What to Ask on Job Applications
Applications can be as simple or as detailed as you want to make them. You
can design them any way that you want. Remember that you're going to have to
read them all, so make sure you don't ask for information that you don't need.
The Business Tools area includes a sample application
form that you might want to use.
Also, if your business is subject to federal or state antidiscrimination
laws, it's even more important to be sure that you ask only for what is
required by business necessity. If a question is on an application form, it will
be assumed that it is there because you want to know the answer in order to make
an employment decision. As with all important business documents, we recommend
that you run the application past your attorney before you start using it.
Permissible requests for information. Here's a list of specific
information that you can ask for and, when phrasing is important, how to
- Personal information
- Name. Ask for last, first, middle. Last name first makes the
form easier to file.
If you are going to ask if the applicant has ever been known
by any other name, do so in the work experience section so the
applicant understands that you need this information in order to
perform accurate reference and record checks.
- Address. Ask for present and former addresses, plus how long the
applicant has resided at each.
- Age. Ask for age only if it is necessary to comply with minimum age
and child labor requirements under state laws. A permissible question is,
"are you over age 18?" Otherwise, ask for the applicant's age only
if you are certain there is a legally recognized business justification for
- Children. It's permissible, but not recommended, to ask "Have
you made arrangements to care for any children?" since that can be
justified on grounds of availability and reliability.
However, if you ask about child care, you must question men
as well as women and treat the answers the same. If you pursue
this dangerous line of questioning, do so in the interview
rather than on the employment application.
- Gender, race. There are few bona
fide occupational qualifications based on gender, and so far there are
no recognized ones based on race. Ask only if you are required to do
so for affirmative action obligations. This inquiry can be put on the bottom
of the application under a perforated line or it can be on a sheet of its
- Disabilities. If you are subject to the Americans with Disabilities
Act (employers of 15 or more employees), although you may not ask an
applicant about medical conditions before you have made a conditional job
offer according to the law, you may determine whether an applicant is fit
for duty and whether the applicant is a threat to himself or others.
- Military service. Ask for dates of military service, branch of
service, experience, and skills gained, but not type of discharge. It's
always better to rephrase your question as to job-related military
experience, training, or supervision.
- Criminal records. Any inquiry regarding criminal
records will have to be justified as job-related and a business
Try asking "Have you ever committed the crimes of theft,
fraud, embezzlement, larceny, or other related crimes?" If
the answer is yes, you could follow up in the interview,
or you could provide another form asking more detailed questions
if the applicant was actually convicted of a crime.
If the job vacancy requires significant customer contact or
contact with the public, requires carrying a weapon, or gives
access to significant amounts of money or valuables, you have a
right and a responsibility to ask more detailed questions about
the applicant's criminal record. The Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
has suggested that you include the following statement near the
"Conviction of a crime will not necessarily be a
bar to employment. Factors such as age at the time of the
offense, type of offense, remoteness of the offense in time, and
rehabilitation will be taken into account in determining effect
on suitability for employment."
- Schools attended. Ask for name, address, degrees. If you ask
for dates, mention that the purpose is to facilitate reference-checking.
Otherwise, it might be construed as an indirect means of asking for an
- Apprenticeships, training programs, other special educational
experiences. You may also ask about these. This information can be
valuable because it can tell you more about an applicant's skills than
traditional academic information can.
- Work experience. This is usually the most valuable information and
you should ask about it. Inquire about the present employer and the
applicant's reason for wanting a new job. Can the present employer be
contacted? What is the applicant's present job and pay rate? Also ask about
past employers, including names and addresses. Ask the applicant to describe
jobs and pay rates as well as to provide the names of supervisors and
reasons for leaving. You can get a much clearer picture of the applicant's
experience and which type of environment the person is used to working in.
You can sometimes spot problems, too, if the applicant has
worked many places in a short time. This may be a sign of a
"job jumper." You shouldn't make a decision based on
that information, but it can be helpful.
- Personal references — friends, business contacts, etc. Ask
for names and current addresses — but ask only if you intend to check
them. How did the applicant hear of the job opening? Ad? Friends? Walk-ins?
Use this to track
your best recruiting methods.
- Availability. Can the applicant work the night shift, overtime,
transfers, holidays? Leave a space for applicants to explain why they would
not be available. Applicants who indicate need for Saturdays, Sundays, or
holidays off for religious reasons may not be discriminated against on that
basis unless the company can demonstrate "undue hardship." Undue
hardship is a significant difficulty or expense.