In an age of online application processes, and emailed resumes, why do so many companies still have you fill out a paper job application when you arrive for an interview or before they make you an offer?
You would think they have all the information they need from you already, why is it necessary to have you fill out the paper form?
Is it necessary to duplicate everything on your resume onto the application? What exactly, are you signing?
These are common questions I get. The process of completing and returning the application to the potential employer can have consequences in your job search. Here are some things to consider when it’s presented to you:
They want your signature, EEOC information, and references. The primary reasons employers have candidates fill out an application in the hiring process is to get information that isn’t normally presented with a resume. Typically, an application includes fine print that states you are giving them permission to do a background check, including criminal checks, credit checks, drug tests, and reference checks. By signing the application, you are stating your approval.
Secondly, an application typically includes a section or a separate form that asks your race, sex, and other demographic information. Most companies are legally required to report the numbers of applicants by demographics and so they gather this for those statistical purposes. You are not required to fill this out, however, companies have strict rules as to how that information can be handled, so you can be assured it’s not used in the decision making process.
The application usually asks for references along with contact information to reach them.
Finally, the fine print also usually states that the information you’ve provided is true. The application often asks for prior convictions, dates of prior employment, titles, education, prior salaries, etc. Should it be found later that the information you’ve provided is false, it provides the company stronger legal ground to fire you.
These are the reasons you’re asked to submit the application… so how should you handle it?
Provide information selectively. In most cases, you will find that the employer does not have an objection if you ask to exclude, or delay, providing some of the information. The prior conviction information, signature to testify to the truth of the information you’ve provided and giving them permission for the background checks is generally not negotiable. They will likely require that from you and it will raise “red flags” if you decline.
However, they will often allow you to simply attach your resume and not require you to fill in all the job history information. The EEOC information is always your choice. And if you explain that you are happy to provide reference information at the time of a pending offer but would like to protect your references beforehand, you will generally find the employer agreeable to those terms. Certainly there may be exceptions, however, most employers tend to be flexible on those items.
Generally less information is to your advantage, but be smart! Not providing your prior salary, and reference information until further down the road is better for you in the hiring process. It enables you to be more in control. While I recommend you delay providing that kind of information early in the process, I would also caution against creating an adversarial relationship that might harm your chances of being considered further. There is no harm in asking if it would be OK to provide that information later. However, if the response is that they want it now, it only creates antagonism for you to object further. Use good judgment in deciding how far to push your objections.
Even in this age of computerized processing, it is very common for an employer to ask for a paper application. Consider the reasons, your objectives in the process, and be wise!