Employment Applications – Are They Really Necessary?
Should a candidate applying to your open position fill out an employment application? This may sound like a trick question. While most HR professionals and employment lawyers would reply with an emphatic “YES”, there are some organizations – both government contracting companies and non-government contracting companies – that are not requiring candidates to fill out an employment application during the interview or new hire process.
Over the course of my career I have heard a multitude of reasons for not having an applicant fill out an application. The most popular reasons I’ve heard include: “we need to get this position filled ASAP!”,“every day we don’t have someone in the role, we are losing revenue”, “it’s just a silly form, what is the harm in not having it filled out?” and “it slows our process down asking for this information.”
While these explanations might make sense in the short term, over the long haul, not providing your applicants a form to fill out might harm your organization more than if you had required them to fill out the application when you deemed them a qualified candidate. The paragraphs below will discuss why requiring an employment application to be filled out, and not just collecting a resume, are necessary for all organizations irrespective of industry.
5 Reasons to Use Employment Applications
1. Screening method: A resume is not enough. Applicants have a lot of creative license and freedom when they write a resume. Meaning, an applicant chooses the information to include, or not to include, within a resume to ensure they are perceived in the most favorable light by the recruiter or hiring manager. On the other hand, an employment application requires a candidate to provide concise and exact details of their experience, background and compensation history. Once a completed application is submitted, a recruiter or hiring manager will be able to determine if the candidate meets the minimum (and desired) qualifications of the job they are applying for. This does not mean a resume should not be part of the hiring process. Instead, employers should use both an application and resume to ensure consistency in the applicant’s background and experience. Ensuring consistency will help determine if the candidate is qualified for the opening with your organization.
2. Acts as a legal document: Compared to a resume, an application can become a legal document for your organization to:
- authorize reference and background checks;
- ensure the applicant understands your organization is an equal employment opportunity employer;
- make certain they understand their employment is at will;
- have them attest that the information that they are providing is accurate and truthful.
Beyond authorizations and compliance related acknowledgments, most employment applications also have a section requiring a candidate to certify the information they are providing is complete and accurate. This same section also communicates to the candidate that misrepresentation or omission of facts may result in rejection of their application for the position, or if hired, discipline up to and including dismissal. A resume does not have this type of agreement, thus putting your organization at a significant disadvantage if you discover information contradicting what was stated on the resume.
3. Mitigates your Risk of Discrimination Claims: Because resumes come in various formats (some come with pictures), it may be hard for your organization to compare one candidate to another without potentially discriminating against an applicant. A properly formatted employment application standardizes the information a candidate provides when applying for a role. Below are some pointers from Steptoe & Johnson that you can use when creating an employment application to decrease the likelihood of discrimination claims:
- A statement that the organization is an equal employment opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of any attribute protected by federal or state laws.
- A prominent statement that employment is considered on an at-will basis and an offer of employment will not be considered a contract.
- Authorization and approval for the organization to conduct background and all reference checks or verification of application information it deems necessary.
- A statement that a criminal conviction listed on the application will not disqualify the applicant from being hired, and that the company will consider: the nature or gravity of any offense or conduct; the time elapsed since the conviction and/or completion of any jail sentence; and the responsibilities of the job being filled.
- A notice that falsification of any information in the application process will be deemed grounds to reject a candidate or to terminate employment if already hired.
4. Organizing information: There is a lot of information necessary to determine if an applicant is qualified for a role. It is easier to ask for information relating to education, employment history, reference checks, etc. in one spot instead of requesting it at different times during the new hire process. Thus, having an employment application requesting all of this information in one spot saves both the company and the applicant time and effort of gathering the information necessary to determine a candidate’s fit for the role.
5. Stricter Reporting Requirements: We have a lot of organizations in the Washington D.C. metro area that provide services to the U.S. Federal Government. As such, the government requests additional information regarding the candidates applying to and being hired to provide said services. Specifically, the U.S. Federal government is looking for contractors to collect and retain applicant information such as race, gender, and ethnicity. Because this information cannot be incorporated into the employment application, we suggest providing applicants a voluntary self-identification form to capture the necessary information. While this information is not used to select a candidate, it is necessary to complete a yearly Affirmative Action Plan (AAP). AAP’s are required for all government contractors with 50 or more employees and $50,000 in government contracts. Beyond capturing race, gender and ethnicity, it is also a best practice to invite applicants to self-identify as a veteran or as an individual with a disability in the self-identification form. Self-Identifying as a veteran or an individual with a disability is a new rule issued in September of 2013 by the Office of Federal Contracting Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
As we just discussed, it is important for your organization to request an employment application from an applicant and not just a resume. While it may take some effort to get an application created and ingrained in your new hire process, the benefits of having one far outweigh the costs of not.