The 12 ‘Veteran Basics’ to a Winning Employment Application

(U.S. Navy/Lauren Randall)

The following is an excerpt from "Voyager/Veteran: The Journey to a Successful Job Search Mindset."

In today's job market, it's important to remember that all veterans looking for employment opportunities are not always those who have been recently separated from the military. The truth is, the majority of veterans seeking employment today may have been employed in the civilian sector for several years. Many may have held more than one or two jobs. In fact, a growing number of these veterans are, or are fast approaching, the rank of senior citizen. Still, they are out there pounding the pavement just to make ends meet.

Equally important to remember is that being a veteran does not entitle anyone to preferential treatment in the eyes of many employers. Employers will consider all applicants equally. 

On the other hand, at American Job Centers (AJCs) throughout the country, all qualified veterans are given Priority of Service, especially those veterans with significant barriers to employment.

Similarly, in recent years, the federal government has created and mandated special programs for veterans experiencing recent deployments and military separations. The emphasis of these programs is directed at employers giving qualified veterans first consideration when making hiring decisions and/or creating jobs, especially those employers who are federal government contractors.

When it comes to the job application form, you might wonder if one is really necessary. The answer is YES, and it is very important to know how to fill it out correctly. All too often, applicants inadvertently commit errors on their applications that result in rejection and/or disqualification. In these situations, applicants are never made aware of the reason for rejection. 

Be Prepared to Fill Out an Application

The majority of today's employers still do ask an applicant to complete an employment application. For the employer, the application form serves as a guide during the interview to determine if the applicant has enough of the required qualifications to do the job or has the capability of learning. 

In general, the employment history section of most employment forms provide some indication of the skills, abilities and work experience that function as a qualifier. If not, then education and training can usually establish the capability or probability that the applicant can learn to do the job with additional training provided by the employer.

There is usually a section for references that can be found on an employment application, but in some instances, it is not required. However, in today's competitive job market, and with the scrutiny most employers give employment applications, the request for references is most always included. Generally, most employers ask for the standard three references. However, there are some employers, who because of high profile operations or tight security requirements, may request up to five references. The key is to have a few in reserve if they are required. Be sure to use only references that have consented to being used.

Many employers will indicate the need for a background check. The thoroughness of a background check depends on the employer and the nature of the job being applied for. For example, when applying for government work, the applicant can always expect verification of references, schools, previous employers, credit agencies and military records, among other requests. 

The more confidential the work being performed in government and/or in the interests of national security, the more intense and thorough the background check becomes. Nowadays, the private sector of employment conducts a complete and thorough background check as well. The best approach to providing requested information in an application is to be honest.

If you come across a question on the form that appears unfair or illegal, or that creates discomfort by involving too much self-disclosure that has no relevance to the general qualification for performing the job, don't leave the answer space blank, as it will make you look like you are hiding something and lead to automatic rejection. Simply insert "N/A" (not applicable). Another option is to insert "will discuss at interview," or, merely put aside feelings of intrusiveness and provide the answer anyway. Note that when considering blank spaces, applicants seldom get selected for an interview to explain why a space was initially left blank.  

You May Have to Fill One Out Right Before the Interview

Be prepared to fill out an application form at the employer's place of business. Even if you submitted a cover letter and résumé, it might be a requirement.

The best preparation involves the construction and use of an Application Prep Sheet. This completed document should be carried with the applicant to any job search events. It provides the applicant with the essential and additional information beyond what has been included in a previously submitted cover letter and résumé. The bottom line is, it becomes your "cheat sheet," something to reference as needed.

Note: The designing, contents and use of an Application Prep Sheet are illustrated and fully explained on pages 116 through 122 of “Voyager/Veteran” by P.D. Pritchard.

A cover letter and résumé are only summaries or personal branding messages regarding who you are and what you can do for the employer. Regardless, an applicant should always be prepared to handle, efficiently and accurately, an unanticipated request by an employer to complete an on-site employment application.

Top 12 "Veteran Basics" to a Winning Employment Application

1. Remember to carry your Application Prep Sheet -- It will serve as your reference guide in the event you are required to fill out an on-site application form.

2. Remember to highlight your skill sets -- The application form features a section where you can list your skills and talents, so the prospective employer recognizes your value in addition to your willingness to learn new skills that will help to enhance performance.

3. Mention key referrals -- Many applications ask if an applicant knows anyone who works for the company or has made a referral. Be sure your selections will best reflect your abilities.

4. Arrests, convictions and criminal records -- In every state, it is inappropriate and very often illegal to ask an applicant if they have ever been arrested. Why? Because, in this country thousands of people are mistakenly arrested every day for crimes they didn’t commit, never convicted of and released from custody and never incarcerated.

Therefore, if an applicant is faced with the question of ever having been arrested, some consideration should be given to responding "No" or "N/A" (not applicable), even if the answer would have technically been "Yes."  But arrests resulting in conviction and incarceration for serious misdemeanors and especially felonies should always be answered “Yes.” 

Many employers do realize that it is human to make mistakes, and giving an ex-offender a second chance is something many are willing to do. It's just a little more difficult and requires continuous pursuit of the goal and a "never give up" attitude.

5. Involuntary termination of employment (getting fired) -- Involuntary termination can cause a high level of anxiety if dwelled upon too long. It can interfere with maintaining a positive and healthy view of the application process. To reduce unnecessary anxiety, it is important to note that at least once or twice during a lifetime of work, applicants may experience an involuntary termination.

In this case, it is advisable to provide a complete work history in an application. However, an involuntary termination can be addressed in the "reason for leaving" section of the form or write down "please discuss with me at interview." If the question is raised, an applicant can explain that some superiors are easier to satisfy or get along with than others. Furthermore, explain that they have usually been a top performer and generally get along with everybody.

6. Layoffs and personnel cutbacks -- Due to economic changes, especially so now, businesses and public service organizations continue to downsize, enter into mergers, reorganize or close down. It's a fact of life beyond the control of the applicants.

Therefore, applicants should be prepared to provide such information, if applicable to their situation, and not be embarrassed. Without hesitation, the applicant needs to consider answering the questions "reason for leaving" with a brief notation. Most employers these days are aware of changes in the employment cycle and tend to accept these responses.

7. Gaps and periods of unemployment -- When an applicant indicates a gap in employment, a reasonable explanation needs to be given. Regardless of the reason, it should be stated clearly or noted as an addendum attached to the application form. It is also wise to be prepared to explain it during the interview, should the question be asked.

8. Dealing with the appearance of being a “job hopper’’ -- When an applicant has an employment background reflecting a history of short-term jobs, it is known as "job hopping." To avoid the label of Job Hopper, an applicant should be able to offer a legitimate reason for moving from one job to another. Most any legitimate reason that is compelling is acceptable.

9. Educational and training embellishments -- During the past several decades, considerable emphasis has been placed on academics and specialty training in an effort to keep pace with the demand for high-tech and business management career field growth. Some applicants get caught up in the attempt to remain competitive and exaggerate or embellish their academic and/or training accomplishments.

In other instances, applicants have taken liberties with one or two courses or short-term training programs they participated in but never completed. Today, one area of the application/screening process to which employers are paying a great deal of attention is the awarding of college degrees as well as professional training certifications and licenses.

10. References -- These days, with most application submissions, employers are inclined to follow up and check all references listed. Thus, it would be wise for the applicant to ensure that the person given as a reference is discrete. When the applicant knows his former boss would not provide a favorable reference, the applicant should consider using another manager who is familiar with the applicant's skills and work ethic, or a fellow peer -- but not without their consent.

11. Answering the salary/wages expected question -- For many applicants unfamiliar with this part of the application process, it can be a little tricky. If the applicant specifies a dollar amount and it's too high, they may price themselves out of consideration for a job. Generally, it is best to state "Open" or "Negotiable."

If an applicant feels compelled to declare a dollar amount, then select an amount from the middle of the salary or wage scale. Sometimes a job announcement will state what the salary range is. If not, do a little research. 

An excellent resource is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) published by the U.S. Department of Labor and available at many American Job Centers. An equally helpful resource is O'Net Online (

12. Application review -- It is important to take the time to review each section of the document you have filled out to cross-check for errors, omissions, spelling of names and correctness of data. It can make a difference in return.

Inaccurate or incomplete information and failure to follow directions are the No. 1 reasons for application rejection. It is wise to review the completed application one last time before submitting it, and, if possible, to ask the clerical person (if this is a on-site application) to please make a copy for your records.

-- Pete (P.D.) Pritchard is a Certified GCDF (Global Career Development Facilitator), a graduate of the Lila Atchison School of Community Service and Public Affairs at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he received master's and bachelor’s degrees. He has an associate degree in Criminal Justice Disciplines from Shasta Junior College in Redding, California. Pritchard helps veterans develop and marshal the self-motivational skills needed to move forward with their lives after serving their country. 

His book, "Voyager/Veteran: The Journey to a Successful Job Search Mindset" is available for pre-order now and hits bookshelves April 6, 2021.

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