Employment applications are a no-brainer: you just go to the handiest supply catalog, order a pad of them, and check that task off the mile-long "to do" list. But as boring as employment applications may sound as the subject of an article, there are some important points to make note of-particularly if you hire people in the course of business.

Employment applications are a useful way to consistently and systematically collect information on job candidates’ qualifications. The standardized format of job applications gives employers control over the information gathered and helps compare prospective hires using common criteria. When using job applications, employers need to address some key issues. The first is whether to use commercial, pre-printed forms or design customized applications.

While the pre-printed forms are very convenient, there are some drawbacks to be considered. The most important concern is legality. Publishers vary in how often and rigorously they screen application forms for legality and very often are generic in nature. They also lack flexibility in being able to customize the application to the specific job. The downside to the customized form is the added workload for the HR manager, who’s responsible for keeping them up to date.
Whether pre-printed or custom, all applications should be reviewed regularly and updated to reflect changes in job requirements or employment laws because the employer-not the publisher-will be held liable for any discriminatory questions.

In addition to well-designed applications, another issue is that employers need sound policies and procedures for handling employment applications. To ensure the application process goes smoothly, employers should decide when to accept internal and external applications, determine how to handle unsolicited applications and walk-in applicants, make accommodations for applicants with disabilities, set deadlines, review applications for completeness, sort and screen completed applications, develop a method for acknowledging applications, and determine how long to retain applications.

What information should or shouldn’t be obtained on an application? Various federal and state laws prohibit basing selection decisions on an applicant’s age, gender, religion, citizenship, national or ethnic origin, race, or disability. The courts and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have taken the position that if a question is included on an application, its answer is used in making a selection and hiring decision. If an employment application directly requests information about race, sex, age, or other protected characteristics, the legal presumption is that the employer intends to discriminate based on this information in hiring. As a result, application forms shouldn’t contain any questions that directly or indirectly solicit information about an applicant’s protected characteristics. Employers should make sure each question on an application is appropriate and job-related and evaluate whether the question could have an adverse effect on any protected group.

Having a good hiring process, which includes the employment applications itself, is just one more way employers can more positively position themselves in the marketplace to improve their opportunity of becoming an employer of choice. IBI