By Vicki Morgan and Thomas Montgomery
Applications are often the first impression most applicants have about your company. A well-constructed and comprehensive application not only provides you with the needed information to determine if the applicant is qualified, but also projects an image about your company. For example, I’m often surprised by the number of companies that still take paper applications. This is not only inefficient and time-consuming, but it’s simply not the way people communicate in our society today. If you are still taking paper applications, you are projecting an image of an outmoded, antiquated company that doesn’t want to change with the times. Some companies have progressed to have a form application that can be downloaded, printed out, and completed; but this isn’t much better. You still run into similar types of problems, like incomplete information, illegible handwriting, excessive processing time and the chance the application won’t be returned.
Online Application Systems
If you don’t have an online application, you should consider using an online application service. There are many online services out there that offer state-of-the-art products. Most can even be tailored to meet the specific needs of your company and have many other advantages. First, as indicated earlier, online is the way we communicate in our society today. Second, you also reduce the application time because the application does not have to be mailed or scanned and e-mailed back to you, you obtain the application upon submission. You also reduce the amount of incomplete or illegible information on the application. Specific fields can be set to be required before progressing to the next section or before the application can be submitted. Further, online applications generally meet all the Federal & State Employment Laws, but it’s still a good idea to have your attorney look at the system you decide to use.
There’s really no reason not to use an online application service. These systems allow you to review the application online which saves you from having to print them out, file, and retain the unqualified applications. Most of these services interface with in-house electronic applicant tracking systems (ATS), so there’s no need for data entry because the information can be fed directly into your ATS, even if it’s something as simple as an excel spreadsheet.
You want to be careful about the type of information you request on the application. Applications should at the minimum ask for the applicant’s name, phone number, address, previous employment information educational background, references, as well as any special skills or certifications. Applications that request things like dates of birth, social security numbers, high school and college graduation dates, military service dates, and other sensitive information should not be used. Asking for dates can be viewed as being discriminatory based on a person’s age, and with identity theft, people are reluctant to share sensitive information.
Information about arrest records, while not illegal, isn’t appropriate on an application because arrests do not imply guilt or innocence. Many states and/or local municipalities now prohibit conviction information on applications. Information about, gender, disabilities, veteran’s status and other protected information may be obtained, but it must be VOLUNTARY and CANNOT be used to screen out applicants. Obtaining this type of information is used for reporting purpose ONLY and must be separate from the application. For example, if you are a federal contractor, one of the requirements is to maintain an applicant flow log that contains this type of information. This flow log reflects the success of your outreach programs during an OFCCP audit.
Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs the use of disability, health problems and medical conditions. Like the demographic and other legally protected information, the ADA allows this information to be obtained, but only for the purposes of reporting and determining eligibility for disability preference.
Further, it is improper and illegal to ask whether an applicant is a member of a union. Questions concerning whether an applicant has friends or relatives working for the employer may likewise be improper if the employer gives a preference to such applicants. While questions about military experience or training are permissible, questions concerning the type of discharge received by an applicant have been held to be improper.
Work and Education History
Work experience is one of the most important parts of the application because it indicates if the applicant is qualified. Companies are usually interested in when applicants were unemployed, for how long; what they did for their previous employers, how long were they there and when and why they left.
Educational background is likewise important, because it may indicate a person’s character, intelligence, commitment and/or social skills. With entry-level positions, education may not be as important as other qualities of the applicant, but with supervision, technical, and management positions, it is extremely important.
Companies may also be interested in the applicant's social skills because they often reflect a person’s character, personality, interests and values. If they are extremely active within an organization, that may demonstrate their leadership and communication skills, initiative and other personal characteristics. Being in management, education may demonstrate an applicant’s ability to function as a member of a team, their initiative, determination and so on.
An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a piece of software that allows you to manage your application process. Applicant data can be collected from internal applications via the ATS, on the front-end, located on the company website or is extracted from applicants on job boards. Most job boards interface with ATS software to seamlessly migrate data from one system to another.
Each company should have some form of ATS, whether that’s an excel spreadsheet or a more sophisticated database system. Whichever system you use, you should have some method of tracking applicants for reporting, analysis and sourcing.
Vicki Morgan, SPHR, is the Chief Operations Officer at Inland Rivers HR. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tuskegee University and has over 20 years of HR experience. Prior to joining Inland Rivers HR, Vicki worked in HR in manufacturing, distribution, and marine transportation.
Thomas Montgomery is the President and Chief Executive Officer for Inland Rivers HR. He holds a doctorate degree in business administration and has over 30 years of Human Resources experience in industries such as telecommunications, marine transportation, education, and government. Prior to starting Inland Rivers HR, Tom was the Director of HR for the country’s largest inland marine operator.