How to write a job application

This article introduces you to the steps preparing you to write a job application and gives you practical tips for creating a strong application.


A job application is a form that employers ask all applicants for a position to fill out. You may fill out the application through a third-party job listing site or by visiting the website of the potential employer. Some employers may ask you to fill out a paper application.

Employers use job applications because they provide a consistent format with the same questions that must be answered by each person who applies for an open position. Employers can easily compare the background and work experience of each applicant. They may also be known as an employment application.

Unlike a CV and cover letter, which are written and formatted to highlight your most significant and impressive credentials, a job application requires factual responses. Some of the items you’ll typically be asked to include are:

  • Your personal information (name, address, email address, and phone number)
  • Dates of employment
  • Positions held
  • Names and contact information for supervisors/references
  • Dates and subject area of degrees
  • Where your degree was obtained
  • Evidence against criteria in a job description

Often as part of the application there may be Competency and Situational questions. 

  • A competency question will ask for an example of a time you have demonstrated a skill or worked in a particular way. For example: Tell us about a time you have worked in a team.
  • A situational question is similar, except, rather than asking how you have worked in the past, it asks how you would act in a future situation. For example: How would you respond if a customer told you that they were not happy with your service? 

For competency questions, the STAR method is an appropriate way to answer a question. This is when you give an example, ensuring that you cover the: 

  1. Situation – Explain the situation in full
  2. Task – Clearly outline what you were trying to achieve 
  3. Action  This should be 50- 70% of your answer. You need to clearly explain how and why you did something in a particular way.
  4. Result This should be positive! Or what you have learned from the situation.

For situational questions, you can write about how you think you would approach the situation, and then back this up with an example of how you have acted similarly in the past, using the STAR method. 

There may also be Strengths and Weaknesses questions. For this type of question, you will need to identify your own strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is to clearly explain why you believe something is a strength or weakness of yours by giving examples. Again, you can do this by using the STAR method or by summarising experience and achievements. 

If you are writing about a weakness, it is important to state how you are trying to overcome it, or have made progress with it. Example questions are: What are you good at? What are your weaknesses? 

Other question types are Motivational and Sector questions. These kinds of questions will be based on why you want the role and why you want to work in the sector. It is very rare not to be asked why you are applying for a role in an application.

To answer this well, you need to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the company, role and sector and what attracts you to it. You can achieve this through properly researching the company using their website, any contacts you have there, and by reading the news and sector websites. This means you cannot copy and paste an answer from a previous application.

How may this affect me?

Completing job application forms requires an understanding of what information is required and where it needs to go on the form. In a good application form this is obvious, because the format and language will guide you. However, some forms can be unclear in their instructions, and you may need to analyse the structure carefully. The language in the form may have jargon or terminology that is unexplained. This can leave you uncertain what you are being asked to provide. 

Many autistic people filter information and analyse all the available information which can make the form seem overwhelming. Forms often have radio buttons, boxes and do not allow space for free text. This means you need to choose the information that you share.

You may find filling in the application form time consuming and this process of using a document on white paper with lots of text can lead to fatigue and frustration.

You may also feel anxious when completing the application form by being worried about putting the wrong information in, or by failing to make yourself understood.

With applications it may not always be clear what the organisation is looking for and you may need support in answering ambiguous questions. 

If you think your autism impacts your ability to complete the application form or online tests, then you can contact the employer to discuss your adjustment needs. Typically you can declare your disability on the application form itself, which can be a good idea if you think that you will require reasonable adjustments at an interview or assessment centre.

When responding to questions it is good practice to ask for someone to read your responses before you submit. This is to make sure you have answered the questions positively and not been too negative or critical about a situation. 

From our research we have found that many autistic people don’t apply for a position because they do not meet 100% of the criteria in the job description. If you meet the essential requirements it is worth applying even if you do not meet all of the desirable criteria. It is quite common for a successful candidate not to meet all of the criteria – after all, much will be learnt “on the job”.

If any of the above applies to you, we would encourage you to speak with the employer and ask for support in completing the application or request reasonable adjustments at the interview stage.

What can I do next?

Use the steps below to prepare for your interview

Practical tips

Use these steps below to help you be as prepared as possible to complete your application form.

  1. Applications can take a long time to complete. Give yourself enough time to complete the form well.
  2. Be aware of the word count. If an employer has allowed 500 words for an answer and you only write 300 when most applicants would have written to the maximum, it will look like you have less to offer. 
  3. Pay attention to spelling and grammar: It is essential that your application form is written perfectly, it represents the standard of your work. You can type up answers in Word so that they are spell checked and then paste them into the online application form. Ask someone to proof-read your work before you submit your application.
  4. Before you send off an application it is good to check whether the employer is likely to send you some online tests to complete. Most large employers do explain their recruitment process on their website. If you will be sent tests you need to make sure you are prepared before you submit your application. 
  5. If you think your autism (or another condition) will impact your ability to complete the application form or online tests, contact the employer to discuss your adjustment needs. Typically you can declare your disability on the application form itself, which can be a good idea if you think that you will require reasonable adjustments at an interview or assessment centre. 
  6. Research the organisation thoroughly as you may need to include evidence relating to this.