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Reinventing Your Company's Employment Application

THE TREND IN EMPLOYMENT application design is to delve deeper into candidates backgrounds and to gather more in-depth information than ever before. And for good reason: employee theft, accidents, and potential violence could take a huge toll on the corporate bottom line. Employment applications are typically incestuously passed down from one generation to the next without upgrades to reflect changes in the employment marketplace. Your goal, therefore, will be to redesign a tired form to complement a candidate' s resume and supplement—not duplicate—what' s already on the resume.

Employment applications, because they are signed, provide you with a lot more than simple resumes alone. Specifically, they:

• Help establish the employment-at-will working relationship

• Serve as the first work product that you actually ask a candidate to produce, which in turn reveals lots of information about the individual s attention to detail

• Confirm the accuracy of the information presented by the applicant via the individual s signature

As such, applications provide your company with additional legal protection. The legal concept associated with resume fraud or falsified employment applications is called ''after-acquired evidence. In essence, if candidates falsify their resumes or provide false answers on employment applications in order to get a job, they may be barred from receiving damages from your company if they later claim that they have been terminated wrongfully. Federal courts have ruled that such behavior may preclude a terminated employee from being entitled to recover damages from the employer, even if the company was guilty of wrongful termination.

Note as well that, historically, courts have differentiated between false statements made on resumes and falsified information on employment applications. Their interpretations placed much greater importance on falsified employment applications than on falsified resumes for one simple reason: resume errors can be attributed to an outside resume preparation service. Applications, in comparison, are completed and signed by the applicants themselves. Consequently, courts have held employment applications to a higher standard of truthfulness.

Furthermore, employers have the right and the discretion to go a lot further in asking questions about candidates' backgrounds than they typically do. Most companies ask the blanket question:

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Yes______ No_______

Conviction will not necessarily disqualify you from consideration for employment.

According to Barry J. Nadell, author of Sleuthing 101: Background Check and the Law (2004, pages 43–45), companies have the right to design their employment applications to ask about criminal convictions as follows:

companies have the right to design their employment applications to ask about criminal convictions as follows

Of course, certain states and certain industries have restrictions on what can be reported and about how an employer may ask these questions in the preemployment process, so if you're planning on adding these questions to your employment application, be sure and check with qualified legal counsel first. What's important to remember, though, is that you have the right to explore these issues, in writing, with prospective job candidates if you so choose. Depending on your industry and the types of workers you typically hire, this added level of protection may provide your company with additional benefits in terms of avoiding or defending yourself against wrongful hiring or wrongful retention claims.

In addition, employment applications need to ask questions that might otherwise be overlooked during the interview process. Add the following six informational windows to your current employment application to help place candidates' duties and accomplishments into a clearer perspective:

Starting Position

Current Position

Progression through the ranks is an admirable trait and will allow you to discuss issues regarding vertical promotions, lateral assumptions of increased responsibilities, salary increases, or overseas assignments to gain certain kinds of line experience.

Company size in terms of number of employees and/or annual revenues

Expect senior management candidates to answer this question in terms of divisional or corporate revenues; junior level management and administrative support workers will typically respond in terms of the number of employees. Whatever the case, this information puts the candidate's achievements into some kind of contextual framework so that you can evaluate business environments in addition to individual duties and achievements.

Supervisor's Name & Title

Subordinates' Names & Titles

Clarify both the number and titles of supervisors as well as direct and extended reports. This will help you understand the individual's current staffing configuration, where the candidate fits in, and how big that overall department is relative to the employee population that it serves.

In addition, there's no need for personal references when all of those business references are laid out so neatly for you on the application. You won't need to ask for telephone numbers or contact information at this point, and candidates typically won't have that information available at the time of the initial interview. Instead, you could pencil that information in later once you're at the reference-checking stage.

Note that as far as the current position on the application is concerned, you could add the following information into that box only:

This way, candidates will be able to conduct a confidential job search without worrying about your ''blowing their cover'' with their current companies.

The final question need be asked only for the current position on the employment application. It s not as applicable or relevant for other positions.

How often we forget to distinguish the basic elements of the candidate s current compensation package! An administrative assistant earning $45,000 per year may have an hourly wage that equates to only $35,000 per year, while earning an additional $10,000 in overtime pay. Similarly, a sales executive who says that she earns $200,000 per year isn't providing you with much valuable information if you don t distinguish the $50,000 base salary from the $150,000 at-risk bonus, which may fluctuate wildly from year to year.

Therefore, with nonexempt (hourly) candidates who are paid for their time, be sure to distinguish between the base wage rate and the overtime pay in determining their total compensation. Likewise, with exempt-level candidates, who are paid for their overall performance and for the completion of projects, always distinguish between base salary and bonus and/or commission to determine the total cash compensation picture. This will help you better understand how the candidate fits within your company' s overall compensation guidelines as well as how to structure a competitive offer.

Ditto for the noncash perks: Candidates who walk away from car allowances and stock options that are soon to vest may very likely want you to compensate them in cash. Committing these important issues to your employment application will take the burden off you in terms of remembering to uncover these potential red flags.

Equally critical, when interviewing candidates who are currently employed, be sure to find out when their next merit increase and bonus are due. If you don' t ask, you may find out that they' re two months ahead of a salary increase and bonus that they'll want you to compensate for at the time of offer. That could mean that an unexpected signing bonus may be necessary to close the deal, and let's face it: No one likes budget surprises or deal breakers at the eleventh hour.

Reason For leaving

Leave plenty of space for the candidate to fill in this information. As we said in Chapter 4, the reason for leaving (RFL) is the link in a candidate's career progression. More than anything else, it provides insights into the individual's career management skills and business values. The more room allowed for writing the better.

What are your longer-term career goals, and how do you see a career with our company helping you reach those goals?

This is a written question on the back of the application with space for candidates to handwrite their responses. You'll sometimes get interesting insights into candidates' plans and views about work. More important, you'll be able to discern an applicant's level of literacy. In an era of instant messaging's ''IM shorthand,'' computer spelling and grammar checks, as well as ''fudgeable'' resumes, it's always nice to know that the grammar fundamentals are alive and well. Besides, illiteracy may be ''protected'' (as it is in California): After you've hired someone, it may be difficult to terminate based solely on illiteracy. Therefore, make sure all candidates have the basic writing skills necessary to perform their jobs before extending an offer.

What can you leave off your revised employment application? For starters, delete the section that asks for outdated clerical skills. Next, eliminate the line on the application that reads ''Duties: Describe Job.'' This line comes from the good old days when applicants often didn't have resumes and typically walked into a company unannounced looking for work. Very few candidates today are without resumes, so asking this question is redundant. If you still prefer to keep the line on your employment application, use the following disclaimer:

Duties: Describe Job (not necessary to fill in if you've attached a resume )

And you'll never have to worry again about someone asking, ''Do I have to fill out the whole application since I already have a resume?'' Your new response can simply be:

''Sure, you'll still need to fill out the entire application. The good news is that you won't have to duplicate what's already on your resume in terms of your duties and responsibilities. Everything on our application typically isn't on a resume: company revenues, names of supervisors, base versus bonus compensation, and reasons for leaving your prior positions. So, if you wouldn't mind, please fill out the entire application accurately. We put a lot of weight on that as it's the first work product you're producing for us.''

One final thought: Don' t be hesitant about lengthening your application. Most companies still use a one-page format, with information on the front and back. Consider a four-page format, bound together like a restaurant menu. With that added room, you could leave plenty of blank space under each position entry to take notes, marked ''For Office Use Only.'' Studies show that the more space that interviewers have to write, the more detailed their comments will be and the more accurate their recollection. Besides, a nice little booklet format like that will make it easier for you to keep all of your candidate information together, including resumes, references, background checks, and the like.

Of course, keep in mind that anything you write on the application or on the resume itself will become part of the applicant' s permanent written record with your company. As always, proceed with caution and be sure not to jot anything down that could be construed as biased, discriminatory, or otherwise protected by the law.

So let your revised employment application do the talking and set you up to become a better evaluator of the asset known as ''human capital. You' ll find that these informational windows will actually serve as windows of opportunity for you and the other hiring managers in your company, allowing you to add critical mass to your candidate meetings while simultaneously providing a stronger layer of insulation from employee liability.

 
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