Tips for filling out online applications

Whether for a job or a scholarship, filling out the application is usually the first step. Learn how online versions may be different or the same as regular applications.

Application form on a tablet
More and more, applications are available and submitted online.

With so many applications for jobs, scholarships, awards and leadership opportunities now asking for submissions online instead of by paper or email, it is important to understand how these applications are different and how they are still the same. Michigan State University Extension has some recommendations for filling out online applications that will help you look your best.

When filling out any application, your goal is to paint a full picture of your skills and abilities. Here are some things to consider.

Timing. One of the key characteristics of an online application is that there may be time limits. The webpage may time out after a certain amount of time or it may only give you one opportunity to submit information. There are some sites that will allow you to come back and edit your responses before submitting the whole application, but you will want to know what you are getting into first.

Think of the online application as the place where information gets submitted, not where you are still working out what you are going to say. If you can look at the application’s questions first, copy them into an offline document to use as a working space. Then you just need to copy and paste when you are ready.

Spelling, punctuation and grammar still matter. Write in full sentences and avoid text-speak (shortening words or sentences to save on space). This is one of the quickest ways for an application to be thrown out of the running. You want to show that you respect the time of the people reviewing applications by paying attention to these details. If you rush through your answers, you will give the impression that you don’t care about the quality of your work.

Keep it thoughtful and meaningful. There may or may not be character limits to your answers (i.e., a predefined limit of how much you can type). In either case, make sure your answers are well thought out. There is a happy medium for these answers: You want to fully answer the question and give supporting details as much as possible (i.e., instead of just saying you have strong leadership skills, describe a situation where you used these skills), while also not going on for so long that the reviewer gets bored and glosses over what you’ve written. Remember, applications often open the door for an interview where you will have the chance to expand more on the information and provide additional details.

Enlist help. If you write your answers in another document before inputting into the online application, you can also ask trusted people in your life to review what you’ve written before you submit. They can proofread for grammar and clarity issues, as well as give you feedback on how well you are demonstrating your skills. Consider asking teachers, 4-H leaders or staff members, mentors or other dependable advisors. You may get differing opinions on some things, but it will help you see your application from different perspectives.

Remember, the goals of an online application are the same as the applications submitted on paper or over email: Reviewers want to be able to see the skills and abilities of all of the candidates so that they can make a decision about who will be the best fit for their open job, leadership position, or for awarding scholarships. Keeping this in mind will help you present yourself in the best light.

More information:

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development helps to prepare young people for successful futures. For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education, or entrepreneurship, email us at 4-HCareerPrep@msu.edu.

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