Bad form as closing date passes by

Q: The closing date was today. Last night, after much procrastination, I finally opened the application form and started to fill it out. And I failed. Between competencies, experience, and exact number of months worked in jobs I held 20 years ago, and lots more besides, I just couldn't get my head around it at all. Is this a common experience? I hate missing out on this job opportunity but I had no alternative. (AC, email ).

A: The exasperation you articulate about filling forms is very common, though, thankfully, I think most people manage to get them completed on time, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

Forms can be highly frustrating. In my view, they regularly seek too much minute detail and promote repetition and verbosity.

In fact, in this age of dizzying technological tools, it amazes me how teachers and other public service employees have to fill out a new form every time. Surely an online portal could hold the key information and allow them to just tweak and re-submit an application each time? I see teachers who have to enter all their teaching experience over and over again into similar forms, often struggling with just the copy-and-paste challenge of it all.

The key thing about all of this is that you must take time. Application forms are a rabbit hole. When you dive in, you'll be amazed how much you have to cover. Not to mention the suddenly disappearing boxes and text.

Another key pointer is to observe word count guidelines. Many candidates think an instruction to write a maximum of 250 words somehow liberates them to roll onto 400 or 500 words. I have heard of a few cases where exceeding the word count has knocked candidates out – but even if it didn't result in a red card, I would question why you need to write so much.

Are you confusing or clarifying? Can you make your point quicker? Don’t overstay your welcome.

Take your time with forms. Don't leave it until the last minute, as you discovered to your cost, AC.

Dealing with competency-based probe

In competency-based interviews, you tell stories about things you have done. The purpose is to demonstrate a particular competency – e.g. leading a major change within an organisation.

After you tell your stories, the panel may probe you for further information. By simply asking questions that revolve around the story you've just told, they aim to find out more about you. They want to keep you talking.

A popular probing question is “so you’ve told us how you led that big change – how was that perceived within the organisation?"

A typical answer to this probing question might include you outlining that before you started the project, some colleagues were wondering how it would go. Perhaps it was a new project, or your first major leadership role within the organisation, or maybe it had been tried before and failed.

So beforehand people were curious about how it would all unfold. It was far from certain that it would succeed.

But, as you develop the story, it becomes clear that you delivered well. Those who were initially unsure could see the merit of your actions. Probe over, points scored, sit and wait for next question.

Sli Nua Careers ( ) have offices in Galway (Patricia Maloney, 091 528883 ), Mayo (Ballinrobe and Claremorris ), Limerick, Dundalk, Sligo, Tralee and a full online service. Their services include CV preparation, interview training, public speaking and presentation skills, and career direction. For more details, visit


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