How to Master the Online Application Process

4 minute read

Employers love online applications, and it’s easy to see why. They’re a cost-effective way to cope with large numbers and it allows employers to define exactly what information is provided and in what order. Software can then scan for keywords to filter the list right down—and this is all before an actual human being has read any of your carefully crafted words.

But while employers may love them, job seekers generally hate them. If you’ve spent ages polishing versions of your CV, drafting sample cover letters and pulling together a portfolio of past work, it can be soul-destroying to see the ‘Apply Here’ button throbbing in the corner of the web page.

Still, online applications are a fact of life and you need to make the process work for you. Your application needs to get through the initial filter AND be an accurate representation of what makes you uniquely suited to this role.

So, take a deep breath and commit to the process. If you want this job, then you’re going to have to carve out the time to make the online application worth your while.

How to Master the Online Application Process

A few handy tips and tricks to get you started

Not sure where to begin? Here are four things you should always do when filling an online application.

1. Read the instructions carefully

Do they tell you how long it should take to complete? Can you scan ahead to see what’s involved and what information you’ll need to hand? Read the instructions through a few times to make sure you have everything you need to get started.

2. Make sure you have enough time

Most online applications let you save and return but not all will let you go back to a section once it’s completed. So make sure you understand how this form works and that you’re giving yourself enough time.

Set aside a few hours or an afternoon to work on your application form, including time for proofing your answers.


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3. Swot up on the organisation itself

Charities want to know that you’ve done your homework and really understand what they’re trying to achieve. Find out what you can from their website, press and social media. If you know anyone who works there then see if they can fill you in any more. Using real examples of campaigns and fundraising initiatives will help you stand out and show that you’re invested in their cause.

4. Check the word limit and prepare draft answers 

Not sure you can do it all in one go? Open a word doc and write a draft answer for each question. Not only will this help you visualise how much you can really fit in a confined word count, but it allows you to see all your answers in one place to make sure you’re not repeating yourself.

Don’t forget to spell-check and proof it before cut and pasting onto the form.

How to Master the Online Application Process

Let’s break it down by section

Although not every online application is structured the same way, the following sections are almost always part of the process. Here’s the best way to tackle each section.

Personal details and education

Have details ready including subjects, grades and dates. If your qualifications are from another country, then think about the simplest way of describing them with a UK equivalent.

Employment history

Consider which roles are most relevant to this job, then prioritise them accordingly in terms of how much detail you provide.

Check that all job titles make sense to someone not familiar with that organisation – you can re-name them into more usual or current terminology so long as you’re not being deliberately misleading. Include dates and account for all gaps in employment. If you had a gap year then explain what you did and how you funded it.

If this is your first “proper job” then don’t be shy about including holiday or weekend work. They may have nothing to do with this job, but they show a work ethic and experience.


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Personal statement/why you want the job/reason for applying

Read the job description carefully then explain why you’re interested in this specific job, giving reference to your past experience and your hopes for career development. It can be tempting to just shoe-horn in material straight from your CV without thinking around the specifics of this job and this employer, but they’ll spot that immediately.

Keep looking back at the job description and make sure your final draft name-checks relevant keywords and responsibilities.


Note down the key skills they’ve included in their job specification and make sure you address each of them here. Use the STAR system (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to provide tangible examples of how you’ve put these skills into action.

How to Master the Online Application Process

Skills and Weaknesses

Everyone hates this question! The best approach is a thoughtful and honest one. Don’t jump to the usual ‘too perfectionist’ answer but think about your skills and where or how you want to develop them to illustrate a ‘weakness’. For example, if you know you’re weak at presenting or that you avoid confrontation, then rephrase it to explain how you’d value the opportunity to improve and develop your presentation skills, or how you’ve been learning more about how to manage confrontation at work. 

Any other info/anything else you want to say to support your application

This section gives you a chance to stand out from the pack. Think hard about what you want to say that can add something distinct or memorable. It could be that you have a personal reason for wanting to work for this charity.

This can also be a place to attach examples of past work or where you can include links to a portfolio or website, if relevant.



Ultimately, charities just want to see that you’ve taken the time to consider why you’d be a good fit for their organisation. By putting the time in to create a bespoke application, you’re proving that you’re invested in their cause and passionate about what they do. True, submitting a CV would be simpler, but it doesn’t allow the same opportunities to showcase your personality and your dedication to the cause.

Got any other tips for mastering the online application process? Let us know in the comment section below.

Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.

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