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Job Hunting, Job Search Tips

Simple Formula for Winning Applications


skills-3 (Photo credit: Vancouver Island University)

What if I told you I had a way to make your next job application go from good to fantastic? What if, when an application asks you about your competency in a certain area, I have a formula to make your answers pop! Would you be interested?

Actually, the formula is pretty simple: it’s all a matter of who, what, where, when, how.

Many job applications have supplemental questions or questions that address competencies and skills. Boeing is an example: their applications are all about their competencies, for example:


• Information Monitoring

• Initiating Action

• Handling Boeing Proprietary

This list of competencies is for a Human Resources Services Coordinator position. Those are the competencies that Boeing is using to rate their applicants, and your success in getting your application past the first step relies heavily on your ability to speak to those competencies.

My agency’s HR office makes it easier. In your online application you are asked a series of competency-based supplemental questions that start with, “Describe your working-level knowledge of…” The levels could be awareness, working, or mastery. Definitions and examples are provided to help.

So here’s where the formula comes in. I call it that H4W formula: How, Who, What, Where, When. Their definition breaks it down more.

A supplemental question response should include the following:

  • Describe the knowledge, skill, or ability (competency) we are seeking.
  • Tell us how you gained the competency.
  • Tell us where you gained the competency.
  • Tell us when you gained the competency.
  • You may want to give a specific example that demonstrates your skill as well as when and where you gained the skill.

An additional note:

Competencies can be demonstrated through educational experiences, personal/volunteer experiences, and/or professional experiences.

Boeing wants the same thing, as do most employers. Depending on the online application process you could include these answers directly in the online app or in the resume (as is the case with Boeing). But if they ask for the skill, you’d better be prepared to give the answer!

How about some examples?

  1. Describe your oral communication skills.


I am able to actively listen to what people say, can take time to understand the points being made, and avoid unnecessarily interrupting others; able to paraphrase and asks appropriate questions to clarify information heard.

I can effectively persuade others to voluntarily accept recommendations or advice for the purpose of bringing them into compliance with regulations or policies.

This answer only tells that the applicant can do things, but doesn’t demonstrate how.


As a training development specialist with XYZ Company (2009 – present), I utilize my oral communication skills daily. I communicate with internal customers, managers, supervisors and teammates, via telephone and in person in order to provide guidance about issues regarding training for our office and our agency. Part of my job is educating employees and managers about workplace policies and process improvement. As such I communicate in both one-on-one and to groups of employees, large and small, using terminology that is understandable and applicable to my audience. I utilize reframing, repetition, and questions to ensure that I understand the depth and breadth of whatever issue is at hand.

This answer gives more information as to not only what skills were gained, but where, when, and how. It provides some examples of job duties that utilize the skills gained.

Shall we try another?

  1. REQUIRED: workload management skills.


Four years experience as a trainer in a job training facility enhanced my ability to perform multiple tasks and improve my productivity.

Again, no ‘how’, ‘when’, and only a little ‘where’.


As a job coach/ trainer with ABC Industries from 2002 – 2006, I was required to supervise a department of 10 to 12 manufacturing trainees in a production environment while at the same time providing training and case management for their vocational development. I had to determine and prioritize current workloads in terms of both quantity and quality, according to deadlines, complexity of tasks and current availability of resources needed to accomplish those tasks. At the same time I maintained current case files on all trainees in my department, including case notes and service plans. I organized electronic and paper files by client name, and set up charts using Excel spreadsheets, setting up conditional formats to remind me to update files 90 days after last file update. As a production supervisor I planned, executed and oversaw multiple jobs and projects and seeing to their timely completion, completing 100% weekly productivity over 90% of the time, while at the same time keeping my case files 100% current.

This response specifically demonstrates the job environment where the skill was gained, what the skill set is, and when and where it was gained. An additional plus—it show a measurable accomplishment in association with that skill.


About kimberlyjmyers

I am a workforce development professional in Washington State. I have ten years experience working with dislocated workers, vocationally impaired, and people with disabilities on many levels and backgrounds from offenders to non-English speaking refugees from around the world. The One thing the clients I have worked with all had in common: there was some barrier to employment, and I work diligently every day to identify, address and remove those barriers.


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