Employers certainly don’t expect or want essays, but they’re looking for answers that tell them something about you. An employer will have a clear job spec in mind, and the application form will be shaped to allow you to demonstrate that you meet at least the basic requirements for the job, and hopefully more besides. If your responses don’t reveal enough, or don’t hit the right notes, you won’t be in the running for long.
It’s important to read the job description very carefully so you have a clear idea of what the employer is looking for. You should then find out as much as you can about the job and the employer online or in publications and use this research to inform the way you approach the questions on the form. You could even try your hand at networking with staff at the company to get vital insider information to help with your application.
Don’t rule out contacting the employer for more information on the job if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes they’ll direct you straight back to the job advert but, provided you’re courteous, there’s no harm in asking a few intelligent questions, while being respectful of their time. Make a good impression and they might remember you when your application reaches the top of their pile.
Once you have a clear idea of precisely what the job is and what skills and experience would suit the role, then you need to work through your own history to choose what applies. It’s worth writing a separate list in rough of your skills and experience (which can include unpaid voluntary work if relevant), and then carefully selecting elements that make you suitable for the job and including them on the form where appropriate. Add tangible evidence of success, such as awards or targets achieved, to the relevant experience.
Finally, go back to edit and refine your application so that it’s as clear and concise as possible, removing any repetition or information that’s surplus to requirements.