If you've never created a job application, the task may seem daunting at first. It doesn't need to be. Many considerations go into creating a job application but, if you break everything down into sections, you'll find the process is more straightforward than you'd expect. The primary consideration is to keep your application legal.
Basic job application questions
You'll always need to include a few specific questions, such as name, physical address, and telephone number. Though not required, an email address is helpful to send information on your company or pre- and post-interview materials. It is also useful to ask for a mobile number and permission to send text messages. This way, you can quickly inform a potential applicant of interview opportunities and post-interview results.
You'll also need an employment-history section to verify employment claims on a résumé. This is where you could ask for reference contact information for each position, wage or salary range expectations, availability to start work, and eligibility to work in the U.S.
Illegal job application questions
Job applications and cover letters often do not address some questions you may have. Here are some typical questions you might be tempted to ask that could get you into trouble—as well as their legal alternatives.
- Illegal: Are you a U.S. citizen? Legal: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?
- Illegal: What is your native language/tongue? Legal: What languages do you read, speak, or write fluently?
There is also a right and wrong way to find out if an applicant can adhere to your work schedule.
- Illegal: What religion do you practice? Which religious holidays do you observe? Legal: What days are you available to work? Are you able to work our required schedule?
Don't ask anything that could be interpreted as discrimination toward people close to retirement.
- Illegal: How much longer do you plan to work before you retire? Legal: What are your long-term career goals?
- Illegal: Are you a digital native? Legal: See the above legal question. “Digital native" presumes a person grew up with computers, which can lead to age discrimination.
Marital and family status
Don't make assumptions based on your preconceived notions with these potentially embarrassing questions.
- Illegal: What is your maiden name? Legal: Have you worked or earned a degree under another name?
- Illegal: Do you have or plan to have children? Legal: Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?
- Illegal: If you get pregnant, will you come back after maternity leave? Legal: What are your long-term career goals?
You may be curious, but whether an applicant is a man, woman, or other gender has no bearing on whether that person can perform a job. Wait for the interview and ask what pronoun the applicant prefers.
Health and physical abilities
Avoid assumptions and discrimination about an applicant's health and abilities to get the job done.
- Illegal: Do you smoke or drink? Legal: Have you been disciplined for violating company policies forbidding the use of alcohol, tobacco products, or illegal drugs?
- Illegal: How much do you weigh? Legal: Can you lift bags weighing up to 50 pounds?
- Illegal: Do you have any disabilities? Legal: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?
Avoid questions about residence, legal troubles, and military service.
- Illegal: How far is your commute? Legal: Are you able to start work at 8 a.m.?
- Illegal: Have you ever been arrested? Legal: Have you ever been convicted of "x" (fraud, theft, etc.)?
- Illegal: Were you honorably discharged from the military? Legal: How can your military experience benefit the company?
- Illegal: Are you a member of the National Guard or Reserves? Legal: Do you have any upcoming events that would require extensive time away from work?
“The key principle behind any question on a job application is whether the question on the application is necessary as related to performing the job," says David Reischer, an employment lawyer and labor relations specialist with LegalAdvice.com Corp. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits discrimination against a job applicant because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older) or disability. State and local laws may include other types of discrimination.
“The intent behind your questions could potentially be used by the EEOC or the courts to determine if any discrimination has occurred," Reischer says. “The bottom line is applicants should only be asked questions that are legitimately job-related. As such, an employer should carefully assess whether the requested information is really necessary to judge the applicant's qualifications, level of skills, and overall competence for the job in question."