Hiring & Recruiting, Strategic HR

What Do Employers Really Need to Know About Job Applicants?

Employers invest significant time, energy, and resources in bringing a new employee onboard.  Recruiting, screening, and interviewing processes are all done with the goal of hiring an employee who will do a job well and work well within an organization.  So what do employers need to know to hire successfully?  And what are the things employers don’t need to know?interview

Need to Know

Experience.  Does the applicant have relevant work experience (or other experience)?

Education.  Will the applicant’s education help him or her do the job?

Personality.  Does the applicant have the motivation, energy, and attitude that’s needed for the job?  For the organization?  Note—employers shouldn’t always look for an applicant who will “fit in.”  Sometimes the right person for the job is someone who will shake things up, bring a new perspective, or reenergize a team or department.

Not So Much

Credit score. It’s apparent from recent legislation on the state and local level that employers don’t need to know whether an applicant has a good credit score—at least for most jobs.  The District of Columbia is the jurisdiction that most recently enacted a law that prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their credit history.  It joins 11 states that have similar laws.  Generally, the laws allow employers to inquire about an applicant’s credit history if the job involves unsupervised access to large sums of money or to customers’ financial information.

Pay history. A new state law in Massachusetts and a new ordinance in Philadelphia prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s pay history.  And similar legislation is pending in other states and municipalities, including New York City, where a bill approved by the city council awaits the mayor’s signature. Basing an employee’s pay on pay history instead of the market value of the position can be a disadvantage to workers who entered the workforce at a lower pay rate; and it can perpetuate gender-based pay disparities.

Not Right Away

Criminal history. Several states and numerous cities and counties have enacted “ban the box” laws that prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on a job application. Many require employers to delay these questions until after an applicant has been offered a job.

Not at All!

Protected characteristics. It’s a rare job that requires a job applicant to be of a certain age, race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (think female actor for a female role).  Yes, there are exceptions.  But by and large, employers don’t need any of this information about an applicant.  If employers ask for information, it’s because they want the information.  And if they want the information, it’s because they’re going to use the information.  At least, that’s what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “generally presumes” about an employer’s questions.  So, if an employer doesn’t plan to use certain information to make a hiring decision, it shouldn’t ask for it.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking questions that are likely to elicit information about a disability before a conditional job offer has been extended.  Employers should avoid questions about an applicant’s history of using sick leave, history of hospitalizations, workers’ comp claims, etc.  Questions should be limited to whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

To get the information it needs while avoiding information that’s irrelevant (and possibly unlawful), an employer should focus on the qualifications for the job in question and make inquiries that will help it evaluate how the applicant’s skills and experience align with those qualifications.

Joan FarrellJoan S. Farrell, JD, is a Legal Editor for BLR’s human resources and employment law publications. Ms. Farrell writes extensively on the topics of workplace discrimination, unlawful harassment, retaliation, and reasonable accommodation. She is the editor of the ADA compliance manual—ADA Compliance: Practical Solutions for HR. Before coming to BLR, Ms. Farrell worked as in-house counsel for a multistate employer where she represented management in administrative matters and provided counseling on employment practices.

Follow Joan Farrell on Google+

Questions? Comments? Contact Joan at jfarrell@blr.com for more information on this topic

  • Hello Dr. Farrell,

    Excellent commentary on what is important. Your list of what is important is very close to our list.

    “What Do Employers Really Need to Know About Job Applicants?”
    I. Competence
    II. Cultural Fit
    III. Job Talent

    ≈ 80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    ≈ 80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    * The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Employers keep hiring the wrong people to be their managers and then they wonder why they have so few successful, long-term, engaged employees. Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employees lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    I. Competence
    II. Cultural Fit
    III. Job Talent

    Employers do a…
    A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees, about 95%
    B. good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture, about 70%
    C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job, about 20%

    Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
    I. Competence
    II. Cultural Fit
    III. Job Talent

    There are many factors to consider when hiring and managing talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.” Everyone wants to hire for and manage talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire or manage talent effectively.
    A. How do we define talent?
    B. How do we measure talent?
    C. How do we know a candidate’s talent?
    D. How do we know what talent is required for each job?
    E. How do we match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

    Most managers cannot answer the five questions with specificity but the answers provide the framework for hiring successful employees and creating an engaged workforce.

    Talent is not found in resumes or interviews or background checks or college transcripts.

    Talent must be hired since it cannot be acquired or imparted after the hire.

  • Ethan Lee

    qq