The employment application form is a staple in the world of recruiting. Your business needs an employment application form not only to help you to get a better sense of the functional and behavioral competencies of job candidates, but also to protect your business from costly hiring mistakes.
While it may seem that you should be able to ask any number of questions to help you weed out the good stock from the bad stock, there are best practices to which you should adhere to keep your business out of legal trouble. You may also be surprised to know that the employment application form your parents may have filled out is not the same application experts are suggesting business owners use today. The rise in privacy issues and identity theft has made it essential that employment applications focus on gathering only that information that is absolutely necessary for finding out if a candidate’s skill set and competencies are a good fit for your organization. Use this handy little guide to find out precisely what your company’s employment application form should and should not include.
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The New Rules of Engagement for Employment Application Forms
The primary purpose of your employment application is to ask the right questions. The right questions are those that lead you to the candidate who is the best fit for your organization and who has the greatest chance of success in the open position. That means learning specifically what skills, training, experience, achievements and behaviors make that person the best candidate for the job. But it can be a fine line.
As an employer, it’s not a question of whether you should have access to certain information. It’s more about when you should gain that access. The Employment Application form is often the first contact a job seeker has with your organization. It is the beginning of a relationship. No one shakes hands to meet a stranger for the first time and says, “I’m Joe. My social security number is…” In the same way, the information you request from a job applicant is different than the information you will request of your hired employees.
In the beginning, you want to avoid questions that may reveal that an applicant is a member of a protected class. Protected classes are those that have historically had to battle discrimination. That includes questions about religion, age, race disabilities, medical history, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, and national origin. Also avoid questions that would reveal an applicant’s financial status, social affiliations and the existence of an arrest record. You can ask about convictions, but not arrests.
So, let’s take a look at some other areas commonly addressed on job applications and see the new rules of engagement for employment applications.
Name and Maiden Name
Yes, you definitely want to have an applicant’s full name. It is unnecessary, however, to request a woman’s maiden name. Discrimination based on marital status exists. Avoid asking women for their maiden names or whether they should be call Miss, Ms. or Mrs., and steer clear of asking for the marital status on the job application. That information can be gathered later on benefits forms.
Address and contact information
Yes. Grab contact information for the applicant’s primary address only. Do not ask if the person resides there or if it’s a mailing address. Do not ask question whether the applicant rents or owns. This question can reveal information about a job seeker’s financial situation. There is also no need to ask about previous addresses on the employment application.
No. The focus of any question on military service should really be about the skill set acquired by a former member of the armed forces. That means questions about the circumstances surrounding his or her discharge are unnecessary and inappropriate as they could reveal private information about a person’s medical conditions or reveal disabilities. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, questions on the duties performed, dates of service, rank during service, pay grade, training and relevant experience are valid.
Never include a question about race on an employment application form. If you need to know race for tracking diversity within your organization, keep it on a separate form and limit it to personnel files for actual employees. This can be a voluntary questionnaire that HR hangs on to AFTER the candidate has been hired.
Social security number
Legal. It’s perfectly fine to ask for an applicant’s social security number. But not at the beginning of the application process. Wait until you are down to your final few candidates to ask for more sensitive information. The reason is simple: privacy. The less sensitive information you have on-hand, the better you are able to protect the people who have submitted applications to your company. Security breaches happen every day. The twelve year-old playing on a laptop across the room from you at the local coffee house may be savvy enough to access your computer while you’re on it without you even knowing. That’s not to say your sophisticated cloud-based applicant screening software is not secure, but if a breach can happen to Target and Chase bank can, so can you.
When you whittle down your talent pool to the most likely candidates, then it’s time to ask for the information you’re going to need to conduct background checks and or even credit checks if absolutely necessary. Store social security numbers in a place separate from employment applications to which secretaries, file clerks and other non-essential personnel will not have access. Instead, store them on I-9s, which legally have to be kept separate from personnel files.
Date of birth
Legal. But avoid it. Believe it or not, you may unwittingly make a judgment on an applicant’s qualifications for the job based on his or her age. It’s human nature. In your mind, the position for which you are hiring has a minimum and a maximum age and you have crafted that range based on your personal experiences and biases. In truth, the best candidate for the position may be outside the range you have set. If there is a state-imposed minimum age for the position, simply asking the applicant if he or she meets the minimum age requirement will provide you with all the information you need to ensure the applicant is the right age. Don’t ask for a date of birth. The same goes for high school graduation dates. If you want to know an applicant’s educational background, ask for the name of the educational institution and the degree or credentials obtained. No date.
No. This information is only relevant once a candidate has been extended and accepted an offer of employment. It should not be requested on the initial job application.
No. “Where were you born?” is no longer a valid question to ask. You may ask applicants if they are legally eligible to work in the United States. Once hired, all employees are legally required to complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Form. This form is stored apart from employment applications and requires the applicant to provide physical proof of eligibility to work in the country by producing things like social security cards, passports and other citizenship documents.
Twenty-Five Good Questions to Ask on an Employment App
There are plenty of ways to ask questions that will help you to get the information you need while protecting you from legal danger zones Ask targeted questions that will help you to get a keen understanding of the value a candidate has to offer your company. The employment application form questions below will help you to identify traits such as communication skills, thoughtfulness, motives, and the candidate’s ability to work collaboratively. Stick to questions about performance, experience and behavior.
- What is the position for which you are applying
- Why are you applying for this position?
- What about our company is most exciting to you?
- How many hours can you work weekly?
- Can you work overtime?
- Are you willing to travel or relocate?
- Are you able to perform job-related tasks?
- Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
- Do you have a drive license?
- Do you have any accidents or moving violations within the past two years? How many?
- By what method of travel will you be making your commute to work?
- What were your key professional accomplishments in this position? (Good for each previous position listed on the employment application)
- Describe your decision-making process.
- Provide an example of a time you worked collaboratively with a team.
- Provide a detailed example of a time you demonstrated leadership in the face of an unexpected challenge.
- Have you ever been asked to resign from a position as a result of a policy violation?
- Describe your relationship with your last immediate supervisor.
- What would your most recent supervisor have to say about you?
- Were you laid off from your most recent position?
- Are you waiting to be called back to work?
- Describe yourself in one word.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
- Provide a short list of your personal strengths. They do not have to be job-related.
- Provide a short list of your personal weaknesses.
- Provide a one or two-sentence glimpse of your primary career goal.
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The rule of thumb in this age of information on-demand: Obtain just the information you need to make a decision at each stage of the hiring process. Keep the privacy of your applicants top of mind by using this guide. And be sure to check with your state agency to find out what the laws are for storing, transmitting and disposing of confidential information.