As the person who manages my guild's applications, I can assure you that we can tell if you didn't try. For example, we have an "in depth" section of the application. If applicants write 5-word answers to all of the "in depth" questions, it's kind of obvious that they . . . well, they just aren't trying. And if they aren't trying, then they must not care. And if they don't care, then we don't have to either.
/castsequence [target=Application, exists, lame] Spit, Spit, Shove in Trash, Set Trash on Fire
I've seen some interesting things -- people who have friends in the guild and just don't bother filling out more than their name and level and expect me to let them in anyway, people who obviously haven't read anything about who we are or what we do but expect their generic answers to sate me, and one guy who gquit and wanted to return but just copied and pasted someone else's application who returned successfully.
The people who review your application do not have the word "Stupid" on their foreheads. In fact, they can tell when you think they do have "Stupid" tatooed somewhere on their body, and they take glee in casting the above macro on your app.
Any guild that has an application is likely to take that application seriously, and doing a lazy job of it is a gamble you're taking -- the gamble that they care about their app as little as you do. But, if that was true, they wouldn't have an app.
So take your time. Read the questions and mull over them for a day. Read their website and understand who and what they are. See if they're really worth the trouble of applying. If they are, do it right, make it persuasive, describe yourself in a way to fit what they want in a member, and let them know this is something you want, not something you're "meh" about. If they aren't something you want, then don't waste your time applying. And don't waste theirs.
Do it right or don't do it at all.
Applying to a guild is like trying out for a job. Both will take one look at you and form an opinion, and it's up to you to make that first impression the best you can. It is not the guild's job to accept you just because you spent hours filling out their 5 page application and 7 bonus essay questions.
- Know what they want and strive to be it. For raiding guilds, this means hitting a certain level of stats and experience and proving you know your class (never apply to a raiding guild if you don't meet their guidelines). For social guilds, it means proving you're a pleasant person who would mesh well in their social context.
- Be charming and persuasive. I've found that the best applicants try to convince me that they're good for my guild but that they don't expect to be handed invites -- they assure me that they would be honored to get one and are waiting patiently and humbly for my decision. They put the power in my hands while assuring me that they are willing to love my guild as much as I do, that it's exactly what they've been looking for.
- Pay attention to the questions. The applications I usually reject are the ones that give me very little information, those who don't read the questions thoroughly and are obviously skimming and trying to just get it over with. It might just be poor writing skills, but it translates as laziness, boredom, and stupidity. If you aren't the best wordsmith, have a friend proofread it and make suggestions. It'll take time but will seriously increase your chances of getting in the guild. And if that's what you care about, then you'll do it.
- Don't be fake. Yes, I told you to be what they want, but that doesn't mean lie. Rather, focus on the things about yourself that they would be interested in. In a family guild application, describe your family. In a raiding guild, give them facts they can hang their raiding caps on. Put yourself in a light that catches their attention while still being honest about yourself.
- Don't be a jerk. Don't brag, don't whine, don't put down your last guild, don't gossip, and don't insult any other classes. I haven't had much of a problem with this because our guild is built to be unfun for jerks and very fun for nice people. But some guilds find applicants who do nothing but praise themselves and put others down, and that is never the way to impress anyone. It just turns people off.
- Follow instructions. If there are rules or tips you need to read before applying, read them. Don't just assume that you know what you're doing. A lot of applications have a secret "answer question 15 with 'Moo I'm a Pretty Girl'" or something to catch people who haven't read the rules. A little time now saves a lot later.
Feel free to add your thoughts. :) That's all I could think of off the top of my head.