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Why Applications are Key

November 07, 2013

By Lester Rosen, Founder & CEO of Employment Screening Resources (ESR)

Although résumés are a valuable addition to the hiring process, human resources professionals and labor lawyers often advise employers to use employment applications. Because employment applications provide legal and practical advantages, some firms even reject résumés and require that job seekers fill out the company's application.

Using an application can provide an employer with legal protection in the hiring process. A résumé may contain information that cannot be used in a hiring decision. For example, a résumé may list affiliations or organizations that reveal details about a person that are irrelevant to a hiring decision or legally cannot be considered.

Employers must exercise caution in accepting résumés with information that an employer should not have. A professionally reviewed pre-printed job application should prevent an employer from receiving impermissible information. Also, all résumés are written differently, and the lack of uniformity in the hiring process can lead to claims of disparate treatment.

There are also practical and administrative problems in using résumés. Typically, résumés do not give an employer all the information that is needed. Also, it is easier to prescreen candidates using a standardized application.

A standardized application makes it easier to spot unexplained gaps in employment. That is an important step in the hiring process and a critical part of exercising due diligence. Even if an employer hires a background company to perform a pre-employment criminal check, records can be missed because there is no national criminal record resource for private employers. Criminal checks must be done in each county where the applicant has lived, worked or gone to school.

However, if a person has an uninterrupted job history, an employer can have more confidence that the applicant has not been in serious trouble over the years.

A written application provides a vehicle to ask vital questions and to advise applicants of critical matters. However, some firms still rely on résumés, such as high-tech firms experiencing growth or firms that have never developed an application process.

An employer who accepts résumés still should still provide a standardized supplemental form that addresses these matters:

An application should state that untruthfulness or material omissions are grounds to terminate the hiring process or employment, no matter when discovered. This is critical, for example, when an applicant is not truthful about a criminal conviction.

Older forms may have language asking about criminal convictions.  Due to the “Ban the Box” movement and the EOC Guidance of 2012, , such questions should be saved until at or after the interview, and even then, employers should be careful to note that a criminal record will not be us to automatically exclude an applicant. The employer should in addition take reasonable steps to limit the questions about past criminal conduct to matters that are relevant to the  job. For more information, vist the ESR Ban the Box Information page at

The form should indicate that the applicant consents to pre-employment background screening, including educational and professional credentials, past employment and court records. Such a release may discourage an applicant with something to hide, or encourage an applicant to be forthcoming in an interview. If an employer uses an outside service to perform a pre-employment screening, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that there must be a consent and disclosure form separate from the application.

It must indicate that any release for a background investigation is valid for future screening for retention, promotion or reassignment (unless revoked in writing). This is helpful, for example, when an employer needs to conduct a post-employment investigation into allegations of sexual harassment or other workplace problems.

The form should ask about addresses for the last seven years. This is important to determine the scope of any criminal record search.

The form should allow the applicant to indicate whether the current employer may be contacted for a reference.

Finally, an employer can cover other standard matters. Examples include: the organization's at will policy; the applicant's ability to perform the essential job functions,; and, if employed, the requirement to provide original documents to verify identity and right to work in the United States.

By using either an application or a supplemental form, an employer can avoid a number of problems in the hiring process and promote a selection process that is fair to everyone.

For more information, contact Employment Screening Resources (

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