The Jobseeker’s Guide to Employment Applications Part 1
You’ve spent hours writing your résumé — or may have invested hundreds of dollars hiring a professional résumé writer — and maybe even drafted a cover letter to accompany it. You now have all you need to apply for a job opportunity that caught your attention — or do you? At some point in the process, you’ll be required to complete a job application, which may seem redundant. After all, doesn’t the résumé cover everything the employer needs to know?
Employment Application Basics
Despite all the changes in résumé content and style — as well as how one looks for work and applies for jobs — one constant remains: The employment application is an essential part of the hiring process. From the employer’s perspective, the application serves a number of purposes that are not addressed in a résumé (and optional cover letter). These may vary, depending on the nature of the job and the preferences of the company; however, the following always applies:
• An application is a legal document. Unlike a résumé, you are required to sign an application, confirming that all the information you included is accurate and that you have not omitted anything.
• An application becomes part of your permanent file once you are hired. Both state and federal employment laws require employers to retain employment applications for at least one year.
• At a minimum, an application requires you to provide information sufficient to demonstrate that you are legally permitted to be employed. Furthermore, an application enables an employer to request information you would not typically include on your résumé, such as contact information for immediate supervisors, reasons for leaving, or professional references.
• The employment application is not a standardized form, so every company may create its own as long as it adheres to regulations set by the government.
That last point is quite complex, sparking debates about what are — and are not — lawful questions, and leaving jobseekers confused and anxious.
In earlier decades, almost any question was acceptable. It was not unusual to ask the applicant’s date of birth, marital status, or citizenship. Things that were once okay are now prohibited by numerous federal laws that turned the tables in the applicant’s favor. Under these laws, employment applications/employers cannot inquire about the following:
• Race, religion, gender, and national origin: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits direct — as well as indirect — questions that allude to race, gender, and ethnicity. Inquiries into color of eyes/hair; whether the applicant is married, single, divorced, or separated; number and ages of dependent children; requiring a prefix (Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Mrs.); or questions about the observance of religious holidays are all unlawful. The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act prohibits employers from discriminating against an applicant because he or she is not a U.S. citizen. The Form I-9, rather than an employment application, is the appropriate forum to determine an applicant’s citizenship status.
• Age: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees 40 years of age and above. It is permissible to ask an applicant if he or she is under 18 and, if so, to state his or her age (to ensure the applicant meets minimum age requirements of the job and/or to ensure the employer does not accidentally violate state law regarding the employment of minors regarding hours worked or certain work responsibilities). However, it is unlawful to request a date of birth or include the specific question, “How old are you?” Unfortunately, one can roughly calculate an applicant’s age by asking when he or she graduated from high school.
• Disabilities and medical conditions: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits any inquiries about past or current health problems and medical conditions, disabilities, or on-the-job injuries. Even asking for the applicant’s height and weight is considered unlawful, as it may discriminate against certain demographic groups.
As you can see, it’s been more than 25 years since any significant regulations were put in place to protect job applicants from discrimination. Other employment application practices that are still in place include inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history, credit standing, and salary history, all of which can negatively impact a jobseeker. Fortunately, there are grassroots initiatives taking hold, and new regulations being adopted at the federal, state, and municipal level all across the country.
Next time we will look at applicant check checks.