, it is important for you to proofread everything you have written before you submit the application.

Job Applications

Applications with blank fields will be less attractive to hiring managers than fully completed forms. You should make sure not to skip any sections or questions on an application. It is also important for you to provide all of the information requested, especially with regard to work history. There are many legitimate reasons for a person to have taken time off between jobs, but any gaps in employment history should be explained, as employers may sometimes consider this to be a cause for concern. There may be limited space on the application to write an explanation, so it is best for you to be simple and direct and to avoid such words as “quit” or “fired” when possible. However, in a situation where you left a previous job on bad terms, it is best for you to be honest and to explain the situation in the most positive terms possible.

Job Applications

Hiring managers look for applicants whose highlighted skills and work history are a good match for the position being filled. You should consider the company's specific needs when completing applications rather than submitting boilerplate answers in these areas, especially if a résumé and cover letter are required with the application materials. Job postings usually include a list of required skills and experience. Applications that are not targeted correctly may be unattractive to a prospective employer.

Finally, it is vital for you to make note of any application deadlines and to make sure that your applications are submitted to the correct person or department. An application submitted after a deadline will almost always take you out of the running for the position. Job applications, as well as any additional materials the company requests, should be returned in as timely a manner as possible. If you also had contact with a person at a company but had been instructed to submit an application to the company's human resources department, a brief e-mail notifying the contact about the submission may be appropriate.

What Happens after I Submit a Job Application?


After reviewing applications, a hiring manager will follow up with candidates who fit the company's needs. Some companies will contact you to set up a phone interview before proceeding with an in-person interview. Others may schedule an in-person interview immediately. Hiring managers may or may not contact candidates whose experience does not match the job requirements. If possible, you should clarify a company's practices in this regard and obtain the name of a contact for follow-up.

When Should I Follow Up about a Job Application?

The length of time between a company's receipt of an application and the hiring manager's response to it may vary depending on the business as well as on the type of job involved. Whenever possible, you should ask about this time frame up front. It is also a good idea for you to inquire about the protocol for following up on an application, such as whether the hiring manager prefers e-mail or phone contact.

Job Applications

After a week, it is generally acceptable for you to contact the business and confirm receipt of an application and to clarify the time frame for a response if you have not already done so. Although you may have difficulty being patient during this process, it is important to be courteous and to avoid contacting the prospective employer too frequently. One or two additional follow-ups, at least a week apart, is a good rule of thumb. If you are not selected for a job, some companies might be willing to keep submitted applications on file in case another opportunity comes up. You should ask when you might check with the company in the future about the status of your application.