Making the most from an employment application form

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Does yours provide all the benefits it could?
Recruiting is arguably the most basic HR function. And the employment application form is certainly the most basic recruiting tool. Therefore, it seems logical to make sure your application form enhances the hiring process.
However, if you’re like many business owners (or HR people) with “to-do” lists that are already too long, it’s been quite awhile since you revised or even reviewed your company’s application form.
As with many employment-related matters, there are two aspects to consider – legal compliance, and potential benefits that enhance HR effectiveness and therefore organizational success.
Legal compliance
No law dictates what an employment application form must look like. But numerous laws make it illegal to use the answers to any potentially discriminatory questions.
It’s therefore risky to include such questions on an application form, since courts and administrative agencies are likely to presumé that you’ll use all the information solicited.
If discriminatory hiring activity is alleged, the burden is overwhelmingly on the employer (and it’s very difficult) to prove that non-job-related questions on an application form were truly not used to discriminate.
The best rule to follow is to include only questions that will provide job-related information.
Enhancing the effectiveness
of the hiring process
It’s a good practice to require all applicants to complete an application, even if they’ve submitted a resumé. Remember, a resumé is written to present an individual in the best possible light. A well-designed application form provides valuable information that is rarely included on a resumé:

  • Social security number – often required to confirm education completed.
  • Driver’s license number – allows checking driving record for applicable positions.
  • Address and phone of former employers – useful when reference checking.
  • Names of former supervisors – typically the only meaningful reference.
  • Salary history – confirms whether an applicant is in the salary “ballpark.”
  • Reasons why the applicant left previous employers.
    A thorough application form addresses several “administrative” issues that increase the efficiency of the hiring process:
  • Prominently placed EEO statement.
  • Prominently placed Employment-At-Will
  • Statement that allows applicants to sign
    (and thus verify) the truthfulness of the information they’ve provided; it should note that falsehoods may result in disqualification from consideration
    or termination if hired.
  • Provision for the applicant to sign an authorization and release for use in reference checking.
  • The company’s policy on drug, alcohol,
    or other testing.
  • Statement advising applicants that they may
    request any accommodation needed to participate
    in the application process.
    And here are some practical efficiencies to incorporate:
  • Provide enough space to describe meaningful current or previous job duties.
  • Minimize space allocated for listing personal references.
  • Save space by deleting questions about grammar school attended.
    The application form should also serve as a public relations tool to help you impress desirable candidates. Surprisingly, only 3 of the 17 application forms (mentioned in the adjacent chart) indicated the employer’s name.
    Jim Rittgers, SPHR, is the director of Human Resources for EPIC Staff Management. Comments and questions are welcomed via e-mail to
    May 1998, Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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