5 Tips for Using Job Applications in the Hiring Process

Job applications no longer figure as prominently in the candidate evaluation process as they once did, except perhaps for positions that are outside of a formal office environment, such as retail and food services. One reason is that the typical resume and cover letter today have stepped in to provide key applicant information. In addition, many job seekers post their work histories and professional qualifications on sites like LinkedIn.

Employers often request interviews based on the information available through these sources. Another factor turning some companies away from job applications are concerns about violating prohibited employment policies and practices under the laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

EEOC legislation considerations

Make absolutely sure that the questions you ask on your job applications are as objective as possible and in line with federal and state laws.



You want to make absolutely sure that the questions you ask on your job applications are as objective as possible and in line with federal and state laws. EEOC laws prohibit many inquiries that routinely appeared on these employment forms years ago — items relating to gender, age, marital status, and even birthplace. Some states and localities also have specific regulations restricting the type of information that lawfully may be considered — and, therefore, asked about — in the hiring process.

But for many employers, job applications continue to serve a valuable purpose. One big advantage of a job application over a resume is that its uniformity simplifies the task of keeping a file on candidates you want to consider for future job openings. In addition, if you design the application form to match your business needs, it generally works better than a resume as an evaluation device. That’s because the same information appears in the same place, regardless of the candidate, allowing you to quickly assess important qualifications.

If you do use job applications, here are some tips:

1. As a general rule, when it comes to job applications, if you don’t need it, don’t ask for it. Stick to criteria in your job applications that are directly relevant to the open position. Avoid asking for inappropriate information — some of which we've addressed above, but also:

  • You can’t request the applicant provide a photograph before employment.
  • You can ask an applicant’s name but not a maiden name or a spouse’s maiden name. Why? Such a question may be interpreted as another way of asking about marital status.
  • You can ask an applicant’s address but not whether she owns or rents or how long she’s lived there.
  • Most education qualifications are fair game, but don’t ask for high school or college graduation dates or dates of attendance. It’s a dead tip-off for age.

2. Have your company’s HR official or attorney vet your job applications. While ensuring that your job applications adhere to federal, state and local laws, it's also advisable to include a statement on these forms that you are an "Equal Opportunity Employer" as well as a declaration that your acceptance of the candidate's application provides no guarantee of employment.

3. Require candidates to sign the job application. Ask candidates to affirm the accuracy of the information they furnish, even if they do so through an online application process with boxes to check attesting to the accuracy of the information. This step gives you some protection if your new hire doesn’t work out, and you discover that he misrepresented something on the job application.


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4. Assigning weight to job criteria may lead to a better hire. Some employers find benefit in adding weighted value to information candidates provide on their job applications — meaning that you give each element in the form a certain worth, putting more emphasis or advantage on qualifications you feel may more heavily influence later performance in the position. In other words, assigning customized values to the application questions can help you figure out how likely a person with a certain type of experience or skill is to be the right employee for this particular job.

Is the entire process scientific? Hardly. But a weighted job application system can weed out obviously unqualified employees and give you at least a preliminary idea of who the top candidates are for the job. Just keep these points in mind:

  • The basic idea is to determine how accurately a specific criterion on your job applications may predict superior job performance. The problem, however, is that no one has developed any sort of weighting scale flexible enough to cover everything that can affect job performance.
  • Educational levels, for example, may closely link to success in a certain job in a company filled with people with advanced degrees. In that case, you would assign it a higher weighting value relative to other criteria.
  • But education credentials may not be as important in a company focused on tasks that don’t require advanced degrees. And if you assign values to work experience, licenses held, and so on, you have to be careful that the criteria you’re using relate to actual job performance.
  • If you don’t really need the skill, you shouldn’t list it as a criterion.

This procedure is useful if you do a lot of hiring; if you hire only a few people a year, on the other hand, you may just create more work for yourself.

5. Add customized tracking to your job application evaluation. Score applicants for a while and then recheck the scores of those you hire. You’re looking for relationships between good performance and objective qualifications gathered from your job applications. The criteria used in an interview to assess how well an applicant might fit a job should be the same criteria used for the performance evaluation of the person in that job.

While more and more companies are moving away from using job applications in the hiring process, it's clear these applicant evaluation tools haven't exhausted their usefulness. If you're an employer who still uses job applications, set aside some time to update and evaluate the criteria you include on these forms. Remember to discard the fluff. The time and effort you invest may help you narrow the field of applicants and provide a more exacting tool for identifying the best qualified candidates.

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