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The Case for Using A Standard Application Form

Application forms can help control the hiring process and ensure that you
are getting uniform, and necessary, information from all of your
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THIS WEEK’S E-TIP: The Case for Using A Standard Application

Do you have a standard application form that you require all candidates
to fill out? If you do not, you should consider using one.

Most employers use application forms to solicit information that may be
missing from applicants’ resumes and to establish a single, uniform
document for all job candidates or groups of candidates. Standardizing
the type of hiring information gathered makes it easier to compare job
candidates objectively and can help protect you from discrimination

In addition, application forms often contain important notices, for
example informing applicants of their at-will status and your background
check requirements. Further, they can help show that a candidate is
legally considered an applicant, to help you comply with equal
employment opportunity and affirmative action recordkeeping
requirements. (Download free “Employer’s Quick Guide to HR Laws.”)

* General Versus Specific Forms *

Some employers use the same application form for all types of positions
within the organization, while others use specialized forms adapted for
each job type. The job-related application form ordinarily includes a
general section for collecting basic screening information applicable to
any job and a job-specific section for gathering information relevant to a
particular position.

The job-related application form often provides more substantial
information about specific required skills and usually is less likely to
solicit irrelevant information. An application form that enumerates the
functions of the particular job or that includes a job description also can
be helpful in complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. These
items can help in determining the candidate’s ability to perform essential
functions of the job.

Before using any type of application form, however, you should have
legal counsel review it to ensure that it does not contain questions or
statements prohibited by law, particularly those pertaining to the
applicant’s membership in a class protected by federal or state statute.

* Forms Help Define Who is an Applicant *

The use of a standardized application form also can help you show who
you regard to be an “applicant,” a determination that is very important in
complying with federal record retention and reporting requirements. For
example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires covered employers to
retain applications for employment and other documents pertaining to
hiring for one year from the date the records were made or the last action
was taken. In addition, federal contractors must track applicants to show
compliance with their affirmative action programs.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office
of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) broadly define
applicant to include any person who has indicated an interest in being
considered for hiring, promotion, or other employment opportunities.
This interest might be expressed by completing an application form, or
might be expressed orally, depending on the employer’s practice. (See EEOC
Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.)

The difficult job of determining which contacts create a job applicant for
recordkeeping purposes has only increased with the proliferation of e-
mail, online recruitment Web sites, and corporate and personal Web
pages. The OFCCP adopted a rule in 2006 that is applicable to federal
contractors and uses four criteria that must be met to determine who is
an Internet applicant:

(1) The individual submits an “expression of interest” in employment
through the Internet or related electronic data technologies (such as
email, resume databases, job banks, electronic scanning technology,
applicant tracking systems, and applicant screeners);

(2) The contractor considers the individual for employment in a
particular position;

(3) The individual’s expression of interest indicates the individual
has the basic qualifications for the position; and

(4) The individual, prior to receiving an offer of employment from the
contractor, does not remove himself from further consideration or
otherwise indicate he is no longer interested in the position. See 41
C.F.R. §60-1.3.

Further, the OFCCP rule indicates that if contractors also accept
“expressions of interest” by traditional methods (such as mailed resumes
or applications in person) for the same positions, then they should apply
the Internet applicant definition to all of these candidates.
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The EEOC also attempted to define Internet applicants and issued
guidance in 2004 that limited the definition of applicant, in the context of
the Internet and related technologies, to persons who have indicated
interest in a particular position that the employer has acted to fill and who
have followed the employer’s standard procedures for submitting an
application. However, the EEOC then withdrew the definition in 2008
and reverted to using just the Uniform Guidelines definition.

These broad definitions have led many human resources experts to
suggest that employers need to be precise and restrict formal applicant
designations by requiring that all interested individuals complete an
application and by only accepting applications and resumes for jobs that
currently are vacant and for which candidates are being recruited.
Otherwise, you may have to keep track of any person who expresses
interest in a position, whether it is available or not.

* Unsolicited Applications and Resumes *

The same issues apply to unsolicited applications and resumes. Some
HR experts favor accepting them because it expands access to qualified
candidates. Others believe that this practice can cause problems
concerning the makeup of the applicant pool for equal employment
opportunity and affirmative action compliance purposes.

For example, if a government contractor is required to implement an
affirmative action program, anyone who actually is considered for an
opening will be considered an “applicant,” even if they have not applied
for that job. Similarly, record retention requirements will apply to all
applications and resumes accepted. Furthermore, if you treat unsolicited
applications and resumes inconsistently, you may be exposed to claims
that your hiring procedure is discriminatory.

To guard against these claims, therefore, you should prohibit the
acceptance of unsolicited applications and resumes. Note, however, that
if you decide not to accept unsolicited applications and resumes, you
must apply the policy without exception. That is, you must discard all
unsolicited applications or retain them all. Otherwise, you may be faced
with claims that your selection procedures exclude certain protected
groups. (Download free “Employer’s Quick Guide to HR Laws.”)

* Consideration Period *

Another issue to resolve is how long you will keep applications in an
active status. Most employers’ policies specify the length of time that
applications will be actively considered for job openings, typically six
months to a year, and applicants should be informed of this time period.
As a result, many employers date stamp application forms and
periodically purge the files of these forms.

Note, too, that you also must comply with federal, state, and local laws
requiring that personnel records be retained for a specific period of time,
generally at least one year, and with any rules covering disposal of
records. So, before any files are purged, these laws should be

* Application Forms Standardize Process *

As discussed above, application forms can capture information missing
from resumes, help you compare candidates’ qualifications, and classify
who is actually an applicant for equal opportunity and affirmative action
recordkeeping purposes.

Of course, application forms generally represent just the first step in the
hiring process. They are most effective when used in conjunction with
other hiring tools such as resumes, interviews, reference and
background checks, and preemployment tests. So, in addition to
analyzing application issues, you also should review your other hiring
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Subscribers to the Personnel Policy Manual System and HR Policy Answers on
CD can find more information on application forms and hiring in Hiring,
Chapter 202, notes 6 and 18.

If you don’t have the manual, but would like to order a trial review, go to:

Or just give us a call toll-free at 1-800-437-3735.
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