Written By: Reid
Aug 01, 2000

It is often impractical for an employer to personally interview every person applying for a particular position. For this reason, most job applicants are initially screened by reviewing a written summary of the candidate's background. This information will typically be provided through either an employment application or a resume. While employment applications are customary for individuals applying for hourly positions, for professional positions, a resume is frequently accepted in lieu of an employment application. It is our recommendation that, regardless of the position being filled, the employer require each applicant complete a standardized employment application.

An employment application is superior to the personal resume for a number of reasons. A resume is not standardized for all candidates applying for a particular position and therefore may invite claims of discrimination if, for example, hiring information is available from some candidates but not for others. For example, consider a resume that contains a photograph of the applicant which depicts a black male 45 to 50 years old. After receiving this resume, the employer may decide, for vague reasons, not to offer the applicant an interview. Under this circumstance, the employer may be legally challenged that the reason the applicant was not offered an interview was based on race or age bias. Had the candidate completed a legally acceptable employment application, potentially discriminatory information would not have been developed and the candidate would have no grounds upon which to challenge the employer's decision.

The primary reason for requiring all candidates to complete an application, however, is that resumes are notoriously inaccurate. Because the candidate chooses what information to include (or omit) within a resume, it is designed in such a way as to present the candidate in the most favorable light. A Congressional study found that between one/half and two/thirds of all resumes contained misleading information or outright lies. There are dozens of subtle ways to misrepresent one's background on a resume. Consider, for example, an applicant who does not want to list the fact that she was fired from an employer a year ago. Under the employment section she will simply not list that job. However, on a job application which requires her to "list all employers" that you have had in the last 5 years, it becomes more difficult to conceal such information

The easiest lie to tell is one based on opinions or beliefs. Because these statements represent a personal assessment their veracity is impossible to disprove. Not surprisingly, many resumes contain opinion information. Consider the following statement:

"I am a highly motivated individual, seeking a challenging position that will take advantage of my interpersonal and organizational skills in a team-oriented business climate. I complete tasks in a timely fashion and have always been willing to take on additional personal responsibility."

This may sound like the perfect candidate for a position. The only problem is that this description represents the candidate's self-assessment. It is merely a personal opinion and, therefore, the candidate cannot be held accountable for providing misinformation if the characterization turns out to be the furthest thing from the truth.

On the other hand, an employment application requests the same information from all applicants applying for a position. Making initial screening decisions based on uniform information greatly enhances the employer's objectivity. Because the application develops relevant and meaningful information about each candidate, the accuracy of the pre-screening process is greatly enhanced.

At a minimum, an application should require that the candidate list every employer the candidate has worked for over the last five years, their position, the reason for leaving the job and why they are looking for a new job. It should elicit objective information relevant to the position being applied for. Examples of objective questions include, "Do you have a college degree from an accredited university?"; "Are you licensed or certified in (field)?"; "Has your practitioner's license been suspended or revoked?"; "Have you been discharged from a previous employer?"; "Have you received disciplinary action at a job in the last 5 years"; "In the last 7 years have you been convicted of a crime?"; "Are you currently using any illegal drugs?" etc. The employment application should conclude with a signed statement attesting to the truthfulness of the information supplied within the application.

Certainly an unqualified applicant could lie on an employment application and be erroneously hired. This is most likely to occur in companies who fail to verify information on an application through a face-to-face interview. As a saving grace, however, because the application represents a company document, the employer may have grounds to discharge a newly hired employee if it is learned that the application was falsified. This is not necessarily the case with a resume because their creative design often makes proving intentional falsification difficult.

Just because an individual is applying for a professional position such as a physician assistant, accountant, paralegal or office administrator offers no guarantee that the person does not present a risk if hired. Yet, when seeking to fill these types of positions, employers frequently rely solely on a resume and never have candidates complete an employment application. This practice makes pre-screening of potential candidates much more subjective, invites unqualified candidates to hide their weaknesses and may eliminate solid grounds upon which to discharge an unqualified employee who should not have been hired in the first place. Of paramount importance, however, is to remember that the employment application is an instrument designed to facilitate pre-screening. A final hiring decision should be made only after the information within the application has been verified through a face to face interview and appropriate background checks.

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